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Nets hope kids will swoon for soapy serial telenovelas

As producers and broadcasters look to adult-skewing fare to inspire programming that will keep older kids watching children's channels longer (See 'The co-viewing conundrum,' p. 78), one genre catching their attention is the telenovela. The daily soap opera-style programs known for their often over-the-top melodrama have hooked adult Latin American viewers for years and, not surprisingly, are proving to be just as sticky with the pre-teen set.
March 27, 2009

As producers and broadcasters look to adult-skewing fare to inspire programming that will keep older kids watching children’s channels longer (See ‘The co-viewing conundrum,’ p. 78), one genre catching their attention is the telenovela. The daily soap opera-style programs known for their often over-the-top melodrama have hooked adult Latin American viewers for years and, not surprisingly, are proving to be just as sticky with the pre-teen set.

Ignacio Orive, president of Madrid, Spain-based Elastic Rights, which picked up distribution rights to Televisa’s music-based ‘plain Jane cum super star’ kids vehicle Patito Feo (Ugly Duckling) is looking to acquire more telenovelas based on the series’ success. Patito rated well on Cartoon Network Spain and Disney Channel Italy in 2008 and broadcast deals are pending in Portugal and Greece.

‘Taking a telenovela is a big risk, of which the networks aren’t really fond,’ acknowledges Orive. The format not only involves producing hundreds of episodes to feed its daily schedule, but depends on kids loving the story enough to come back day after day. ‘Disney saw something in the genre and the series, and decided to bet on it, making strong on- and off-air promos for Patito,’ he adds. The channel is now in talks for a second 150 eps. Elastic Rights also launched a licensed music CD and plans to roll out a full Patito L&M program.

Not surprisingly, Nick Latin America hasn’t hesitated about co-producing two kids-targeted telenovelas, Isa TMK and La Maga y el Camino Dorado. And now Nickelodeon is strategizing to bring the genre to its global audience. ‘It’s something for us to pay attention to and figure out how we can put it through the Nick creative filters and redirect it in a way that will make use of the genre’s classic storytelling and aspirational elements,’ says Nina Hahn, SVP of international development. She says Nick-ifying the content includes making sure it has a definite kid point of view with age-appropriate themes as well as adding a strong comic undercurrent, which is not necessarily a trait of telenovelas.

‘We’re looking to take the key pillars of success for the telenovela formula and devise our own series using Latin talent, or involve ourselves with key partners of Latin American heritage,’ says Hahn. Once a concept gets developed, the big challenge will be handling the production work involved in shooting a daily series and building the audience. She says the network is considering launching the resulting project exclusively online to test the waters before bowing the series on air.

Hahn says that besides Spanish-speaking regions, Italy, Israel and Germany are all becoming hot territories for kid telenovelas. Nick Germany, in fact, is producing a localized versioned of Belgium-based Studio 100′s telenovela-style program, House of Anubis, which is in its third season on Nick in the Netherlands. Studio 100 GM Jo Daris says the show’s popularity should help push the company’s latest telenovela, Amika, into even more territories. The series about a girl and her horse, which recently debuted in Belgium and Holland, will roll out in Italy later this year.

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