As new media continues to occupy more and more of kids’ spare time, ABC Australia is hoping a new branded block that blurs the line between on-air and on-line will bring kids back to after-school TV.
ABC Kids programmer Deirdre Brennan says television viewing in this daypart has dropped across Australia, and the latest numbers from national ratings tracker OzTAM seem to bear this out. The average number of kids ages five to 12 who tuned into after-school TV had dropped from 24% in 2002 to 18% by July 2004. And although ABC Kids was still drawing an impressive 79.9% of those five- to 12-year-olds between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. in November 2004, its share for the next two half-hour slots dropped significantly to 69.7% and 52.7%.
To keep kids tuned in longer, the pubcaster has launched a branded block for the seven to 13 set called Roller Coaster, which kicked off at the end of January. Running two different series each night of the week between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., the package is inspired by and connected to a popular website of the same name that gets 700,000 hits a week on average. Brennan is hoping that this audience will migrate to the TV block and trigger as much as a 5% growth in viewing over the next six months to a year.
‘The way [seven- to 13-year-olds] are using media, they don’t see a distinct difference between television, on-line, game consoles and SMS. They use their media in so many different ways, and I think that we had to catch up with them,’ Brennan says. ‘In a sense, we’re integrating the content targeted to that age group across all our platforms.’
Rollercoaster.com.au has been up and running for three years now. The site features web pages tied to ABC programs like Saddle Club, but it also offers tons of generic games and content centered around sports, science, art and music. In March, Roller Coaster will relaunch on-line with a new look and fresh features that complement the TV brand, including a web blog by the on-air hosts.
Aiming for true cross-pollination, the block’s hosted segments will spotlight cool new components of the website, whether it be games, information, stories or competitions.
Brennan says the decision to not strip shows into the block adds a much more substantial promotional time frame. ‘When we used to strip a 26-episode program at 5 p.m., it would be done in five weeks. This way we can do much more with a series, and we have more flexibility to work with programs that perhaps don’t have the full 26-episode run.’
Brennan has carefully scheduled a mix of animation and live action targeting both genders into each daily feed, which will consist of two 24-minute episodes plus a 10-minute short and an on-air hosted segment. The current lineup includes several series that launched in 2004, such as Atomic Betty (Breakthrough) and Tutenstein (Discovery Kids). New acquisitions Dragon Booster (AAC Kids) and I Dream (Target Entertainment) will debut in February, and Southern Star’s tween drama Bluewater High, about teenagers at a surf school, will make an appearance in May. ABC is also gearing up Bluewater High on-line extras such as behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews.
Brennan has enough programming to take the block through to the middle of the year, but she anticipates needing four more shows to pad out the rest of ’05 and replace some of the series that have shorter runs. She’s looking across the board at live action, animation, comedy, drama and factual – but prospective pitches must identify well with the seven to 13 set and fit into ABC’s remit to entertain kids and make them think.
Looking beyond Roller Coaster, ABC Kids is changing up its branding across the board this month, adding new on-air IDs for its morning block for preschoolers and four- to seven-year-olds. The pubcaster was after an aesthetic that would make its programming stand apart from that of other nets, but with an element of fantasy and imagination.
ABC’s in-house design team has been working on the campaign since November, as part of an overall channel rebranding that started last year. The new kids IDs share some elements with the net’s prime-time persona (including color scheme and the ABC logo), yet they still present a distinct enough brand image that kids feel they’re watching something just for them, Brennan says.