Denmark is not a big country. With a total population of five million and around 60,000 children born each year, a good-sized kids audience in this territory is just 250,000 viewers. But despite its comparatively small audience pool, Denmark is as competitive as any other European kids TV market. It has two public broadcasters (Danmarks Radio and TV2), two well-established commercial rivals (TV3 and TV Danmark) and strong offerings from Cartoon Network and Fox Kids, with Disney Channel also gearing up to launch a Danish net in February.
TV2, which currently derives two-thirds of its funding from advertising and the rest from its license fee, is one of the market’s leaders with the three to 12 kids demo. Nearly all of its shows hit the 35% share mark, and 50% to 60% numbers are not uncommon for break-out successes like 4Kids’ Pokémon and Marathon’s Totally Spies!
However, TV2′s children’s acquisitions chief Lisbeth Mathieson admits the channel faces some tough competition. Cartoon Network is a potent threat in the older age range with its classic toons, Turner Originals and anime. So is DR, which has a close relationship with Disney and an increasingly open-door policy with regard to acquiring anime titles like Dragonball Z. DR is also a rival for younger kids. Although TV2 has enjoyed solid ratings with Entertainment Rights’ stop-frame show Merlin The Magical Puppy, Mathieson says Danes turn to DR first for preschool because it is seen as less commercial.
TV2 runs around 15 hours of kids programming a week, usually between 8 a.m. and noon or 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. On weekdays, half-hour slots at 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. are generally reserved for Danish kids content like doc/lifestyle show Kids, although Cinar’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? has been playing on Monday afternoons. TV2 usually wins the weekend ratings race, says Mathieson, while DR dominates during the week.
In a typical year, Mathieson acquires between 250 and 300 hours of foreign content to pad her 600-hour kids schedule. She’s not too prescriptive about the types of shows she buys, but has some basic ground rules. Mathieson looks for series that showcase positive values rather than curriculum. ‘Denmark is more liberal than other Scandinavian countries, and I am not interested in shows that have heavy educational content,’ she says. ‘But we are keen for acquisitions that reflect the importance Danes put on social values.’ In the case of animation for younger kids, titles that have made the grade include Connie the Cow (Neptuno), Henry’s World (AAC Kids/TV-Loonland), Ethelbert the Tiger (Entertainment Rights) and Maisy (Universal).
Nickelodeon shows fit the older-kid bill perfectly, and The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron is lined up as a major TV launch before Christmas, with Batman Beyond (WB Animation), The Mummy (Universal) and Pokémon also doing well. In addition to these toons, Mathieson has picked up live-action titles like Even Stevens (Disney), Ocean Girl (Jonathan M. Shiff Productions) and Being Eve (South Pacific Pictures in New Zealand) for the upper end of her demo.
TV2′s most popular domestically-produced offering by far is the two-hour Bugs Bunny Sundayclub (Snurre Snups Søndagsklub) block, which rakes in a 53% share of the three to 14 set and 60% of eight- to 12-year-olds. The 10 a.m. block’s shows are split between acquired animation (Batman Beyond and Looney Tunes) and domestic magazine-style content fronted by Danish TV programming legend Bubber (real name Niels Christian Meyer), who is also TV2′s commissioning editor for local shows. The other top-rating domestic production, according to Mathieson, is TV-Animation’s format The Nelly Nut Show, which airs on Sunday at noon and racks up an average 46% share with kids three to 14.
For dramas and toons, TV2 is reliant on overseas suppliers and most often deals with English-speaking territories like the U.K., Australia and New Zealand because of similarities in sense of humor. However, it’s important to stress that TV2′s two best-performing acquisitions at present come from mainland Europe. World of Tosh – an animated Happy Life series co-produced with Magma, EM.TV, SVT Sweden and TV2 – attracts 48% of the core eight to 12 audience, while Totally Spies! airs on Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and grabs a 51% share of the same demo.
Since DR and TV2 are both public broadcasters, competition between the two for three- to seven-year-olds does not cause too much anxiety. However, the gloves will probably come off if TV2 is privatized – as seems increasingly likely, given that it controls 60% of the ad market in Denmark and isn’t as dependent on public subsidies as DR. If TV2 does lose its public funding, it will need to chase ad revenue even more aggressively than it already does, and this may mean that the channel will become more reliant on low-cost acquisitions than on locally-produced Danish shows.
In strategic terms, the other big news at TV2 concerns its decision to launch a daily kids block called Mini Zulu on digital sister channel Zulu beginning January 1.
Targeting the full three to 12 age range, Mini Zulu will broadcast during the day with content that also runs on TV2. Although Mathieson doesn’t expect to be buying more foreign content, she says Mini Zulu will allow her to schedule shows more flexibly than on the main channel. The upshot of this may be keener competition between TV2 and Cartoon Network, which airs 100 hours of programming every week. However there is also the possibility that stripped scheduling will allow TV2 to create a more forceful preschool offering to take on DR.
For acquisitions, TV2 pays between US$1,500 and US$2,500 per half hour for kids shows – a figure that hasn’t grown for a few years because of the economic downturn. In terms of negotiations, the main thing that’s changed is that TV2 is increasingly looking to secure a share in a property’s back-end – echoing a growing trend across Europe and the U.S.
In terms of her buying objectives, Mathieson will clearly need shows with sufficient episodic volume to run on Mini Zulu. But if there’s one thing she’s anxious for, it’s ‘the ultimate fantasy/adventure/
action/comedy for the eight to 12 group. Sounds difficult, but there are about three programs in pre-production or early stages of production I have my eye on. Apart from that, I’d like a high-quality, high-rating preschool show to build awareness for TV2′s preschool profile.’