Ahh…it’s April again. Spring. The season of gentle breezes and flowers. Of rebirth. Of love in the air.
SMASH CUT TO: Palais Des Festivals, Cannes. Infectious air, jetlag, and you’re already late for your first meeting. Yep, it’s time for MIP-TV. Will it be a week of sun-swept, azure lunches at the ‘plage’ eateries? Or rain-soaked dashes back to the Palais? Is that bouillabaisse I smell? Or flop sweat?
Each year at MIP, amidst the idyll of the French Riviera, independent producers and distributors of children’s television are confronted with a harsh reality that belies the charm of the setting: marketing and financing kids shows has become an extremely competitive enterprise.
Walking the floor, we are viscerally made aware of all the shows competing with ours. How is it possible that, although none of them are half as good as ours, they all have deals? (And if you don’t believe us, just ask their producers.)
Despite the number of meetings multiplying like viral cells, the reduced license fees on offer only serve to remind us that burgeoning digital channels divide the audience. You know the rap: fragmentation results in lower ratings and reduced ad revenues and merchandising opportunities. And we know what that means. That’s right–fewer MIP parties.
To add insult to injury, we are taunted by the vertically integrated behemoths who scheme to leverage their deep pockets, multiple platforms and branded labels to win kids’ hearts and minds–en route to parents’ wallets. And they don’t even invite us to their parties.
So what’s a producer to do to survive? One strategy to break through the clutter and ensure that your program is amongst those that do sell is to acquire the rights to a classic title and produce new episodes.
It actually can be quite an effective plan. There have been some real success stories amongst classic revivals–including Batman, Superman and Casper–but it’s surprising how many others of these remade classics ultimately fail to garner an audience.
Having worked on both successful and failed revivals (ratio withheld to protect the incompetent), I thought I might share some ways that well-intentioned producers ruin classic properties.
What is the difference between antiques and junk anyway?
Never mind that the word ‘classic’ has become as abused and euphemized as the word ‘vintage.’ Just go find some old property that somebody has heard of and call it a classic. Any title will do. Pay no attention to its degree of market cachet, richness of character or resonance of structure.
Van Gogh? That dude is over the hill
Avoid working with the original creators at all costs. After all, times have changed. Original creators are no longer ‘in touch’ with contemporary audiences. Instead, go for the current flavor-of-the-month writer/director/artist and pay him/her big money to screw up…er…improve your classic with his/her ‘personal vision.’
We’ll just tweak it a tad
Whatever you do, you should not be deceived by the wonderful qualities and content of the original property, nor should you try to ascertain and protect that which made it flourish through so many eras. Whatever it is, it couldn’t possibly be relevant any longer. Kids demand something new. Speaking of which…
Kids know exactly what they want and can articulate it clearly and consistently…
Which is why it makes so much sense to use focus groups to evaluate and further revise the wonderful tweaks made by the brilliant visionary you have hired to ‘update’ your classic. (In this column, we’re nothing if not internally consistent.)
Target promotional efforts to parents: Mom and Dad will be in nostalgia heaven
When parents hear a title they loved in their youth, they will, in turn, promote it to their kids and probably even watch it themselves! Good thinking–were it not for the realities that kids control the sets, and advertisers in kids blocks are buying kid ratings, not household ones.
All kidding aside, it is always a thrill to be involved with a true classic. To me, the thrill is working with the original creator to protect and continue that which made it classic in the first place. And should you be tempted to think otherwise, I have just two words for you: classic Coke.