Broadcasters are continuing to slice the demographic pie into thinner pieces, but their newest target can’t even handle solid food yet. Baby TV hit the airwaves across Europe this year as an ad-free 24-hour diginet for infants and toddlers up to age three and now has its sight set on expansion.
Initially launched in Israel at the end of 2004, and harboring a 15% market penetration as a premium channel in that country, Baby TV has since rolled out in 10 territories in Europe, including the U.K. (NTL) and France (TPS). Additional launches in Italy, Russia and Turkey, among others, are in the works for this year and Baby TV’s director of programming Ron Isaak says he is in negotiations with cable providers in North America and Eastern Asia.
Since most of the shows are not language-based, dubbing from territory to territory isn’t a problem, says Isaak, adding that babies’ experiences tend to be pretty universal and cultural differences don’t play a huge role yet. However, nursery rhymes are tweaked to suit local tastes.
The programming on the channel is designed to enhance learning and development and encourage parent-baby interaction, Isaak says. During the day Baby TV airs programs that encourage activity, featuring music, colors and nature. In Vegimals, for example, 3-D animals are created from different vegetable parts, while Hands Up demonstrates exercises parents can do with their babies.
Baby TV’s existing programs are all under five minutes in length – since babies’ schedules are so varied Isaak wanted shows that parents and infants could jump into it at any time and watch for as long as needed. And because babies are up at all hours (along with their poor parents), soothing music and imagery airs throughout the night.
At this point, only 15% of the channel’s programming is created out of house. Recent pick-ups include Farzzle’s World (My Dog Entertainment/Brown Bag Pictures) – a 2-D series in which the recorded voice of a real two-year-old underscores the baby star’s point-of-view – as well as programming from Baby Genius and Brainy Baby. With 32 series already on air, Isaak is anxious to expand his roster significantly, as Baby TV’s distribution net gets wider. Fourteen more series are planned for next year, and he would like to add as many as eight to 10 co-productions to the slate.
‘We’re producing most of [the shows] ourselves because there is very little content for this age group on the market,’ Isaak says. But now that Baby TV is becoming more well known he hopes to attract many more producers to the genre. The channel signed a DVD deal with TPS in France and it will bring a slate of its in-house production to sell at MIPTV.
Preferring to get in early on the co-production stage, Baby TV is very strict about content parameters and works with an advisory panel, child psychologists and focus groups to steer development. And because it’s impossible to get ratings information on baby viewership, the channel conducted extensive research in Israel last year to chart what babies responded to best and to determine what their parents liked. The two groups had very different opinions. The babies seemed to like the shows that were more abstract and fun, and puppet characters attracted more attention than the 2-D animation. ‘They get more attached to them,’ explains Isaak. ‘Parents, on the other hand, like the more methodical teaching programs.’