Rome-based Switchover Media’s two new free-to-air kids channels, K2 and Frisbee, bowed in Italy with a solid strategy in place to get a head start on the digital terrestrial market opening up as the nation switches off its analogue free-to-air signal.
In July 2009, the executive team of Jetix Italy, led by Francesco Nespega, banded together to acquire 100% of the channel from Disney, along with local channels K2 and young male-targeted GXT. The group then rebranded as Switchover and started making plans to carve out space in the burgeoning DTT market.
The channel operator’s first 24-hour kids network, K2, aimed at kids and families, also rolled out in July 2009 via DTT, satellite and analogue feeds (everyday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on regional broadcasting stations), to reach 92% of Italy’s population. According to Giuliano Tranquilli, content and programming executive at Switchover, the channel now ranks as the second-largest for kids in the Italian market, drawing a 5.6% share of four- to 14-year-olds in its first 12 months. (Mediaset/Turner co-venture Boing leads with a 9.4% share.) He says K2 is followed by Disney Channel (4%), Rai Yo Yo (2.7%) and Rai Gulp. (Source: AGB/Auditel, Timeslot 7:00-22:00, July 2010.)
Switchover followed up with the launch of boy-focused Frisbee in June. The new channel reaches 6.5 million households (roughly 27% of the population) via satellite, including Sky Italia’s 4.5 million subscribers. Another 15 million households get Frisbee through its DTT slot.
Tranquilli admits the 20 or so dedicated kids channels in the Italian market make it one of the most competitive territories in Europe. However, he adds, K2 and Frisbee have a leg up in the free kids TV market, which has very wide distribution compared to pay-TV, with its limited penetration and with its competitive channel universe.
To cater to its broad gender-neutral audience, K2′s schedule is modulated throughout the day with different genres and formats. Early mornings and early afternoons are dedicated to core kids five to 10, with a mix of well-known comedy and action series, including Pokémon, The Fairly OddParents, Mr. Bean and Sabrina. Mid-morning the channel focuses on a preschool audience with the likes of Babar. And the primetime evening slot goes wide to target families, mixing up fare like live-action 1980s hit The Cosby Show with animated series such as Total Drama Action and game shows Wipe Out and American Gladiators.
Tranquilli says Frisbee’s schedule is more traditionally targeted at kids five to 10, with a focus on boys so it combines animated and live-action series with elements of action and adventure.
The net’s best performers – including Transformers, Spider-Man, Megaman and Sonic – support Frisbee’s ‘Channel of Heroes’ branding. (Other series in the lineup include Supermario, Power Rangers, Goosebumps, Monster Jam and X-Men.) ‘The schedule is built on a flow of action, where heroes and their stories progress throughout the day,’ says Tranquilli.
Though the two kids channels cross-promote programming and special events, they do not share content. Frisbee’s schedule consists almost entirely of content Switchover acquired from Disney’s library. In fact the catalogue is so big, Tranquilli says Frisbee’s programming needs are taken care of for the next year and he won’t be contemplating buying for it for quite some time.
Acquisitions, meanwhile, accounted for the bulk of K2′s first schedule. One exception was the multi-season Total Drama franchise, which was a pre-buy for K2. Tranquilli says he might do it again with selected projects that hit the mark on the channel like the brand from Fresh TV (distributed by Cake Entertainment) did.
Interestingly, 100% of the programming on both channels is international, as Italian content for kids is almost completely co-produced with terrestrial broadcasters like Mediaset and Rai. To that end, Switchover has made exclusive agreements for new seasons of several shows already in the sked.
Beyond returning series, Tranquilli says his goal for K2 in the short term will be to strengthen the primetime slot with a refresh of new sitcoms. He’s currently looking for well-known series/brands that target a co-viewing audience and is open to animation, reality shows or live-action offerings. When it comes to license fees, he says the multi-channel, free-to-air DTT market in Italy is relatively new and has yet to find an average point where price and demand meet – so far, wide variances in price seem to be the rule.
As an ad-supported enterprise, Giorgio Rossi handles commercial development for the channels, while PRS Mediagroup looks after ad sales for both Frisbee and K2. Switchover is also open to launching more channels across different TV platforms in the territory over the next few years. ‘The goal is to manage a portfolio of complementary kids thematic channels for our audience and investors with a wide range of entertainment,’ says Tranquilli.