The challenge Dubai-based free-to-air kids channel Spacetoon has much to be thankful for as the new year kicks off.
With an audience of more than 130 million viewers across 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, it also has a successful YouTube channel with more than 120 million viewers, and is home to the new Arabic version of Sesame Street, Iftah Ya Simsim, which is returning to TV after a 25-year hiatus.
But according to Fayez Weiss Al Sabbagh, chairman of Spacetoon’s primary investor Global New Age Media, three of the Arabic network’s more recent initiatives could potentially take the business even further on a global scale. In 2015, the broadcaster launched its first international co-production, Mia (pictured), amped up its VOD and mobile offerings, and expanded its third-party licensing business.
“Launching international co-productions, for example, is our biggest challenge, but also our greatest long-term opportunity because it can attract more sales in the market,” says Al Sabbagh. “And your business can be much better if you can invest in more than one co-pro.”
With these benefits in mind, Spacetoon joined forces with France’s Cyber Group Studios, Sardine Productions in Canada, and its own Malaysian affiliate Lalune Light Studio on CGI-animated preschool series Mia. Plans are now in the works to secure more partnerships.
“For the long-term, we are looking at co-productions. As a TV station, we always need content and some exclusivity,” says Al Sabbagh.
The programming Spacetoon currently schedules content for kids ages two to 15 across 10 “planets,” with each categorized block featuring 45 minutes of leading animation from markets including Asia, Europe and the US. (It is dubbed into classic Arabic to avoid slang or local dialects. )
The channel’s action planet, for example, gets strong ratings for boy-skewing shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beyblade and Spider-Man, while Iftah Ya Simsim, Thomas and Friends and Bob the Builder perform well on preschool planet Abjad. Masha and the Bear and My Little Pony, meanwhile, are popular on girls planet Zumorroda.
Roughly 20% to 50% of the channel’s lineup is also reserved for local productions. Original Spacetoon content like short-form filler, channel IDs and seasonal campaigns for local markets then round out the blocks.
According to Al Sabbagh, the channel is looking to commission more comedy, boys action and educational programming.
Digital and licensing drive Beyond launching a YouTube channel in 2013 that now attracts 20 million viewers per month, Spacetoon will introduce a revamped website in Q1, new mobile games for iOS and Android, and its own VOD site later this year.
“Our group target is to develop new content for the digital media industry and mobile—VOD and social media will be key for our commercial expansion and license promotion in the region,” says Al Sabbagh.
Further to licensing and merchandising, Spacetoon is working closely with its sister company and independent agency Arabian Licensing Company (ALC) on hit properties including Power Rangers, Sesame Street, Masha and the Bear and Little Charmers.
It previously helped to generate exposure for properties such as Beyblade, Bakugan, Ben 10 and TMNT through cross-promotional activity in publishing, online, social media, licensing, toy distribution and event realms.
Looking at 2016 and 2017, Spacetoon and ALC have plans to expand the licensing presence of TV series Franklin and Friends and Babar and the Adventures of Badou in their target market