Shifting strategies – Teutonic nets reshape the kids TV landscape for upcoming season

Nick reaches internationally to build German presence
October 1, 2006

Nick reaches internationally to build German presence

Nickelodeon’s re-entry into the German market a year ago set industry tongues a wagging, but the anticipated explosion onto the scene hasn’t quite happened… yet. Ratings for the new free-to-air network aren’t crushing top-rated Super RTL, and some German broadcasters have hinted other networks picked up more viewers when Nick launched than Nick did. The goal was to snag a 10% audience share within the year, but Markus Andorfer, VP of entertainment channels, would only say Nick is a top channel in the region along with Super RTL and Ki.Ka. And he’s betting on its 360-degree programming for mobile, on-line and linear TV to keep the network ahead of the game.

Then there’s the fact that Nick produces some of the highest-rated shows airing in the country. ‘We’re all terrestrial networks essentially, and all of the shows we bring to the German market will be exclusive to Nick,’ he says.

So, what about SpongeBob SquarePants? Andorfer says starting in November, episode 74, and those to follow, will be on Nick exclusively, despite Super RTL’s licensing agreement that doesn’t expire until 2009. ‘SpongeBob was Super RTL’s number-one hit show and it didn’t want to get out of the contract, so we aired the first 73 episodes with them,’ he says. Scheduling wise, Andorfer says Nick aims to be complementary rather than directly competitive, adding the schedule only overlaps with SpongeBob and fellow Nick production Jimmy Neutron.

For this season, Andorfer has reached out to international producers for new programming in addition to dipping into Nick’s bag of in-house productions. For the preschool Nick Jr., which starts at 7:30 a.m., he’s most excited about slotting Nelvana’s Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends in the latter end of the block. ‘We needed this kind of bridge programming for four- to eight-year-olds,’ he says. He thinks the tone of the program, which teaches tolerance and acceptance of different people, will speak to the viewers.

For Nick’s lunchtime block for nine- to 13-year-olds, Animation Collective’s Kappa Mikey will come onboard. Andorfer is looking to package this Japanese-inspired comedy with Avatar: The Last Airbender, Skyland and Danny Phantom in the coming months because the series have similar qualities. ‘Very great production values, bright, colorful,’ he says.

As part of an overarching strategy, Andorfer is going to stagger the launches, with Kappa bowing in September, and Avatar following in November. He didn’t want to bombard the sked with new content and risk alienating viewers who have just gotten familiar with the channel. ‘It’s too dangerous, especially as we’re up against Super RTL,’ he says. Counter-programming is also part of his weekday scheduling strategy. ‘Japanese animation is popular on RTL2 in the afternoons, so we go for a girl skew then,’ Andorfer says, noting, ‘but as a whole, we’re gender balanced.’

Looking forward to the 2007/2008 season, Andorfer says the shows will revolve around a group of protagonists rather than one person. ‘We’re looking for a whole team – a group of best friends,’ he says. Such programs draw a broader audience and appeal to both genders equally. He points to Disney’s High School Musical as an example of the type of show he’ll have his eyes peeled for at MIPCOM.

Super RTL stays on top

When Nickelodeon entered the German market, pundits believed Super RTL had the most to lose. After all, it was the top-rated network for kids in the territory. Moreover, its most popular show was Nick flagship series SpongeBob SquarePants. Twelve months later, the network continues to top the charts with kids, but it doesn’t mean Frank Dietz, head of acquisitions and co-production at Super RTL, thinks the trial is over. Nick entered the market just months before World Cup mania swept over the nation’s kids, so come last June a lot of the young viewers were tuning into the soccer games rather than their fave toons, which affected both broadcasters. Even then, Dietz says his network secured a 28% share of daytime, and some programs reached up to a 35% share.

So, if Dietz has adopted an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude, it’s for good reason. Accordingly, the network has a truckload of new episodes of second and third seasons for established programming. Series such as Totally Spies!, Kim Possible, Dragon Hunters, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and Bob the Builder will return, as well as Montreal, Canada-based Cinegroup’s What’s with Andy?, which comes back to the network after a short absence caused by Jetix’s withdrawal from the co-pro. Dietz scheduled the older episodes over the summer to lead up to its return. As for new series set to debut, Super RTL’s co-pro with Jetix, Sav! the World, France 3 and Bandai Visual, Oban Star Racers, will launch on the network with 26 episodes. The Japanese/Euro hybrid is both high-concept and quality, according to Dietz. ‘It was very ambitious and very intensive to produce,’ he says, adding he doesn’t yet know if a second season will come to air.

Off-air activity has been a focus for Dietz in the last few months, as well. The net launched an on-line community for teen and tween girls this summer called Element Girls. The site is divided into the four elements of fire, earth, wind and water and it’s a safe environment where girls can chat with each other, learn personal skills such as how to handle conflict, and download music. So far, 60,000 girls have signed up. There’s also a new download portal called that launched in July in conjunction with sister company Random House (also partially owned by Bertelsmann Group) – more than 700 audio books are currently available on the site.

As for 2007, Dietz is on the lookout for comedies with high- production values in the same vein as Camp Lazlo from Cartoon Network. ‘Action-comedy, cartoons with style, spirit and good storytelling. And slapstick always works for us,’ he says.

Ki.Ka encourages more interactivity

Sebastian Debertin says a lot has changed in the German broadcasting landscape in the past few months, which he hopes will establish Ki.Ka as the top draw for German kids on free TV. Ki.Ka is wary of the increasing competition that’s emerging on the new digital platform. Although it’s not clear yet if German audiences will want to pay to watch channels, Debertin says both RTL Group (which owns RTL, RTL2, Super RTL, VOX and n-TV) and MTV Networks Germany will be launching encrypted channels on this new platform. Whether any kids nets appear as a result has yet to be seen, but he’s insistent that Ki.Ka will stay free-to-air in the digital era, as it may be an advantage to be available to a larger audience.

Although the network doesn’t have an official fall season, a number of new series are set to bow in the coming months. Dark Oracle (Cookie Jar) and locally produced Great, Tom! (Minga Media Entertainment) will launch in September. Also scheduled to appear is the experimental docu-format Kids Power (from German producer Anaconda), where families switch roles – the kids go to their parents’ workplaces and moms and dads return to school.

As for what’s floating Debertin’s boat most right now, he singles out PicMe (from Dublin, Ireland’s Jam Media) and the long-awaited co-pro Ugly Duckling and Me (Futurikon, A Films Denmark and Magma Films). Ki.Ka secured the exclusive German rights for PicMe. And in addition to airing dubbed original version of the series, the network’s opening up its mailbox to receive kids portraits that it can then insert into the series, truly making its viewers a part of the on-screen action.

Interactivity in all guises, in fact, is an important element for Debertin. He says the network acts more like a contact person for its audience. Viewers are continually encouraged to call, e-mail, write and ask for help, advice and information. Formats such as Kummerkasten (Agony Aunt) and the call-in show Ki.Ka Live help solidify the role.

ZDF ramps up on-line presence

Interactivity is also a major strategy for ZDF’s kids blocks. Arne Lohman, director of co-production and the interim kids commissioning editor, says the net’s strategy this season is to become a real part of kids’ lives. ‘We want to be their friends,’ he says, adding the net plans to do this by engaging viewers on-line, offering them behind-the-scenes scoops and educational tidbits on the website. For example, the series Wicked Science is a live-action fiction series, but the ZDF website demonstrates scientific findings behind the experiments on the show.

The website is also being used to promote upcoming series. For example, content from preschool series such as the third season of Dragon appeared on the internet and as part of a live show that toured Germany’s main railway stations this past summer before its TV debut. Laura’s Star (ZDF), which launches with a Christmas special and more episodes in January 2007, also got the live show treatment this past summer that combined walk-on characters with snippets of the filmed footage.

For the older kids, ZDF has already greenlit the second series of H2O, about teen mermaids living on land and attending school (Jonathan M. Shiff/Southern Star) even though the first season won’t launch until December. ‘We’re convinced it will be very successful, and it helps that it’s launching in the winter, when it’s nice to see sunny beaches,’ he says. Toon-wise, Rainbow’s Monster Allergy will make its debut, as well as Warner Bros.’ Xiaolin Showdown, both of which have been picked up to attract more boys. Lohman says the net right now is skewed slightly female, and he’s attempting to even out the gender split.

RTL2 embraces anime to

concentrate on boy audience

After a brief trial last year to get more girls watching, Andrea Lang, head of children’s programming and animation at RTL 2, says the block is going back to its key boy target. Anime is the name of the game for this season. ‘We are always very strong in Japanese animation with sagas, ongoing storytelling and complicated, complex characters,’ she says. And Naruto (VIZ Media) should fit this bill. Lang has committed to airing 52 eps, stripping every weekday at 3:30 p.m., and if it meets expectations, she’s planning to pick up more. Promotion for the series started in August with on-air promotions and on-line contests sponsored by Nintendo. A special 10-minute DVD was also inserted into an issue of the block’s dedicated kids magazine, Pokito.

The net is also gearing up for the 10th anniversary of block mainstay Pokémon and big promotions are in the works. Nintendo takes a partnering role in the celebration beginning at the end of this month and leading into November. The net will debut a special episode to commemorate the birthday, and then launch the series’ eighth season.

Starting in October, Dragonball GT takes a bow with back-to-back episodes. Lang will stunt the show after Naruto until December. ‘Dragonball Z was huge and the interest for the show is still there. It’s always in the top five websites for kids,’ she says. There’s also a first run of Shaman King (4Kids Entertainment) and Get Ed (Buena Vista/Disney).

For next year, Lang is looking to commit to programming earlier. Although she’s not in a position to get onboard during the development stage, she’ll consider taking on the risk after piloting. ‘We might be willing to buy from a script too, rather than waiting to see how it does on another channel,’ she says.

Jetix leans on humor,

and focuses on new launches

Changes are brewing at Jetix’s weekend terrestrial block on Kabel 1 and its full digital channel. This season, the free TV block featuring series such as Super Robot Hyper Team Monkey Force Go is switching from Saturday to Sunday morning.

Over at the diginet, the network has taken a page from its sister net in the U.K. and launched a new after-school block, Jetix Max. Every few weeks, the first-run series appearing in this one hour segment will change themes, moving from action to humor and back. ‘It’s basically another tool to get kids excited about the programming schedule, and it has the potential to push the brand on air,’ Stefan Kastenmueller, managing director at Jetix, says.

Cable network programming is still a growing platform in Germany, but Kastenmueller says it has a lot bubbling under the surface including mobile and IPTV. ‘We have many people and telecommunications networks knocking on our doors,’ he says. A deal with Deutsche Telecom will make Jetix programming available as on-demand in the coming months and the net will also appear in DT’s channel package launching this month on IPTV. He hints the next step will likely be pursuing more downloadable platforms on-line. ‘Broadband is expanding rapidly in Germany,’ he says, adding broadband users now outnumber the country’s 3.5- million subscribers.

In terms of programming, three new series are set to bow in the coming months. Get Ed joined the net in August. Kastenmueller says its humor plays into Jetix’s core values and brand, and the long-awaited Pucca launches at the end of this month. ‘I’m personally excited by this brand, from programming, consumer products, branding perspectives – it’s got great potential.’ The show featuring the kick-ass lovelorn Pucca became a priority in Germany at the end of August, with marketing campaigns and on-air clips launching to get the kids ready. Beyond that, Jetix will focus on another major launch for early spring, as its window for co-pro Oban Star Racers starts. ‘I don’t know if it’s wrong to say it’s an animated version of Star Wars, but it mixes epic with sci-fi,’ he says.

This year will also mark the sixth anniversary of the Jetix Kids Awards, but Kastenmueller says he’s ramping up the momentum just in case Nickelodeon decides to bring its Nick’s Kids Choice Awards to Germany. This year, the show will have more categories including best singer and best toy, and will be broadcasted on free TV.

EM.TV goes classic for preschoolers

The diginet may have a smaller number of households in its reach (about 2.5 million compared to the approximately 33 million covered by the terrestrials), but EM.TV is stocking its sked with classic series to make both parents and kids happy.

Susanne Schosser, managing director at EM.TV, says she’s anticipating the launch of Flipper & Lopaka most of all. Although it had its first run on ZDF, she thinks its stamina in Austria (where she says it beat SpongeBob) will help draw in viewers ages six through nine. ‘All of our hopes are with this series,’ she says. There’s also Finger Tips, a make-and-do live-action series that teaches viewers how to decorate their rooms, cook a meal and maintain a cool lifestyle.

As for preschool, she’s going with a raft of classics designed to tug at the nostalgic heartstrings of German parents. Because the school day commences so early in the country, the preschool block airs from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and then repeats from 10 a.m. to noon. Schosser anticipates a lot of viewers will tune in following a summer tour that promoted the 30th anniversary of the German classic Maya the Bee, which included landing a big booth at a popular theme park.

About The Author


Brand Menu