Budget cuts and landscape shifts keep kidcasters on their toes
In the global kids broadcasting universe, very few nets were untouched by this year’s advertising slowdown, which had an adverse effect on programming budgets the world over. But beyond this pervasive challenge, several key territories were also grappling with unique kids broadcasting shifts and hurdles.
In the U.S., the disappearance of Fox Kids into the Disney family left a perceived opening for another boys action player, and there was no shortage of contenders jockeying for position with this all-important target demo and the considerable advertising revenues that come with it. Nick abandoned its strict gender-neutral stance to launch the Slam block in August, and ABC Family also entered the race with a two-hour boys block on Disney Channel. But the biggest boys action move of the year was played by 4Kids Entertainment, which bought a four-year lease to Fox’s 8 a.m. to noon weekend block for US$101.2 million in January 2002. 4Kids CEO Al Kahn has stocked the block full of half-hour toons (including Kirby and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) aimed squarely at the four to 14 boys demo, with an eye to capitalizing on imminent merchandise programs based on the shows.
The birth of 4Kids’ Fox Box block also highlights another major programming trend that played out on U.S. airwaves this year – the sell-off of languishing kids network blocks to the highest bidders. NBC signed the first such deal in December 2001, dumping its tNBC Saturday morning teen block (which had seen its share of the 12 to 17 demo drop from 9% to 6% since August 2001) in favor of leasing the space for US$18 million over three years to Discovery. The doc caster launched a Discovery Kids block in the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. daypart in October.
Overseas in Britain, commercial net ITV’s kids budget was cut back particularly sharply in response to the drop in advertising, impairing its ability to pick up the best shows and creating an opening for pubcaster the BBC to pull ahead of its chief competitor. The Beeb’s launch of two kids diginets also had many cable channels up in arms about the pubcaster’s encroachment on their turf.
Plagued by a major recession, Germany’s kids broadcasters have spent the year battening down the hatches to ride out the storm on their reduced budgets. However, some recent speculation has raised the question as to whether the market can support 10 kids channels. Stay tuned to KidScreen in the coming year to see how it all unfolds.
CBBC churns out two diginets in adverse climate
Although CBBC is going through a bit of turmoil right now as it prepares to lose the guiding hand of kids TV guru Nigel Pickard, the U.K. pubcaster has had an outstanding year. At the top of an impressive list of achievements is the launch of two digital channels – preschool net Cbeebies and CBBC for kids six to 13 – in an economic climate that proved too tough for rival ITV, whose ITV Digital business collapsed in March.
Armed with US$56 million and a government mandate to pack the channels’ skeds with European programming (90% for Cbeebies and 70% for CBBC), the CBBC team set about commissioning a raft of new programming such as Cave Girl and Applecross while a contingent of cable and satellite nets including Disney and Nick lobbied hard to prevent the government from greenlighting the channels.
In terms of post-launch results, CBBC head of acquisitions and co-productions Theresa Plummer-Andrews says Cbeebies often heads up all the other children’s cable and satellite channels, while CBBC has been slower to garner an audience: ‘CBBC has school programming on during term time, so it isn’t wall-to-wall animation and is finding it a little harder to find its niche.’
As for the mother channel, 2001/2002′s most successful shows included The Cramp Twins, Super Duper Sumos, Andy Pandy, Even Stevens and Yvon of the Yukon. More recently, the Beeb machine has been hard at work giving new preschool show Fimbles (Novel Entertainment) a blockbuster fall launch in hopes that it will eventually be a successor to Teletubbies and Tweenies. Commercial arm BBC Worldwide teamed up with the channel to pump US$6.3 million into the series. ‘It took a while for kids to find it,’ says Plummer-Andrews. ‘But it’s a charming series, and I think it will be huge.’
Up next, CBBC will be working with the Natural History division on a big-budget co-venture that will cross the two programming genres. But the biggest challenge facing the team in 2003 will be maintaining its activity level in spite of the imminent executive changes. ‘We may be coping with another vision, which might cause our momentum to falter,’ Plummer-Andrews postulates. ‘We’ve just got to keep on our toes, keep an eye out to grab the new things when they come up, and improve on what we do in-house.’
Hot on the Trail
Looking to strengthen its position with older kids (four to 12), the preschool programmer launched a weekday morning block called ABC Kids Breakfast Club (home to Sitting Ducks and Little Ghosts) in August. Total audience share for the 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. slot jumped from 28.5% in July to 43% in October. And the ABC Kids digital channel proved its launch engine might in 2002 – boasting 27 Australian TV premieres.
Canal J and little sister channel TiJi enjoyed a ratings upswing this past fiscal. According to MédiaMétrie’s biannual cable/satellite survey Mediacabsat (released in March), Canal J captured a 7% rating with kids four to 10. TiJi posted a breakthrough 1.4% of the general cable/satellite audience and grew its share of the four to 10 demo by 20%.
Cartoon Network – U.S. and Europe
Cartoon Network U.S. and Europe cultivated greater synergy in 2002, culminating in a joint co-pro for Alphanim’s Robotboy (a first for Cartoon Network U.S.). The State-side channel moved into preschool programming with the launch of Hamtaro (June) and Baby Looney Tunes (September), and grew its two to 11 demo delivery by 8%. With distribution into 27.6 million European homes, Cartoon Network Europe has held court in 2002 as the number-one commercial kids channel in the U.K., France, Denmark, Spain and Poland, fuelled by network mainstays The Cramp Twins, Scooby-Doo and The Powerpuff Girls. In the U.K., the Cartoon Network Games Channel came on strong in 2002 – racking up more than five million game plays since its December 2001 launch.
As part of an overall network repositioning, Noggin extended its preschool block and came out with a new tween block dubbed The N in April. Punchy premieres included original preschool series Play With Me Sesame and internationally coveted tween series Degrassi: The Next Generation, 24Seven and Being Eve. 2002 also saw stakeholder Nickelodeon buy out Sesame Workshop’s share of the network, which may result in greater brand synergy.
Maintaining its US$50-million operating budget in 2002, Super RTL boosted its brand profile via programming stunts such as September’s TOGGO Chancellor Election Day (kids phoned in to elect a TOGGO brand chancellor). Super RTL also dabbled in social causes this year, teaming up with HIT and Bob the Builder in a rebuilding effort for German kindergarten schools destroyed in the summer flood.