Though Israel’s population of 6.5 million makes it one of the tinier markets in the world, there’s no dearth of broadcasters vying for eyeball control of its one million children. Already home to dedicated kids cable nets Noga Communications’ The Children’s Channel, Cartoon Network and Fox Kids, Israel also has two terrestials – the privately-owned Channel 2, which airs a morning kids strand, and pubcaster Channel 1, which airs both morning and afternoon kids programming.
But only one network runs dedicated preschool fare for the under-seven audience. Launched just three years ago by Tel Aviv-based parentco Zebra Communications, Hop! drew a 28.3% share of the two to seven demo during Q1 2003. By comparison, Noga, its next closest competitor in that space, scored a 16.2% share.
Apart from boasting a winning schedule, the key to Hop!’s number-one status is that it doesn’t run any commercials. ‘Because we’re commercial-free, parents feel safer putting their children in front of the TV with Hop!,’ says Galya Halaui, head of the net’s acquisitions and programming department. And in this case, that claim is more than just perfunctory marketing speak. Whenever the latest suicide bombing occurs, terrestrials immediately cut live to the carnage; Hop! doesn’t.
Hop!’s daily schedule runs from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the Israeli work week (Sunday to Thursday) and on weekends (Friday and Saturday). Mornings (6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.) and afternoons (4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.) are the net’s prime-time periods, during which it draws an 88% share of two- to five-year-olds. From 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., the net airs mostly non-verbal series appropriate for the cognitive skills of the zero to two set, such as the BBC’s Yoho Ahoy and Hopla from Belgium-based VRT. Between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., Hop! zeroes in on three- to five-year-olds with more dialogue-driven programming, including HIT’s Thomas the Tank Engine and S4C’s Tec the Tractor.
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Hop! offers a mix of in-house produced and acquired fare for two- to five-year-olds, like Nelvana’s Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and Henson’s The Hoobs. The 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. window ages up slightly with family-skewing fare such as in-house produced live-action/puppet series Dafna and Dudido, which has averaged a 70% share among one- to seven-year-olds over the last three years.
Hop!’s schedule is currently split 70/30 between acquired and original/co-produced series. Though the latter category has grown 10% since the channel’s inception, Halaui expects it to fall in the near future since it’s cheaper for Hop! to acquire programming than to produce it.
Like most channels, Hop!’s ambitions far exceed its funding ability. The net receives its entire budget (low seven figures) from the license fees cable/satellite companies pay to carry it into 1.4 million Israeli households. This means Hop! pays just US$500 per half hour for live-action and animated programming. While she admits it’s a paltry sum, Halaui says the world’s top kids producers use Hop! to build Israeli awareness for their shows, which they can then leverage into successful merchandising programs.
With more than 400 hours to fill each year, Halaui and her team are constantly scouring for new shows that meet the channel’s criteria for nurturing, non-violent programming. Hop! dubs all of its programs into Hebrew with Arabic subtitles, a process Halaui says the channel prefers to handle itself. For 2004, Halaui, who’s partial to educational shows like Nick’s Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer, says she’s looking to acquire between six and 12 series. Half-hour animated/puppet shows top her wishlist, but Halaui is also eager to purchase kids nature shows and old Charlie Chaplin episodes since both are easy to dub and pull in strong ratings in Israel.
Though Hop! has been on the scene for a relatively short time, parent company Zebra Communications is using its success to launch two new nets – an as-yet-unnamed parenting advice service and Hop! Interactive. The latter will predominantly feature Hop!-produced shows such as The Kuntz Family and Dafna and Dudido, with which kids will be able to interact using their converters. Scheduled to debut next year, the channels will be available to 600,000 households with digital cable/satellite services.