Since the launch of the first CBeebies International platform in India in April 2007, the BBC Worldwide Channels group behind the expansion initiative has been keeping busy. Hong Kong, Singapore and Poland opened up in 2007, followed by Indonesia, Latin America, Africa, Australia and the US Hispanic market in 2008. The channel brand now reaches into nine million households worldwide, according to SVP of programming David Weiland, and the pace isn’t likely to slow down at all this year.
Keen to localize as much as possible for each market, the channel is already fully dubbed into five languages – English, Hindi, Bahasa, Spanish and Polish – and has cast local hosts in Poland, Australia, Africa and Asia and soon Latin America. The next step will be to localize some of CBeebies’ more popular formats, including sing-along BBC Production Boogie Babies, and commission local shows that enhance this homegrown flavor even more.
CBeebies Australia recently announced a contest initiative to find and fund a new preschool series originating within its border. Specifically, Beeb programming execs are looking for an upbeat and humorous gender-neutral show, running between six and eight hours in total length, that can bridge the gap between four- and six-year-olds. Aussie prodcos have been invited to submit a 500-word proposal by June 5, and then a shortlist of six will get the chance to present their projects at a formal pitching session in Sydney. The winning commission, which is set to benefit from a funding prize somewhere between US$150,000 and US$250,000 per hour, will be announced on July 10. Naturally, the completed production will air down under, but it’ll also be considered for other CBeebies channels elsewhere in the world.
The programming strategy for CBeebies International has been pretty straightforward to date: Fill the schedules with tried-and-true commissions and acquisitions from the CBeebies UK programming vault, which has involved going back to various content suppliers to secure rights to more territories in separate deals. Negotiating has been handled on a case-by-case basis, says Weiland, depending on how a show was commissioned and funded, and whether it’s suitable to run across all the territories or just one or two. He adds that at the moment, the Channels group is only picking up rights in territories where CBeebies is already airing or where a carriage deal has been secured for a future channel launch.
According to Weiland, the channel brand has primarily been concentrating on the core preschool audience of two- to four-year-olds. But now, the goal is to add more programming for the four to six set.
Feeding into this aging-up effort is a recent deal with Toronto-based distributor Decode Enterprises for Adastra Creative’s live-action comedy Grandpa in my Pocket (26 x 12 minutes), which stars Brit comic James Bolam as a young boy’s mischievous shrunken grandfather. The show bowed on CBeebies UK in February and has already been commissioned for a second season. It will roll out internationally later this year, along with Waybuloo (100 x 20 minutes) from RDF’s The Foundation and Studio 100′s Kerwhizz (26 x 22 minutes), a CGI quiz show prompting its preschool viewers to answer questions in order to win a car race.
‘CBeebies is slightly different from other international kids channels in that we like to do live action,’ says Weiland. He admits that animated shows are far easier to dub across multiple international regions, but live-action shows with universal appeal can be real ratings-winners. Weiland says the Spanish dub of Big Cook Little Cook, for example, has proven to be a hit in Mexico, where it has consistently ranked as the channel’s second-strongest show since it launched in December 2008.
In the meantime, Weiland isn’t leaning toward live action or animation exclusively, but would like to program a wide variety of formats, including hybrid programs that blend live action and animation.
‘Children like a show if they can relate to it and if it’s relevant to them, so we don’t have any artificial thresholds for one particular style,’ he explains.