Cartoon takes viewers on emotional journey
The year in review: Cecilia Persson, VP of programming acquisitions and presentation for Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Toonami and Cartoon Network Too, says the main channel works for its audience because its series are scheduled to take the viewers through an emotional journey. ‘During half terms, we do specials or action bubbles in the summer with Ben 10 and Storm Hawks, but during the week, our schedule is very fluid,’ she says. Last year, the network experienced success with previewing shows including Storm Hawks over the summer to cash in on CN’s higher numbers during the school break. It’s a tactic she’s employing for the new season as well.
The top draws now: CN original Ben 10 has been the standout performer over the past 12 months, and Persson credits the series’ ability to speak to boys six to nine for its success. The protagonist acts like a normal boy would, and her viewers like seeing things they could do themselves, she explains. ‘It’s not like Spider-Man, whose powers are within; Ben 10…is just a normal boy with a [special] watch.’
Fall hopefuls and blocking strategy: Persson says Ben 10′s licensing program made major waves last year too, and she’s anticipating the same toy/TV excitement for Nelvana and Spin Master’s Bakugan. In the same high-octane action vein, Cookie Jar’s World of Quest will follow Bakugan’s 4 p.m. slot in strips during the key post-school block. In contrast, recent acquisition Best Ed from Canada’s 9 Story Entertainment is a straightforward, endearing comedy that Persson expects to be a good counterpoint to Bakugan when it bows later in Q4. ‘We like to have a 50/50 split between action and comedy, but we lean slightly more towards comedic adventure,’ she says.
Treading the line between laughs and suspense is Chop Socky Chooks from Aardman Animations and Decode Entertainment. The CGI show launched last month, stripping Monday to Friday at 5:30 p.m. – prime real estate on the net. ‘Its luscious animation and characters are so great that you want to follow along with every line they speak,’ Persson says, adding that the camaraderie between the main characters and the show’s recognizable but different-looking adventures speak to the net’s core six- to nine-year-old viewers.
Marketing moves: To get kids excited about Chooks, Cartoon’s marketing department partnered up with cinemas across the country this past summer. Over July and August, ticket-holders waiting to see Kung Fu Panda were given a number to text in order to receive a Chop Socky Chooks video ringtone for their mobile phones. The website was also up in June, with full eps online well before the TV launch. ‘During the summer, you have more access to kids,’ Persson explains. ‘When you get the word out in the summer, they’re aware of the show come fall,’ she says. Expect to see promos of the show on Bebo.com, one of the UK’s top social networking sites.
A sneak-peek at ’09: Looking ahead, Persson says it’s more of the same for the 2009/2010 season. While Cartoon has a full slate of programming, Persson stresses she’ll always take a look at new, unique action-adventure comedy concepts for the six to nine or six to 11 sets.
CBBC aims to further enhance its less-is-more programming strategy
Year in review: Last September, CBBC relaunched with a strategy to schedule fewer, bigger and better programs. Anne Gilchrist, controller of the channel, says her team carefully selected fun and infectious programming meant to broaden the horizons of its six- to 12-year-old viewers and help them find out more about the world outside the UK.
The top draws now: In keeping with this new identity, dramas were the top draw last year for the pubcaster. Gilchrist says her most-watched shows were BBC Wales’ Sara Jane Adventures, a spin-off of Doctor Who that’s coming back for a second season, and the returning MI High (Kudos, 13 x half hours) about a group of spies undercover at their high school. ‘The theme centers around children taking power,’ she explains. ‘I know it’s cliché, but it’s very empowering for kids to see other kids on TV solve problems and battle against evil.’
Fall hopefuls: Gilchrist is not straying far from the kid-empowerment theme for the 2008/2009 season, but has added some comedy to the mix. The actress who played Tracey Beaker is back as an older teen in the comedic drama Dani’s House. The 13 x half-hour series from RDF Kids & Family should tap into the nine to 12 set’s penchant for aspirational live-action fare. Paradise Café from Initial, meanwhile, falls more in line with the theme of kid protagonists solving problems. The 13 x half-hour series, set to bow in 2009, chronicles kids living on an exotic island. Children send in pictures of themselves expressing various emotions over the internet, and the series is cast using select CBBC viewers.
Blocking and marketing strategies: Work on CBBC’s website continues. Over the last year, the net really ramped up its online presence with alternate reality game MI High, which was largely promoted through word-of-mouth tactics. The trend carries on with web riddle activity Escape from Scorpion Island. The kidcaster doesn’t have a website for every program, Gilchrist notes. ‘We’ll have a page for each show, but only a full website when it adds value to the program; we’re making sure the resources are carefully channeled so we’re not spreading everything too thinly.’
Back on the tube, late afternoons from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. is CBBC’s peak TV viewing time, but Gilchrist works with three full chunks of programming. There are windows on BBC1 and BBC2, in addition to 12 hours (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) on the diginet, and it’s her mission to provide viewers with choices when the services are running simultaneously. One common requirement on the latest round of commissions was that CBBC programmers could slot the series at any time during the day, including younger-targeted fare that was traditionally run in the daytime schedule. For example, Bear Behaving Badly, which was commissioned for the younger end of the six to nine audience, airs at 6 p.m. when older kids are watching.
It can be a bit of a balancing act when demos converge; it’s hard to ensure the older kids don’t skip off to another channel when a younger show comes on. With that in mind, Gilchrist says she schedules shows that provide layers – visual gags for the younger set and clever dialogue for older kids.
A sneak-peek at ’09: As for what’s happening beyond 2008, expect some inventive approaches to comedy. From JAM Media, there’s 13 x half-hour Roy, an unusual and often very funny animation/live-action hybrid about a 2-D animated boy living with a real family. Moving even further outside traditional programming sources, Gilchrist’s team has been working with comics who don’t have experience making children’s shows. ‘They know how to format a show, to hook you from the word go,’ says Gilchrist, citing The Boss as a good example of what’s possible when adult-targeted writers tackle younger-skewing scripts. The series is about children learning the ins and outs of the business world as they develop and market products Apprentice-style, complete with a cliffhanger ending in each ep. Gilchrist is betting this experiment will pay off, but she’ll have to endure her own kind of cliffhanger to see if CBBC will reign supreme.