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Got it Need it: KI.KA’s building up its defenses

With a diginet invasion looming on the horizon in Germany, the country's kids channels are busy shoring up their programming portfolios to stave off a possible attack from power players including Nick and Cartoon Network, which are both believed to be eyeing the region for expansion this year. KI.KA, for one, doesn't plan to sit back and see what happens. Sebastian Debertin, the channel's head of acquisitions and co-productions, is prepping a slew of proprietary live-action shows, as well as scoping the market for strong new concepts for his under-eight viewers.
January 1, 2005

With a diginet invasion looming on the horizon in Germany, the country’s kids channels are busy shoring up their programming portfolios to stave off a possible attack from power players including Nick and Cartoon Network, which are both believed to be eyeing the region for expansion this year. KI.KA, for one, doesn’t plan to sit back and see what happens. Sebastian Debertin, the channel’s head of acquisitions and co-productions, is prepping a slew of proprietary live-action shows, as well as scoping the market for strong new concepts for his under-eight viewers.

Preschool will be Debertin’s top priority, as he tries to regain ground lost to Super RTL, which currently reigns supreme with Germany’s youngest audience. While KI.KA has cornered German licenses for many top-rated preschool shows (including Sesame Street and Teletubbies), Debertin is adjusting his branding approach to make the daily 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. preschool block more cohesive when it relaunches in fall 2005.

Although he’s still looking for up to five new preschool shows, Debertin has already picked up Little Red Tractor from Entertainment Rights to refresh the schedule this year. And though he doesn’t usually go for CGI, Debertin says Mike Young Productions’ Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks has been averaging a 38% marketshare in its 10 a.m. timeslot since debuting in December. Based on these results, he’s considering moving the show to prime time.

KI.KA also plans to broaden its range of programming for the five to eight set, and Debertin is working to seal deals for as many as seven new animated series targeting this demo. Acquiring and co-producing animation will be a big focus, given that the net might lose its licenses to ratings winners like Rocket Power if Nick launches a German channel of its own.

Debertin is moving away from his gender-neutral approach to pick up more boy-skewing series, including Pet Alien as part of a three-year first-look deal with Mike Young. He’s also been making forays into action-adventure programming with Tooncan’s The Boy, a concept best described as James Bond meets Mission Impossible that still fulfills the pubcaster’s violence-free content mandate.

Live action is not as much of an acquisition priority at KI.KA because only locally produced series seem to work well, and the net has already been investing quite heavily in several such projects. One breakout hit from the fall is a game show created in cahoots with Dutch studio Endemol. We Test the Best pits kids from classrooms around the country against each other in a trivia challenge similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (without the seven-figure payout, obviously). Debertin was surprised at first that the series did so well (it averaged a 33.4% share) because it skews a bit older than KI.KA’s core demo of five- to eight-year-olds, who are usually in bed when We Test the Best airs at 7:25 p.m.

KI.KA is also in development on a live-action detective series spin-off of a popular adult franchise called Tatort that’s currently airing on ARD. The 35-year-old series follows along as detectives solve crimes in regions all over Germany. The children’s version, a co-production with Saxonia Media, will throw a kid into the mix to help out on the sleuthing front.

Culling its funding from parent net ZDF’s operating budget (which totaled US$2.4 billion last year, with 6.4% set aside for children’s programming), KI.KA’s budget has remained the same over the past couple of years. However, Debertin is prepared to pay as much as 25% to 30% more than he has in the past for really hot series in a bid to become more competitive.

Editor’s note: The electronic version of this article has been edited from the original print version in order to correct or clarify some information that it contained.

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