At the outset of the 2007 launch of New York-based Out of the Blue Enterprises’ preschool reading series SuperWHY!, co-founders Angela Santomero and Samantha Freeman had a plan in place to create an ESL (English as a second language) version of the curriculum-heavy show. Rather than just dubbing the series into various languages, however, Out of the Blue and distribution partner Decode Enterprises were looking to do something more comprehensive. What they’ve come up with is an inventive French-language pilot that should serve as an ESL format to sell into other non-English territories.
Although the show has been successfully sold into and voiced over for the Korean market, Decode’s VP of distribution Josh Scherba says his Toronto, Canada-based company and Out of the Blue wanted to more fully incorporate the early-reading curriculum intended for English-speaking kids into non-English versions. Deciding how to deal with English text on the screen proved the first challenge. It’s not exactly like ESL sales would justify the cost of re-animating sequences to replace the text.
‘We were very skeptical as to whether or not it would work,’ says Scherba. Focus-group testing, however, helped lead the way. In particular, results revealed French-speaking kids’ eyes were trained on the screen for 95% of the time and that English words and grammar were being retained, especially on second and third viewings.
So, how does it work? Character voices are dubbed into French and English text is left on-screen. What separates the version from a straight-up dub is the insertion of a French-speaking narrator that briefly explains the English words being depicted on-screen, i.e. letters spelling out W-A-L-L that sit in front of a wall. ‘The viewer gets visual association of the words in English as well as what they mean,’ says Scherba.
Though he couldn’t reveal the cost involved in retrofitting the show, Scherba says the decision to bite the bullet and invest money into producing a French pilot was a strategic move made in the hope of attracting consumer products licensees from France and French-speaking Canadian province, Quebec.
With the pilot ready to go for MIPCOM, Decode’s now focusing on selling the format into other large territories where there’s a demand to learn English, like Germany.