French kidnets nip-and-tuck their brands and drive co-pros

The extreme makeover phenomenon has found an unlikely group of new followers in France. Kids programming execs on every type of air - but particularly in the cable/satellite universe, in which 14 kids channels compete for ratings, platform positioning and ad dollars - seem to be setting aside drastic programming overhauls this season in favor of sprucing up their on-air branding to attract fresh eyeballs.
September 1, 2004

The extreme makeover phenomenon has found an unlikely group of new followers in France. Kids programming execs on every type of air – but particularly in the cable/satellite universe, in which 14 kids channels compete for ratings, platform positioning and ad dollars – seem to be setting aside drastic programming overhauls this season in favor of sprucing up their on-air branding to attract fresh eyeballs.

After easing viewers into its latest transformation with a branded after-school block that launched in April, France’s Fox Kids channel was the first platform in the pan-Euro network to be reborn as Jetix, having relaunched on August 28. Managing director Antoine Villeneuve says a mass-market print campaign and four 15-second TV spots airing on terrestrials TF1 and M6 should help communicate the change to the net’s core demo of 10-year-olds. ‘In both cases, we’ll have a massive terrestrial reach,’ he says. ‘TF1 has the top kids shows, and on M6, we’re visible to a slightly different group of younger families.’

A series of in-house interstitials airing in the evenings from August 28 onwards should also reinforce the new brand. The segments are hosted by funny teens who intro shows and interact with the viewers via contests that invite kids to identify a new Jetix ID everyday, using red-button technology on their TV remotes.

Accomplishing the rebrand without losing any of its 2.3%* audience share is the most pressing objective for Jetix France this fall, so the channel’s schedule will stay the course except for one new program launching this month. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (4Kids Entertainment) will refresh a strong action-oriented after-school block that already features standbys like Power Rangers, Sonic X and Totally Spies! Jetix will share the series with TF1, which garnered a 40.5% share with the heroes in a half shell last year.

While Jetix super-serves boys on cable/satellite, Canal J has spied an opening for a new 6 a.m. to midnight girls channel called Filles TV, which just launched on September 1. Designed to attract girls ages 11 to 17, Filles was created in response to Canal J audience complaints that the channel focused too much on cartoons and wasn’t representing older girls’ more sophisticated viewing tastes.

The start-up’s schedule reads like a best-of compilation of live-action tween/teen hits, with Degrassi: The Next Generation (Epitome Pictures), Radio Free Roscoe (Decode Entertainment) and The Sleepover Club (Wark Clements/Burberry/Rialto) lined up to kick the channel off. Filles TV has also poached Sister Sister from Canal J, and the two nets will share Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Pierre Belaïsch, deputy managing director for Canal J, TiJi and Filles, says he plans to mine Canal J’s vaults for additional teen-focused shows that he can import to Filles.

To help define the Filles TV brand, a Japanese-inspired live interstitial show called Kawaï! will be produced in-house. ‘In Japanese, ‘kawai’ means cute, lovely and very cool,’ says Belaïsch. ‘There’s always been a connection between being Japanese and having that kind of attitude.’ A series of five- to eight-minute live-to-air Kawaï! segments featuring celebrity guests, music and audience makeovers will wrap around Filles programming from 5:20 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Interstitials will also play a major role on Canal J’s preschool channel TiJi, with the net’s spokescharacters TiJinou and TiJibelle reading viewer mail and interacting with kids in filler spots during the weekend evening block that features Dora the Explorer (Nick) and The Triplets (Cromosoma). On weekdays, three new acquisitions will take to the stage: Contender’s Peppa Pig, AAC Kids’ Peep and the Big Wide World (both launching in September) and the first of four 45-minute Strawberry Shortcake specials from DIC Entertainment (bowing at the end of the month).

Canal J is the only platform in its kidcasting triumvirate that won’t get made over this year. But to perk up the leading cable/satellite channel’s audience share of 8%*, Belaïsch has picked up 40 hours of Sony Picture Entertainment’s Astro Boy for an after-school broadcast pairing with Mitsui’s Duel Masters. New episodes of Marsupilami (Marathon), Kid Paddle (Dupuis), Rocket Power (Nick) and Corneil and Bernie (Millimages) will roll out in November.

Canal J competitor and TPS-run cable/satellite network Teletoon is banking on the double appeal of femme-powered Decode shows Angela Anaconda and What About Mimi? to combat the threat of Filles TV. The shows will team up with Rainbow’s Winx Club and Nelvana’s Braceface to create a new after-school block, and boys who aren’t into girl power can flip over to time-shift channel Teletoon +1 to watch new episodes of Nelvana’s Jacob Two-Two and Beyblade instead.

Teletoon is also lifting face this fall, launching a new logo and making a more concerted effort to pepper its schedule with ‘real kids’ interstitial programming that will help its viewers identify with the channel. For the first time, head of acquisitions Caroline Boré-Dijoud says she plans to enlist the help of protagonists from SpongeBob SquarePants (Nick), Jacob Two-Two (Nelvana), King (Decode) and The Fairly OddParents (Nick) to promote the channel 24/7. The Teletoon team was still formulating plans for this branding initiative at press time.

After almost two years on air, TPS’s educational channel Eureka! is also seeking to cement its brand identity. The net will explore a different continent every two months in a new evening block called World Tour with Eureka. Africa will be the first focus, with Tommy Lynch Productions’ Scout’s Safari in the spotlight, and Boré-Dijoud was hammering out a lineup of programming based around Australia for November and December at press time.

Localized segments that will personalize pick-up Backyard Science from Penguin TV and Beyond Distribution are also in production. Interstitials featuring two French hosts will air during the show to help French kids conduct easy scientific experiments using materials from their homes, ‘making it almost a Eureka! production.’ Also in the shorts pipeline is Pick Pocket’s Idées Rucues, which debunks common myths (bulls are inexorably drawn to the color red, for example) in each of its 1.5-minute eps.

Co-productions continue to occupy a lot of space in the Eureka! lineup because Boré-Dijoud says it’s difficult to find strong magazine and documentary programming for kids that can also reinforce the channel brand. Hitting the schedule this month is the second season of Super Job, a co-pro with Paris-based 909 Productions that will reach out to its audience this year by featuring actual Eureka! viewers spending a day trying out their dream jobs.

TPS Jeunesse’s new digital preschool net Piwi will pack its fall schedule with pick-ups including Little Red Tractor (Cosgrove Hall), Little Robots (Create TV & Film), Meg and Mog (Target) and Franny’s Feet (Decode). Then in spring 2005, it plans to start rolling out its first co-pros with the debut of Trot Trot, a book-based series produced with Storimages about a little donkey and his family.

Since its launch last December, Piwi has made some major inroads and is now racking up a 1.9%* share. Playhouse Disney is starting to feel the pressure. Although the audience share for Disney’s multi-channel pack, which includes Toon Disney and Disney Channel, rose by 2.7% from early 2003 to mid-2004, Playhouse has yet to achieve Piwi’s reach. To help the channel pull ahead of its preschool rival, director of programming Julien Borde plans to increase Playhouse’s exclusive content, a rarity in the premium universe, where most channels share programming with terrestrials. Borde admits that acquiring a first window on third-party shows is challenging, so Disney’s catalogue of preschool shows will help fulfill the mandate initially, with JoJo’s Circus settling into the Playhouse lineup exclusively this year.

Seeking to appeal to the younger end of the preschool demo, Borde plans to debut two new morning blocks to run on weekdays starting at 9 a.m. A pair of short-format music shows will kick the mornings off. Fabulettes d’Anne Sylvestre, which features traditional French kids songs viewers can sing along with their grandparents, will lead into the more musically modern short series Mamemo (independently produced by Belgian animator Olivier Marcoen). At 9:15 a.m., the schedule will shift into an older-skewing block called Disney Câlins, highlighted by Pepper’s Ghost’s Tiny Planets and Tell-Tale Productions’ Boo! ‘Our subscribers needed us to differentiate our preschool offerings for very young viewers and older preschoolers,’ Borde explains.

Disney Channel proper is cherry-picking from the U.S. launch library to refresh its air, with live-actioner Phil of the Future and animated series American Dragon both joining the French net’s lineup in the fall. Meanwhile, Toupou (Xilam/France 3) will stand alone as the channel’s only new third-party acquisition. Toon Disney is also going light on pick-ups, beginning and ending with Futurikon’s Kaput and Zosky. Borde is after more Euro content for the 2005/2006 season, with first-window rights and episode lengths between seven and 12 minutes defining his buying parameters.

As France’s cable/satellite kidnets duke it out in their domain, the mighty terrestrials play for bigger stakes in the free-to-air universe. Leading the fight for eyeballs is TF1, with a whopping audience share of 21.5%*. Dominique Poussier, the channel’s head of children’s programming, says TF1 has no plans to switch up its blocks or stray from serving its target audience of four- to 10-year-olds this season. Instead, she plans to pack a programming whollop with eight new action-adventure and comedy acquisitions that include Pororo (from Korea’s Iconix), Jacob Two-Two (Nelvana), All Grown Up (Nick) and Megaman (ShoPro).

On the public broadcasting side of the French airwaves, France 3 is tinkering with its channel brand to try and steal some viewers away from TF1. A mainstay with the six to 11 set, F3 corners a 4.7%* share. On August 30, the network will rename its kids block France Truc and introduce three lively in-house characters – TruC, TruK and TruQUE – to star in interstitials.

With US$31.3 million set aside for co-productions this year, France 3 is the country’s most active kids series financier at the broadcast level. So it’s not surprising that 50% of its fall lineup will be comprised of co-pros including Dragon Hunters (with Futurikon and Super RTL/RTV Family Entertainment), Les Gnoufs (with Method Films) and Flatmania (Futurikon, Method and Vivatoon). Acquisitions joining the net are toplined by Sony Pictures’ Astro Boy, which F3 will share with Canal J, and an exclusive run of HIT Entertainment’s revamp of Pingu.

Eve Baron, France 3′s head of children’s programming, says the channel will increase the amount of animation in its schedule at the expense of live-action shows such as Parker Lewis Can’t Lose and Mystery Zack. Toons with solid track records such as Braceface and Jackie Chan Adventures will return to the sked, and although France 3′s Warner Bros. block as a whole sometimes falls short in the ratings race against TF1′s Disney block, Baron says her top-performing show last year was Scooby-Doo, which averaged a 43.2% share.

Following F3′s lead, M6 is ramping up its co-production output. Head of children’s programming Natalie Altmann says 54% of its schedule will be made up of co-pros this year. Although the net’s investment of US$6 million is just a fraction of France 3′s spend, its reputation as a major co-pro investor should get a boost with the launch of Atomic Betty this month, produced with Atomic Cartoons, Breakthrough Animation and Tele Images Kids. Other co-productions returning to M6 include Martin Mystery (Marathon), Kid Paddle (Dupuis) and Funky Cops (Antefilms).

M6 also wants to build a reputation as a destination for exclusive programming. This fall, the net plans to run exclusive Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes that prequel the franchise’s first feature film, which is set to hit French theaters on November 10.

Also ramping up its co-production remit is tween/teen terrestrial France 2, which is launching three co-pros this season, starting with A Hell of a Girl (with Disney), 15/Love (with Marathon and Galafilm) and I Dream (with Target and 19 Entertainment). The channel’s program manager for youth, Karine Leyzin, says France 2 will try to keep exclusive windows on as much of its live-action tween shows as possible, an existing policy that has become more important with the advent of Filles TV. France 2 is already locked into sharing its windows for Sabrina, S Club 7 and Sister Sister with the new diginet, but that won’t be its modus operandi going forward. And Leyzin is confident that France 2 will come out on top by virtue of its wider terrestrial reach and exclusive hit programming such as Edgemont and What I Like About You.

*All asterisked audience share figures in this article measure viewers ages four to 14 in French cable/satellite homes from December 2003 to June 2004.

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