Planet Preschool

London Town

New York is all straight lines.  London is all circles.  I had a night flight going from Newark to Heathrow last week and, as we flew over the Hudson River, ...
March 16, 2010

New York is all straight lines.  London is all circles.  I had a night flight going from Newark to Heathrow last week and, as we flew over the Hudson River, I could see the parallel lines running from west to east across Manhattan.  Some of the lines were filled with white lights and some were filled with red lights, depending on the direction of the traffic.  It was beautiful, it was orderly, it was home.

But London is a city of circles, overlapping and joining in unexpected, frustrating and wonderful ways.  There are circles everywhere:  the traffic roundabouts, the gigantic bicycle wheel that is the London Eye and the delicious round papadum.  But the real circles in the UK are the long-standing relationships between the networks, the indies and a few key individuals who are “connectors” here.  These relationships date back decades and are as complex, political and incestuous as the history of Britain itself.

The preschool television community here is like a large, unruly and enormously talented extended family.  It’s a family with a rich heritage–”Thomas the Tank Engine,” “Bob the Builder,” “Teletubbies”–that now finds itself high on creativity but low on resources.  It is also being dragged kicking and screaming from its provincial and sometimes protectionist roots into the great big broadcast world in which everyone, yes everyone, must think and act internationally in order to survive locally. 

In my eight years or so doing business in England, I have seen first hand how this transition has been easier for some companies than for others.  In the UK, as elsewhere, anyone looking in their rear-view mirror for the return of higher license fees is going to be disappointed.  And anyone hoping to make shows that have only local appeal will likely find it almost impossible to get those shows financed. 

I happen to think this is a tremendous loss for the UK and for every other territory that now sees fewer of its own kids being represented on television.  Personally, I love live-action preschool shows in which we see real kids doing real kid things.  Nothing makes me happier than going to Prix Jeunesse and watching the unattended Dutch kids make homemade peanut butter with an electric Cuisinart. 

But, to be a viable preschool TV company in 2010, we all need to consider how our shows will or will not travel internationally.  I have seen this global approach embraced by many in the UK, from the big commercial companies to a few of the young indies who seem just as interested in pitching at MIP as they are in pitching to CBeebies or Channel 5.  (As a side note, I find that everyone in the UK still doubts the commercial value of a good educational curriculum or well-executed formative testing on their preschool shows but this, too, appears to be changing.)

There is quite a bit of unrest here among indies as they have seen the number of buyers in their preschool market drop precipitously in the past five years.  Many excellent companies are barely hanging on.  Though I admit I don’t know all the nuances of this issue, one approach I would suggest to the UK indies is the same approach I use to keep Little Airplane flying:  Don’t assume that all the answers are in your backyard.  I can’t remember the last time I pitched a show in the US before pitching it in Canada, England or Australia.  We must all look everywhere in the world-from Brazil to Singapore to Norway–for the partners and broadcasters who can help us make our next preschool show.  

I honestly believe that embracing globalization is the only way for any of us to succeed in the current climate.  I learned this by watching Magnus sell “LazyTown” door-to-door all over the world a few years back.  Did it matter to Magnus whether or not his local Icelandic broadcaster commissioned his show before pitching it to the planet?  No.  And did the world care that “LazyTown” originated in Iceland, a country better known for Bjork and fish oil than for preschool shows?  No.  Magnus had the confidence and the foresight to see that the whole world was his broadcaster.

I invite you all to share your thoughts on globalization and how it has impacted preschool content in your country.

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