ON the surface of things, non-fiction and children’s programming don’t seem to have that much in common. But from a business point of view, there are a lot of synergies involved in serving these two disparate markets, and Parthenon Entertainment is gearing up to do just that. The five-year-old producer and distributor, best known for its documentary work, is officially launching a new children’s division at MIPCOM Jr. on the backs of three proprietary series in various stages of development. But the broader plan is to bolster the Parthenon Kids portfolio by investing in third-party projects in need of a financing top-up.
‘We’re trying to be a distributor/financier that offers that bespoke service, but with lots of TLC,’ says Parthenon Entertainment MD Carl Hall, whose formative years in the entertainment biz were spent at HIT, where he managed production under Peter Orton. ‘People want to know that their projects are going to be looked after, that they’re not just going to be left on the shelf with everything else. We aren’t big enough yet to leave anything on a shelf.’
Parthenon Kids is prepared to kick in that crucial last 20% on its production investments, in a sense replacing the increasingly rare UK presale. The unit will provide its distribution services in return, and partners who want to can also avail themselves of the company’s merchandise expertise. As exclusive distributor of the S4C International library, Parthenon is working with Ian Downes’ agency Start Licensing to manage the consumer products program for Hana’s Helpline, a 26 x 10-minute stop-motion series for preschoolers produced by Calon for S4C, Five and ZDF. Licensees on-board so far include Golden Bear (toys), Random House Children’s Books, 2Entertain (home entertainment) and, most recently, Redan Publishing (comic magazines).
Hall and his team – which is rounded out by ITEL alum Peter Pas as commercial director, former Tell-Tale Productions exec Karina Stanford-Smith as head of children’s production and Anna-Lisa Jenaar as head of children’s programming at S4C International – are currently scoping the international market for projects with broad appeal that can live in between TV seasons on the web so as to maintain their connection with the audience. ‘I think we’re looking for one or two big locomotives, and then on the back of that, we’ll need some volume to fill out some of the smaller broadcasters’ requirements,’ says Hall.
In terms of its own stuff, Parthenon Kids is farthest along on Ed and Eppa in the Wild, a mixed-media series for four- to seven-year-olds that combines animation, HD wildlife footage mined from Parthenon’s rich natural history library, and a pair of animated alien hosts. The 52 x seven-minute show is halfway through production, and the PK team is looking for presales.
S4C has commissioned season one of Ridestar, a live-action reality series for girls seven to 10 that Hall describes as an X-Factor for the horseback riding set. A group of novice riders learn about equestrian disciplines including showjumping and the three-day event from professional instructors, and then they compete each week for the ‘Ride Star’ title. To make the program richer, the production team is also weaving in factual interstitials on subjects like the history of riding and how horses are used around the world. The 10 x 30-minute show is in production and will be delivered in Welsh to S4C by January 2008, and then Parthenon Kids plans to rebuild the elements into an international format and look for production partners abroad to sell it to broadcasters in their regions.
Branching out from its live-action comfort zone, the division is also developing an all-animated project called Kat and C.A.T. to pitch at Cartoon Forum next month. The 52 x seven-minute 2-D toon is about a handy young girl who makes her own toys out of whatever’s lying around. Her best invention by far is a mechanical cat that opens up a portal to another world. Nickelodeon UK is sponsoring the Forum pitch, and Hall would like to bring on a French co-pro partner to get the show off the ground.
Besides creating opportunities for introducing Parthenon’s doc footage to a new audience à la Ridestar and Ed and Eppa, Hall feels kids entertainment is a natural extension for the non-fiction specialist because of the two genres’ intrinsic similarities. ‘They’re both non-political genres in which quality counts, they have similar funding models and sell everywhere because all the major broadcasters around the world have dedicated slots for them.’ He adds that in some smaller international territories, buying duties for docs and kids are handled by the same person, and Parthenon already has relationships with these execs by virtue of its doc business.
As it gets busier on the kids side over the next year, Hall anticipates hiring a salesperson to broker deals in some of the major international regions, and he may eventually look at setting up a licensing exec in-house.