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Five’s preschool block shakes up the competition in the U.K.

Having just edged out CBeebies for the number-one morning preschool spot this year, Five's Milkshake block is getting set to expand its duration and reach in October. Understandably, the net's director of children's programming Nick Wilson is on the hunt for new series to pad out the broadening sked.
September 1, 2006

Having just edged out CBeebies for the number-one morning preschool spot this year, Five’s Milkshake block is getting set to expand its duration and reach in October. Understandably, the net’s director of children’s programming Nick Wilson is on the hunt for new series to pad out the broadening sked.

Five is prepping two new digital channels on Freeview for launch next month. The three-hour terrestrial block will continue untouched, but an extended six-hour Milkshake block – running from 6 a.m. to noon seven days a week – is slated for the new Five Life digi channel. Wilson says filling the time slot shouldn’t prove too difficult and he is now busy buying more rights to Milkshake’s existing shows and developing more co-pros.

But he’s not looking to shake up the block’s successful formula which offers a solid mix of animation styles and subjects for preschoolers. Currently Fifi and the Flowertots (Chapman Entertainment), Make Way for Noddy (Chorion) and Australian co-pro Bottletop Bill sit at the top of Milkshake’s ratings.

That said, Wilson’s plotting his next moves carefully. Since its 2001 launch, Milkshake has offered 26 hours of preschool programming per week, keeping approximately 20 series in rotation. Over the past year, Five has become the top terrestrial net during the week with the four to nine set, snagging a 11.6% audience share on weekday mornings, while rival BBC 2 and its Cbeebies offering takes a close second place with an 11.1% share. Also with four preschool channels in the mix, competition to capture the one- to six-year-old audience is stiff. Admittedly not as stiff as it is for his counterparts targeting core kids, who fight it out amongst 16 dedicated channels, Wilson notes.

This October, Wilson is heading to MIP Jr. to keep his eye on the marketplace. Even though he attends the event annually with his mind more on scoping out the competition than shopping, he’s willing to vet preschool concepts for Milkshake while there this year. ‘Generally, I’m looking for shows that we can co-produce,’ he says. ‘But I will look at ones that are already made that we can re-version or we can just take off the shelf.’

When it comes to shopping for new ideas, Wilson is extremely picky about what he wants on his block. Firstly, he has very little interest in taking live-action pitches and says non-animated fare on Milkshake will almost certainly be commissioned independently from U.K. production houses. ‘I don’t want game shows, and I don’t want people with red noses singing and dancing,’ he says.

Specifically, he prefers story-driven animation, preferably CGI or stop-motion. Program length is not an issue and he’ll consider short-form or half-hour shows targeting either boys or girls.

Those interested in meeting with Wilson in Cannes should contact him first via e-mail or snail-mail (if need be) with a brief outline of the show idea. He will follow up on ideas that get his attention. Anyone attempting to call Wilson will have a hard time getting past his assistant. ‘I’m really nasty about meetings. I won’t have one unless I’ve seen an idea first and we have something to talk about. I won’t take blind pitches.’

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