Thanks to the onset of streaming video, favored content is but a mouse click away for most kids – digital delivery is now easy and instantaneous. So, it would only make sense if behind-the-scenes content delivery from distributor to broadcaster mirrored the consumer experience. However, particularly when it comes to older content, a reluctance to relinquish hard-copy files and the capital investment already poured into the creation of large analogue-tape facilities has kept the industry’s conversion to digital at bay. That said, a few players in the kids industry are starting to take advantage of the newer format, edging the market closer to an all-digital existence.
Three-year-old international children’s channel KidsCo, based in London, is one company that instituted a digital workflow right from its inception. ‘We’re a small business, so for us, the cost of tape as a proportion of our total costs would be much higher than an established business,’ explains MD Paul Robinson.
In 2007, KidsCo teamed up with London-based digital media company JCA TV to set up a virtual delivery system and convert older series on tape into digital files. KidsCo broadcasts children’s programming in 84 territories and 18 languages via satellite transmission centers in Denver, Colorado and Tel Aviv, Israel. And the company’s thousands of hours of now-digitized content sit at JCA’s office in West London.
‘The transmission centers could be on the moon, because if we want to get a show to Sydney, we can send it from JCA, and it will arrive in 10 minutes, and the cost is nothing,’ says Robinson. Though KidsCo is growing its lineup of newly produced first-run acquisitions and original content, which are digital from the get-go, the bulk of its programming is derived from older series featuring evergreen properties such as Paddington Bear and Danger Mouse. As well, Robinson says between 65% and 75% of the programs are the same in every market. ‘When you’ve got fantastic content libraries and you digitize them, your ability to use them for channels massively increases because you can get that content around the world,’ he says.
KidsCo went as far as to re-package the almost 30-year-old Danger Mouse with fresh promos and new positioning to introduce the series to a new generation of kids. ‘That’s a show that has been leveraged for us because we’ve created a digital version of it,’ explains Robinson.
JCA’s Simon Kay says the majority of distributors have a lot of back-catalogue content and they don’t seem to be pushing to make it more widely available. ‘If they even put their content up on the web, it’s available and people see it more easily,’ he says.
Kay admits that turning master tapes into digital file formats, which many fear may be obsolete in a few years, is a major concern for content owners. So why convert when it’s conceivable that it will have to be done all over again in the not-so-distant future? Kay contends he works with every client individually to future-proof the move. ‘Once you go down that route, as long as you’ve got the asset management side that you can build around, you can move the business forward in an easier way.’
Platform to platform
Robinson says dealing exclusively with digital also dovetails nicely with delivering VOD content over FTP sites as well as sending content to digital mobile networks with little to no cost. Last November, JCA teamed up with Bristol, England’s Aardman Animations to package and deliver its short films to iTunes. In the same month, London-based distribution company Cake Entertainment launched a delivery portal with JCA, which will allow it to send series and content directly to iTunes, broadcasters and other partners.
Cake partner and commercial director Genevieve Dexter says she expects the new system to eventually reduce overall hard costs by 5%. Part of that savings comes with eliminating the need to produce and ship DVDs to buyers. Plus, uploading files to the portal allows the entire market to see programs and new eps hot off the production line. Buyers are able to screen content ahead of markets and the company is able to control exactly who sees what eps. Dexter says that makes the viewing process completely transparent. For better or for worse, now Cake can see who has viewed which eps and who, perhaps, said they would take a gander, but didn’t actually get around to it.
Cake has experienced another benefit of digital files in its dealings with emerging markets. Dexter says hard copies sent to territories with tight customs restrictions often don’t make it to their destinations. Russia, for example, is an emerging market with physical delivery problems but very open to receiving digital files through an online delivery mechanism.
Down the line, Dexter says she’ll be investigating ways to automate the process for buying programs online. She admits that license fee structures, which vary so much from platform to platform, will be a challenge to navigate. But streamlining and automating the demand for content on VOD provides motivation to set up an automated licensing system for those platforms. ‘We could license directly to VOD platforms in a way that’s economical, without having to hire an army of people to handle the paperwork,’ says Dexter.