Creativity-inspiring fare the buzz at CBeebies
The last year: Michael Carrington, CBeebies creative director, juggled his schedule this past year to play programming that corresponds with the moods of his kid viewers, from high-activity mornings to calming early evenings. And he credits this strategy with pumping up his digital subscription base to just under two million in the UK.
Just like adults need a jolt at six in the morning, so too do preschoolers with lively programs first thing in the day. The Get Set Go block jumps out of the gate at 6 a.m. with high-energy programs such as LazyTown and Tweenies. The day moves into Discover & Do at 9 a.m., which is all about active learning (think Teletubbies); Big Time Fun starts at 3 p.m., with a focus on upbeat entertainment programs (hello there, Jakers!) and the day winds down at 6 p.m. with gentle story-led series perfect for pre-bedtime relaxation (such as Charlie and Lola).
The current top draw: Carrington says in the last six months, Ragdoll’s In the Night Garden has been a big ratings winner on CBeebies. The series closes up the net’s schedule each day at 6:20 p.m., and since premiering in March, it has helped double the audience for the slot over the previous year, and currently averages about 210,000 viewers.
This fall’s hopefuls: Carrington’s goal during his infamous March commissioning month was to fill music, arts & crafts and comedy gaps, and he points to six new programs that will help balance out the schedules in these areas. Comedy gets an injection this fall from commissions Big Barn Farm (The Foundation/RDF), Big & Small (Kindle Entertainment) and in-house production Nuzzle & Scratch. CBeebies has also paired up with BBC Scotland for the musical Carrie & David’s Popshop, while Dot to Dot Productions’ Scribble It and Mister Maker from RDF fit the arts & crafts bill.
Blocking strategy and on-air marketing: Although the net’s ratings jumped by 2.3% with the zero to three and four to six demos, Carrington is not about to let CBeebies rest on its laurels. He’s learned that his audience isn’t receptive to lumping new series together and is now using proven hits to lead into new shows. Mister Maker, for example, will be sandwiched between Boogie Beebies and ToddWorld in the Big Time Fun block. To help draw additional eyeballs to the new programming, the CBeebies team will schedule art-themed episodes of other series in the Discover and Do zone earlier in the day to get youngsters revved up about crafting. Additionally, the block’s hosts will coattail many of the schedule’s programs to promote Mister Master.
In terms of larger on-air marketing initiatives, Carrington will continue to tap into the UK’s pro-enviro zeitgeist by getting kids excited about conservation. CBeebies Springwatch and CBeebies Autumnwatch started last year and are three-week stunts conducted in partnership with BBC2 that include themed programs and online activities such as games and website downloads.
Sneak-peek at ’08: Carrington’s next area of concentration is to make weekend programming more relevant, as he thinks the diginet is underperforming on Saturdays and Sundays. ‘It’s a different time of the week – siblings are at home, mom and dad are at home, you’re not at nursery or school,’ he says. It’s a bit early to pin him down on what he’s looking for to fill this particular gap, but he’s just initiated a review and hopes to get its results by year’s end.
Five stacks its deck with re-ups and reality
The last year: For Milkshake director Nick Wilson, returning series are always a bigger sign of success than rejigging the schedule with an entirely new slate of programs. He admits the channel has been ‘very lucky’ in the past three or four years in reaching its core demo of four- to six-year-olds, and returning series such as Fifi and the Flowertots, Noddy and Peppa Pig have helped the block inch up approximately 5% over last year’s ratings.
The current top draws: Wilson’s anticipating new episodes of Hana’s Helpline (Calon), Roary the Racing Car (Chapman Entertainment), The Beeps (Impossible TV), Little Princess (TV-Loonland) and Bottletop Bill (Southern Star) will keep the eyeball count up this year. It also helps that the Milkshake block now has two daily homes – one on terrestrial Five as a three-hour block and the other on diginet Five Life as a four-hour version.
This fall’s hopefuls: Despite our best attempts to cajole and bribe him, Wilson would not ID the program he thinks will break through as a hit this season, but one live-action reality headliner showing a lot of promise is, he says, the first of its kind in the UK, if not the world. A fly-on-the-wall documentary series for preschoolers, Big School is produced by London’s Sixth Sense Film and Television as a Five commission. It follows a group of four- and five-year-old students as they experience some full-time education firsts, from the first day of school (complete with jitters) to the parade held by the class on the last day. Producer Sallyann Keizer has worked on similar projects documenting older kids at school (Make It Big and Stepping Up), but this series for the youngest viewing set should mirror the real-life experiences of Milkshake’s core four- to six-year-old audience. Wilson greenlit 14 episodes in March, and the show will run every day at 6:50 a.m.
Blocking strategy: ‘I am always being asked to single out one series, and that is quite simply wrong because Milkshake’s success is built on its portfolio,’ says Wilson. ‘Each year, I select a couple of headline shows, mixing in factual and documentary series along with the animated shows to give the schedule some light and shade.’
Sneak-peek at ’08: Wilson’s mandate is clearly on producing homegrown product that meets the typical requirements of strong scripts and high production values. But he’s also keen on showcasing ‘brilliant voices’ in his toons. ‘They are all UK-voiced, and the majority are UK produced to give Milkshake its unique storytelling edge,’ he says.
As it’s the pool he most prefers to draw from, Wilson says he’s getting a little frustrated by the territory’s production recession. He says Britain has experienced 20 years of spectacular growth in kids programming, but he fears this will fall to the wayside because of recent legislation and fear. ‘The children’s TV industry in the UK should spend more of its energy creating good shows and less of it trying to persuade the government to bail them out,’ he says.