French channels build kid connection to survive in the digital age

The French kids broadcast landscape is experiencing a quieter season launch than usual this year as many networks retrench in preparation for the onslaught of digital channels expected to hit the scene next year. The focus for 2001 is on tinkering with channel aesthetics and scheduling to culture a roster of loyal kid viewers who won't be swayed by new digital offerings looming on the horizon.
September 1, 2001

The French kids broadcast landscape is experiencing a quieter season launch than usual this year as many networks retrench in preparation for the onslaught of digital channels expected to hit the scene next year. The focus for 2001 is on tinkering with channel aesthetics and scheduling to culture a roster of loyal kid viewers who won’t be swayed by new digital offerings looming on the horizon.

The biggest evolution comes from the public broadcasters. Having united under public service holding France Télévision last year, France 2, France 3 and La Cinquième are now splitting up the total kids target three ways. La Cinquième takes care of preschool, France 3 focuses on the six to 12 demo, and France 2 takes on teens.

La Cinquième, which became a 24-hour network in January 2000 in preparation for the oncoming digital flood, has integrated its preschool slot Debout Les Zouzous into a major block called Parents/Childhood. Dedicated to kids and their caregivers, the two-hour daily block (from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.) opens with a half hour (one hour on Sundays) of animation for tots. Short series on offer this fall include new Rolie Polie Olie episodes (Nelvana), Capelito (CNDP and La Cinquième), Timothy Goes to School (Nelvana), Mice, Mice (La Fabrique, Eva Entertainment, WDR, France 3) and The Wombles (Cinar/UFTP). Later in the block is a slot designed to let young parents rediscover their childhood TV favorites with their own babies via nostalgic series such as Maya the Little Bee and Kiri the Clown.

‘La Cinquième’s animation budget hasn’t changed,’ says Celine Limorato, head of animation. ‘Roughly US$2.3 million still goes to co-pros, and US$670,000 to acquisitions. Though we will air fewer weekly hours of kids programming, we will be better able to finance them. We’re looking for productions using all animation techniques.’ Four short series co-pros are currently in development, with budgets running between US$270,000 and US$470,000. These are Jasper the Little Penguin (52 x five minutes, Millimages), about a city-dwelling penguin who relates his urban adventures to pals in the South Pole message-in-a-bottle style; Les Zanimodingos (13 x five minutes, Marlou Films-Tiji), a clay-animated mystery series starring a canine sleuth; 3-D short series Pop et ses potes (52 x five minutes, Ex Machina); and animated sitcom Le Nidouille (52 x five minutes, Storymage), which centers on a community of birds living in the same tree. Acquisitions include Marvellous Milly (RTV/Energee Entertainment), Maisy (Universal) and Mr. Men (Marina Productions).

With 30 weekly hours of kids programming and a US$23-million budget, France 3 Jeunesse is rebranding its MNK (Minikeums) weekday and Saturday blocks by lumping shows together under five new categories: tenderness and emotion, tribe and pals, action and adventure, humor and silliness, and strangeness and fears. Among new series to fit into the revamped organization are Chris Colorado (AB Productions), NASCAR Racers (Saban), Bob the Builder (HIT Entertainment), Angela Anaconda (Decode), X-Duckx (Alphanim) and As Told By Ginger (Nickelodeon).

France 3 has picked up Sony’s Animax action block to beef up its Saturday morning presence, and on September 19, the channel is launching a Sunday night family slot that will feature new episodes of Lucky Luke (a Xilam production with France 2, France 3, Dargaud-Marina, Lucky Comics, Les Productions Coquerelles, Super RTL and Igel Media).

France 2 is revamping its on-air branding to center around four young comedian hosts who will act out funny sketches and introduce series. Working with an overall production budget of US$5.4 million, the channel has invested US$1.2 million in six new live-action co-productions, including one being developed through French kids co-pro organization Pygmalion with ZDF. France 2 is keeping details of all six live-action projects under wraps for now, but it’s not nearly as candid about its animated series.

New this year are: Wombat City, a 26 x 13-minute urban adventure series from Carrère Group and Les Films de La Perrine; Les Durs du mur (39 x seven minutes, Bproductions), in which a group of small-town kids point out the foibles of their adult counterparts; and a clay-animated offering from Millimages and Amuse Films called Les Grabonautes (26 x 13 minutes). France 2 is also launching a wacky, weekly half-hour quiz show called We We We (Elhudi).

On the terrestrial side of the field, TF1 is adopting a new 3-D foamation-esque on-screen ID (courtesy of Big Nose Production), and the morning slot Salut Les Toons is merging with the rest of the channel’s TF1 youth brand. The net is launching five new animated pick-ups this September–Bill Junior (Nickelodeon, 26 x 13 minutes), Marcellino Pan y Vino (PMMP, 26 half hours), The Kids of Room 402 (CinéGroupe, 26 half hours), Twins (Cinar, 26 x 13 minutes) and Generation O! (TV-Loonland/Sony Wonder, 13 half hours).

Next January, TF1 is also adding cutting-edge 3-D series such as Sitting Ducks (Universal), Pecola (Nelvana), Jimmy Neutron (Nickelodeon) and Cubix (4Kids Entertainment).

There are 15 co-pros also in development, including Totally Spies (Marathon, Fox Kids Europe and Fox Family) and two new series. Action-adventure show Genarino (Carrère Group, 26 x half hour) centers on the fight between two clans for supremacy over a mythical palace, while 3-D short series Gazoon (Ex-Machina) is adapted from an Annecy award-winning short film called Romain Villain and concerns an ostrich’s comical adventures in a savannah.

M6 is testing the family live-action waters by introducing So Weird, the first non-animated series to grace the net’s Sunday M6 KID block. The 39 x 26-minute Disney production about a girl’s supernatural adventures will launch into an 11 a.m. slot in November. If ratings for So Weird are high enough, M6 might look into co-producing its own live-action series for the six to 12 demo. New co-pros debuting this fall include Iron Nose the Mystery Knight, a 52 x 13-minute comedy toon from Futurikon that’s set in the Middle Ages; and animated adventure series Cartouche (26 half hours by Storymage and Xilam), which follows the adventures of a 17th century explorer.

New block structures seem to be front and center on several dedicated kid channels’ playbooks, with Canal J focusing its efforts on launching two new blocks this fall. The first, La Bande à Canal J, will showcase TV adaptations of comic books on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Included in the new block will be Cedric (a 52 x 13-minute co-pro with Dupuis Audiovisuel, France 3 and RTBF) and Titeuf (78 x seven minutes in collaboration with France Animation, France 3 and Editions Glénat). The shows fit into Canal J’s investment in French co-pros (US$1.3 million in 2000) and are joined by new animated projects like Martin Mystère, a 26 x half-hour X-Files-esque toon produced by Marathon; and Malo Korrigan, a 26 x half-hour Futurikon series that centers on a band of intergalactic adventurers.

The other new block, Fais-moi rire, Fais-moi peur (Make Me Laugh, Make Me Scared), will air weekends at 1:20 p.m. for an hour and a half, mixing comedy animation series like Oggy and the Cockroaches (Gaumont Animation) and The Pirate Family (Ellipsanime, Cactus, France 3, Trickcompany) with frightening live-action series like Are You Afraid of the Dark? (Cinar).

Starting this month, Teletoon is opening up a daily late afternoon family slot, which will chiefly house 70 half-hour episodes of The Muppet Show that the channel recently acquired. Teletoon’s 3-D mascot Georgio is also getting more exposure this year; besides starring in the weekly Georgio Show on Wednesdays, the character will begin hosting the daily 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. morning slot. To keep up with the additional production, Teletoon has delegated all Georgio animation to Antefilms. Representing US$540,000 to US$670,000 of Teletoon’s US$4-million programming budget, new co-productions include The Lost World (Neuroplanet/Vivatoon); La Peur du loup (Protocrea, Method Film and TF1), a twist on Little Red Riding Hood in which the wolf is afraid of the girl; and a 104 x four-minute short series about kids’ jokes called Les Gonflés (Réservoir Net).

The sked will remain pretty much the same on Canal J preschool offshoot channel TiJi this fall, with some additions like Teletubbies, stop-motion series Sam the Fireman (32 x 10 minutes by Bumper Films and S4C), Yoho Ahoy (52 x five minutes from the BBC) and a new bi-weekly karaoke sequence called Sing with TiJi by PMMP.

Disney Channel France is planning on launching a new series each week, including live-action paramedic drama In a Heartbeat (AAC Kids), which will air as part of live show The Zapping Zone; animated series Old Tom, a Millimages/TF1 co-pro for which Disney picked up presale rights; and live-actioner The Zack Files, another presale co-pro between France 3 and Decode Entertainment.

Cartoon Network France is focused on upping interactivity this year and will launch The Intruder, a sci-fi mini-saga that will run on TV and the web starting September 8. Ze Mojo, an on-line adventure game in which The Powerpuff Girls help stop Donkey Mojo Jojo from breaking into banks to impose its own currency in Europe, launches on September 23 with a five-hour Powerpuff Girls on-air marathon.

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