Got it Need it – Profiles in programming strategy

It's not all black and white at Canal Panda
February 1, 2007

It’s not all black and white at Canal Panda

Given that it acquires about 95% of its schedule, Portugal’s Canal Panda should definitely be on the radar of international kids programming distributors. This 10-year-old pay-TV network for kids is available in 1.2 million Portugese households, and director of programming Isabel Mimoso says the network is the third most watched digital channel in the region after AXN and Sic Noticias.

Despite going up against Cartoon Network in basic cable, Panda’s biggest competition comes from terrestrial net RTP2, which airs a block of kids shows throughout its daytime schedule. Although most of the other terrestrials in Portugal have reduced their commitment to children’s programming in the last couple of years, Mimoso says pan-European broadcasters will be keeping close tabs on the region this year as a government-led hardware initiative to install digital TV boxes into the majority of Portuguese households plays out.

In the meantime, Canal Panda broadcasts daily from 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., flip-flopping between serving preschoolers and core kids for most of the day, and finishing up with a little tween fare at night. The day starts with preschool block O Recreio do Panda, which broadcasts all morning until noon. Then Mega Panda takes over to target schoolkids ages seven to 10 on their two-hour lunchbreak. The sked shifts back to preschool in the afternoon, going after the upper end of the demo until 6 p.m., when Mega Panda resumes for four more hours (minus one hour of preschool at 8:30 p.m.). And before the channel goes dark, it airs two hours of animated and live-action programming for tweens in an unnamed block.

Roughly 40% of the channel’s total schedule is acquired from non-European producers, and the majority of series for core kids come from Japan. Non-violent anime entries such as Mew Mew Power (Mega Panda’s most popular progam) and recent acquisitions Sakura and Sweet Tail of St. Tail are a good fit because they mirror Mimoso’s philosophy of programming with modern appeal and positive values. And though Canal Panda as a whole skews slightly boy at 51%, she says girls are equally attracted to what tends to be a male-targeted genre because of her anime lineup’s gentler tone.

But Mimoso is just as open to looking at other types of programming for her core kid viewers. She recently picked up a whack of series from Spain’s Icon Animation, and she expects Lola & Virginia to perform well in this block with both boys and girls because it balances action and humor pretty evenly.

Canal Panda’s nine hours of daily preschool programming used to focus squarely on four- to six-year-olds, a subset that’s still served well by series such as the block’s top-rated Make Way for Noddy (Chorion), Jakers (Entara/Mike Young Productions) and Icon’s Vitaminix. The goal is to help educate these viewers as they get ready to start school.

But last month, Mimoso split the block to introduce programming for viewers younger than four from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Shows such as Harry and his Bucket Full of Dinosaurs (CCI/Collingwood O’Hare), Pocoyo (Granada/Zinkia) and Cotoons (Zone 3/Film en Stock) will target these younger eyeballs, and Mimoso plans to look for more zero to four programming when she makes her annual buying pilgrimmage to MIPCOM in the fall. Right now, this market is the only professional outing on Mimoso’s calendar, but as Canal Panda starts exploring co-productions over the next year, she may also attend Cartoon Forum in September.

Canal Panda is active in producing both animated and live-action interstitials in-house, and Mimoso would like both styles to be represented in her tween block. Elements of mystery and investigation seem to work well with this part of the channel’s audience, to which only 5% of the sked is currently devoted. Series on-air now include Moville Mysteries (Nelvana), The Intrepids (Marathon) and Mentors (Mind’s Eye), and these provide a good indication of the type of show Mimoso wants for her oldest viewers.

As for new media, Canal Panda is after mobile rights for new acquisitions in order to feed content into its deals with some of Portugal’s top cell phone service providers. Kids who subscribe to Vodaphone and TMN-Optimus are now able to watch the channel on their mobile phones as if they were sitting at home. The initiative only started last month, but Mimoso is keen to keep experimenting in new media to see which technologies stick.

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