AAC Kids unit restructures to maximize brand-building power

When Toronto, Canada's Alliance Atlantis Entertainment Group cut 80 jobs in January, the word of the month was streamlining. 'There were just too many hands holding onto the same baton,' explains Alliance Atlantis CEO Peter Sussman.
March 1, 2002

When Toronto, Canada’s Alliance Atlantis Entertainment Group cut 80 jobs in January, the word of the month was streamlining. ‘There were just too many hands holding onto the same baton,’ explains Alliance Atlantis CEO Peter Sussman.

In the kids division, the VP of children’s programming position held by Suzanne French was eliminated, and former VP of TV distribution Ken Faier has taken on a new title and a lot more responsibility. As VP of production, distribution and licensing, Faier will now manage the kids unit single-handedly, reporting to AAC president of production Seaton McLean and president of distribution Ted Riley.

Faier admits there’s one drawback to streamlining the kids division. ‘We can’t do the volume,’ he says, noting that the game plan curtails the number of projects the rejigged unit is capable of managing. But he feels that slimming down the infrastructure sets AAC Kids up to create kids brands more efficiently, and will allow the unit to move more quickly on new business opportunities that pop up.

Faier aims to bolster AAC Kids’ position on the North American programming scene by going after a new string of opps that have opened up in the U.S.–specifically at Noggin and Discovery Kids. Noggin, which recently bought AAC Kids’ Degrassi: The Next Generation, is on a spending spree in order to fill its new tween-skewing lineup, and Faier feels that he has a lot to offer the growing channel.

‘As a smaller network, Noggin has to be more financially creative because it can’t pay what an outlet like Nick can,’ he says. ‘For now, we’re not looking for it to cover 50% to 75% of production budgets. Noggin’s ability to finance series will grow as its penetration does, and we want to grow with the channel.’

Faier says AAC Kids has enough capital to cover most production costs, which he hopes will eventually be offset by license fees from international distribution and licensing. He cites AAC Kids’ ability to tap into the Canadian market and the company’s proven track record for delivering international sales as other strengths that would benefit a broadcaster such as Noggin or Discovery Kids.

Faier will also focus on European expansion via the growth of AAC Kids’ distribution and co-production partnership with TV-Loonland and new deals with the BBC. Faier says last year’s ventures with the Beeb–a co-owned BBC Kids digital channel that launched in Canada last November, and co-pro agreements for Ace Lightning and Oscar Charlie–poured a foundation for AAC Kids in the European market, as well as providing a key broadcast outlet for the unit’s product in Canada.

While strengthening these pre-existing relationships, Faier also plans to seek new projects for which AAC Kids can obtain worldwide rights. Specifically, Faier is hunting for live-action offerings targeting the tween set, as well as non-violent action-adventure shows for six- to 11-year-old boys–but only those concepts with toyetic potential need apply.

On the licensing front, Faier will lean on the expertise of VP of merchandising and licensing Jennifer Bennett, who now reports directly to him.

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