The U.K. is arguably the world’s most crowded kids TV market. Five free-to-air networks and two CabSat mainstream channels offer kids programming, with 15 dedicated kids channels and four time-shift channels rounding out the broadcast mix. As ever, the battle for viewers will be tough this fall, notably for the commercial channels, with many bemoaning the BBC’s unfair advantage.
The public service giant enjoys a monopoly of kids channels (CBBC and CBeebies) on the fast-growing free-to-air digital terrestrial platform Freeview, which launched last October and already reaches into 1.6 million homes. Preschool channel CBeebies and the kid-targeted CBBC also run on satellite and cable, broadcasting 44 hours a week on BBC1 and BBC2. Weekdays between 3:25 p.m. and 5:35 p.m., CBBC on BBC1 boasts an average share of 30% with kids four to 15, compared with rival commercial network ITV, which airs kids programming on weekdays from 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. and nets a 15% share of the same demo.
Nigel Pickard’s strategy for the channel to take on CiTV also appears to be paying off since his departure in January: The BBC has managed to win back its lead over ITV on Saturday mornings with The Saturday Show, which garnered a 30% share of four- to 15-year-olds on July 19 – the highest share the channel has seen in that daypart since March 2000, says CBBC/CBeebies controller Dorothy Prior.
Meanwhile, CBeebies has hit the market running, quickly becoming the most popular kids channel in digital homes with a 7.4% share of kids ages four to 15. The BBC’s confidence in CBeebies’ existing formula is so strong that it has picked up just one new show for fall – Spellbound Entertainment’s The Koala Brothers. The stop-frame series is about two koalas who move to the Australian outback and meet a cast of indigenous animal pals. Second-run series include preschool song, dance and craft show Tikkabilla (produced in-house) and The Fimbles (Novel Entertainment). Prior is hoping that this three-pack will help strengthen CBeebies’ position as the number-one digital channel for preschoolers – her main goal for the upcoming season.
The BBC is pegging three-part drama Fungus the Bogeyman (Indie Kids) as a breakout show for CBBC this fall. The three x one-hour live-action/CGI series – based on the book by Raymond Briggs – goes underground into the dark tunnels of Bogeydom to tell the tale of all things slimy. On the heels of a busy channel-launching year, the Beeb says it has no plans to debut any additional outlets or drastically overhaul its lineup this year, claiming that its current offering covers all demos and genres quite nicely.
Rival net ITV is fighting back with a host of new fall shows for its CiTV blocks for kids ages two to 10. After having its budgets slashed last year to help it ride out the economic downturn, recently installed controller of children’s and youth Steven Andrew claims that money is not as tight this year. Although it’s too early to say whether CiTV has managed to claw back some share from the BBC, Andrew is confident that his latest commissions will give the Beeb something to worry about.
Included in the CiTV fall lineup are: Tiger Aspect’s live-action comedy series Star, about a film star trying to cope with normal school life; gameshow Beat the Borgs (Prism), which Andrew says is a cross between Gladiators and betting show Banzai; and magic show You Can Do Magic (The Foundation). There will also be 13 new episodes of Granada Kids’ gameshow Jungle Run, and for the preschool set, fall features include Ragdoll’s Boobah, Absolutely’s Meg and Mog and a second season of Cosgrove Hall’s Engie Benjy.
Airing 26 hours of kids programming weekly, Channel 5 has also benefited from the Freeview launch, which boosted its reception footprint by about 500,000 homes. According to children’s controller Nick Wilson, the channel’s goals for fall will be to continue to grow its preschool market share and to program shows with higher-quality production values on Sunday mornings – predominantly drama and factual half hours aimed at kids six to 11.
The net’s big preschool guns for the fall season will be Hands Up Productions’ The Softies, a 40 x five-minute puppet show aimed at one- to three-year-olds; and another puppet series from Two Hats called Dusty and Smudge that’s about two mice who live behind the baseboards in a house.
Sunday mornings will be bolstered by the October launch of drama series Snobs. A co-production with Southern Star and Nine Network in Australia, it’s a Romeo and Juliet story about the unlikely friendship struck up between a boy from a community of modern-day nomads and a wealthy, middle-class girl.
The U.K.’s dedicated preschool channels are finding things particularly challenging this season as they try to compete with public sector-funded CBeebies, which has no ad breaks and benefits from heavy cross-promotion on BBC1 and BBC2. ‘When Nick Jr. launched three years ago, we feared it would be steamrolled by CBeebies,’ says Howard Litton, director of programs and deputy managing director for Nickelodeon UK. ‘I am delighted to say it’s still growing [currently boasting a 1.9% share of the four to 15 audience in digital homes], although CBeebies has probably stunted its growth.’
Scholastic Entertainment’s book-based stop-motion series I Spy (26 x 30 minutes) is the pick-up Nick Jr. is really banking on for fall. As main characters Spyler and CeCe search for various things, kid viewers are encouraged to shout out when they see the objects in question. ‘The show fits well into Nick Jr.’s overall join-in philosophy and brand values. We know that moms and kids love the interactivity of Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer, so we don’t see why I Spy shouldn’t be a hit in exactly the same way,’ says Litton. But don’t look for the channel’s schedule or strategy to change much beyond this key addition. ‘Our audience doesn’t like a massive amount of change. Preschoolers’ days are based around set routines, so what we try to do is tweak the schedules slightly at key points – like Q4 – by introducing a limited number of new shows.’
Conversely, Nick UK will be completely re-energizing is schedule this fall. Joining the after-school block and serving Nick’s core nine to 12 audience is a CGI/live-action sitcom called The Blobheads (26 x 30 minutes) from Decode and Wark Clements. The series tells the tale of Billy Barnes, whose 14-year-old life has been complicated by the arrival of his baby brother Silas, who turns out to be the Most High Emperor of the universe and attracts three kooky attendants from the planet Blob. Live-action sitcom What I Like About You (Warner Bros.) will debut in a 5 p.m. after-school slot and a 10:30 a.m. weekend slot, while WB series Gilmore Girls gets its first U.K. airing. The 22 x one-hour show hits Nick’s tween audience and will run at 11 a.m. on weekends starting this month.
Nickleodeon is also trying to maintain its connection with older boys on weekend mornings with the U.K. premiere of MTV/Sony’s animated Spider-Man series at 9 a.m. For the six weeks ending July 13, 2003, Nick was the number-one channel for boys 10 to 15 in the U.K. cable-satellite universe, with an 8.8% share.
The Nick Toons schedule is being tweaked to provide more back-to-back episodes of five or six core shows. SpongeBob SquarePants, in particular, will be given a big push in the hopes that its popularity will reach U.S. levels; and Jimmy Neutron and As Told by Ginger will both enjoy a second season.
According to Fox Kids UK’s head of programming and acquisitions Nathan Waddington, the most important show for the network this season is the live-action drama Black Hole High (26 x 26 minutes/Fireworks International and Discovery US). ‘It’s quite simply the best live-action show for our audience that we’ve seen since Goosebumps,’ says Waddington, who expects the series to attract a good number of girls as well as the channel’s core audience of boys seven to 11.
Over on Cartoon Network, the focus is on launching new shows and new episodes of popular existing shows across all three channels – Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Toonami – to maximize ratings. One such series is prime-time toon Codename: Kids Next Door, which makes its U.K. debut on Cartoon Network early this month. The Cartoon US original is about a group of kids on a mission to save their peers from the tyrannical rule of adults. Finn Arnesen, head of program production for Cartoon Network International, has also slotted in new episodes of Powerpuff Girls and Grim & Evil, as well as Star Wars: Clone Wars, a series of interstitials spanning the second and third Star Wars movies that will debut across Cartoon Network Europe on November 10. Turner is also re-tuning its CNX channel into a 24-hour action-adventure Toonami outlet. (See ‘Cue the explosions! Turner returns to boys action with Toonami,’ page 34.)
Disney Channel UK enters the fall season with weekday episodes of high-kicking, high-school heroine series Kim Possible, as well as the launch of the net’s first-ever in-house animated series The Spooky Sisters, which follows the adventures of quirky siblings Amelia and Cecilia Spooky. Look out for more original productions from Disney UK soon; its new in-house commissioning board has already green-lit three productions to the pilot stage, although the projects’ details were still under wraps at press time.
Switching to Toon Disney, new animated series Ratz (Xilam), featuring the antics of rodents Rapido and Razmo, takes to the screen weekday mornings in September, while a new series of cookery show Bite Size is back on Playhouse Disney.
Discovery Kids is hoping The Save-Ums! (Decode and Discovery Kids US) will be a hook for preschoolers. The show first aired in the U.K. on Channel 5 this summer. Program editor Lucy Pryke is also excited about the second series of Truth or Scare, premiering as part of the channel’s Halloween Week stunt the last week of October.
A newcomer to the U.K. broadcast scene can be found in Pop, which launched June 27. The U.K.’s only independently run kids channel, Pop is aimed at kids four to nine and operated by Chart Show Channels, the company behind U.K. music channel Chart Show TV. ‘We got the idea for Pop after realizing that the audience for pop music is getting younger and younger,’ says chairman Keith Macmillan. ‘We also have a strong background in animation, so we decided to mix the two.’ The company had already been doing fast-turnaround live animation for channels such as Cartoon Network, Nick and the BBC.
Pop’s 14-hour programming day is split evenly between cartoons (mainly European) and music fare. The fall toon lineup will include shows like Cosgrove Hall’s Fantomcat, in which a 17th-century hero returns to a life of high adventure in the 21st century; and Klasky Csupo’s animated sitcom Santo Bugito, about bugs in the desert. Dominating the fall sked will be an after-school VJ show in which preteen pop vids from mainstream bubblegum artists like S Club 7, S Club Juniors and early Britney Spears are linked by an in-house produced animated VJ. The channel has four in-house cartoon series in development, and in 2004, Macmillen hopes to commission or co-comission more toons from outside suppliers. Plans are already underway to launch a timeshift channel (Pop+), and once the channel is established in the U.K., Macmillen will look to expand the format into the rest of Europe.