Although more and more buyers rank interactive television (ITV) projects at the top of their kids programming wish lists, the production community has been slow to glom onto this opportunity. But not Egmont Imagination. The Denmark-based company is hoping to break away from the pack with three new projects that take ITV to a new level. To date, ITV has generally meant a website that complements what’s happening on-air, allowing viewers to ‘have their say’ and be involved peripherally in the programming day. Egmont’s new formats go a step further, offering viewers actual input into the production of a series.
Co-produced with Dutch interactive media company Ijsfontein and local authors, Typotoons invites kids ages six to 12 to help write a story on-line at www.typotoons.com. For example, kids come up with words for a type of monster, a place to live, a mode of transportation or a type of food. The words need not exist in the dictionary; the goal is to trigger creativity. After submitting the words, the kids are encouraged to draw pictures of what they think their monster, place, food, etc. would look like. These pics are sent into the channel and animated for use in the next week’s episode. Words are highlighted, and a scoring format is set up so that kids can keep track of how many of their words and pics are used during each ep.
VPRO (an arm of Holland’s Department of Youth Programming) aired a test-run of Typotoons in early 2000, and the channel’s share of the six- to 14-year-old audience increased by 10%.
Tattletoons, also created in concert with Ijsfontein, is similar to Typotoons but more visual. Web-centric animated characters with names like Jpeggy, Zip, Dotcom and Browser live in the Internet realm, spending their days making sure everything works. Each episode ends as a cliffhanger, and kids are encouraged to jump on-line at www.tattletoons.com and help determine how the plot will unfold. The next day, a story line strain incorporating some of the ideas submitted on-line is chosen. Then the broadcaster’s art directors animate the kids’ ideas in Flash to create the next episode.
One season of 13 three-minute eps ran experimentally on VPRO last year to test how frequently the segments needed to appear in the lineup. The channel had success with the following formula: running very short eps daily (one-minute shorts from Monday to Saturday for 13 weeks), culminating with one longer segment each Sunday.
Both formats come with super-low price tags of US$1,760 per minute, and Tatiana Kober, Egmont’s director of distribution, says they are ideal for a magazine block. One interesting finding of the test-broadcasts was that Typotoons appealed to a high percentage of girls, while Tattletoons seemed to attract a bigger boy audience. Egmont provides all the framework elements for the formats, and can play a consulting role for broadcasters that already have the necessary webmasters and animators in-house.
On the more traditional interactive TV front, Egmont is working on a 2-D Flash-animated series called Solve the Mystery with Inspector McClue. It’s a TV/web crime puzzle co-produced with Denmark’s TV2. Six- to 12-year-olds watch the Dragnet-style mystery unfold as Inspector McClue checks out the crime scene and investigates the evidence, after which they can log on to try and solve the crime.
The first 13 three-minute episodes of the series (budgeted at US$100,000) debuted on TV2 in October last year–and the initial response was so overwhelming that the channel’s web server crashed twice due to heavy traffic. Positioning is somewhat up in the air for Inspector McClue, but Kober suggests that the TV portion could either be presenter-driven or include a studio audience element.
In non-format news, Egmont recently signed a deal with San Francisco, California-based toon studio Wild Brain to co-produce a 26 x 30-minute CGI series called Vanilla Pudding. The series, budgeted between US$300,000 and US$350,000 per half hour, features a highly imaginative little girl who internalizes problems and solves them in character as her superhero alter-ego.