With a population of 8.9 million, Sweden is a small-ish country. But competition for the tube loyalty of its 1.3 million kids ages three to 14 remains fierce. The country is home to three terrestrials that air kids programming and five dedicated kids channels – including Swedish versions of Fox Kids, Nick, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel – which are distributed either through digital terrestrial, satellite or cable.
Swedish pubcaster SVT launched digital service Barnkanalen on December 23, primarily to offer the nation’s children a non-commercial alternative to its three kids channels and to build upon the huge kid following that terrestrial channel SVT1 already draws, says Barnkanalen’s program director Veronica Hedman.
According to TV ratings agency MMS (Media Measuring in Scandinavia), SVT1 was the number-one kids channel last year, attracting 5% of kid viewers ages three to 11, more than doubling its nearest competitor TV4, which captured only 2% of that audience. Relative to other markets, 5% seems to be a low share for a number-one kids channel, but according to Hedman, children in Sweden watch only 1.5 hours of television a day – much less than children in the U.S., who average three to four hours of daily tube time.
Though Barnkanalen will be hard-pressed to deliver the numbers of its sister net anytime soon (since only 19% of households in Sweden can receive a digital signal), it has already made significant inroads. Over its first three weeks of operation it was pulling in 0.1% of Swedish viewers (ages three to 11), tying with Nickelodeon for third spot among dedicated kidnets behind Fox Kids (0.2%) and Cartoon Network (0.4%).
While Cartoon Network remains at the top of the heap, Nick’s programming lineup, which features a lot of non-fiction live-action shows, is the most similar to Barnkanalen’s. However, what distinguishes Barnkanalen from Nick and the other channels is ‘that real kids get to participate in the shows,’ says Hedman.
On weekdays, Barnkanalen broadcasts 11.5 hours a day, complementing the 7.5 hours of kids programming that SVT1 runs from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. during the week, and seven and a half to nine hours on weekends. As a public service, the channel received 100% of its US$5.2-million 2002/2003 budget from license fees. Currently, Hedman and the channel’s two buyers, Annica Cederborg and Jan Erik Wieselberj, fill 45% of Barnkanalen’s sked with Swedish-produced programming, with the other 55% consisting of acquired foreign product.
The channel divides each day into four blocks. The preschool block – running from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. – is home to a mix of new and old Swedish programs and acquired mainstays for the three to six demo, including Bob the Builder and Franklin. Most of the Swedish shows – both new productions and library fare – are live-action and factual, with kids nature show Myror I brallan (Ants in the Pants) exemplifying this category. Animated and live-action hosts preview upcoming shows throughout the net’s entire schedule. Since preschoolers form the main kid audience pool in the morning, the channel repeats the first block in its 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. slot.
Barnkanalen moves into programming for seven- to 11-year-olds from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. with interactive fare such as Twebby and Twebby’s Musikmix. Produced by local studio Växjo, Twebby is a 45-minute live-action show based on an SVT website (www.svt.se/barnkanalen) on which kids can play games and trade e-mails with their friends. The program also houses a talk show featuring Swedish celebrity guests. Following Twebby is the half-hour Twebby’s Musikmix, which airs kids requests for music videos by foreign and Swedish artists, after which the net repeats Twebby once more.
Twebby is a bit of an experiment for Barnkanalen, says Hedman, but it is consistent with the net’s efforts to engage children to a greater degree than other Swedish channels do. And it may well be on its way to achieving that goal. For the show’s first three weeks, the Twebby website drew 32,000 unique visitors, making it the third most visited webpage among SVT’s kids sites.
In the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. block, which also targets kids ages seven to 11, the channel returns to a mix of acquired shows – including Decode series Angela Anaconda and The Zack Files and Tiger Aspect’s Mr. Bean, The Animated Series – as well as shows from its archive, like the 1970s Swedish sitcom Taratan (The Cake), which follows the slapstick antics of three inept bakers.
Further to its efforts to bring kids into the programming is Mobilen, another live-action show produced by SVT that features hosts who ride in a bus across Sweden and visit children at daycare centers and schools. Each 25-minute episode of the show, which airs Wednesdays at 4:45 p.m., is built around a single subject, like swimming or pottery-making. Five-minute interstitials of Mobilen also air during the week throughout the digital channel’s morning blocks.
While Hedman says it’s too early to say what shows are emerging as winners, she believes that the 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. timeslot, which features shows such as Franklin and Bob the Builder, is likely pulling in the largest audience.
Although there aren’t any new blocks planned for Barnkanalen this year, Hedman says she and her acquisitions team will be on the hunt for two new shows for the 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. period to replace Angela Anaconda and Zack Files in the spring. By that time, the channel will have aired all of the new eps for both shows, after which they will move over to SVT1.
Ideally, Hedman says she is interested in acquiring an animated show with offbeat humor, as well as a live-action comedy that can attract an even boy-girl audience.