The state of children’s television is in flux, from the constant introduction of new SVOD options placating an online-obsessed Generation Z, to mobile devices now officially dominating viewing modes in certain countries. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to keep up. But that’s exactly what a cross-section of eight execs—running the gamut from Amazon Studios to Cartoon Network—are doing right now.
Mulling over the current kids TV landscape—and what might be missing from it—at last week’s Kidscreen Summit in Miami were Michael Carrington (head of children and education at ABC Australia), Adina Pitt (VP of content acquisitions and co-productions at Cartoon Network and Boomerang US), Caroline Cochaux (CEO of Gulli and head of Lagarde Active channels), Tara Sorensen (head of kids at Amazon Studios), Jackie Edwards (head of BBC Children’s acquisition and independent animation), Massimo Bruno (head of TV channels for De Agostini), Eryk Casemiro (CCO at Zodiak Kids) and Marney Malabar (director of kids TV at TVO).
From toy deals to delving into diversity, we got an overview of what these execs are thinking about when it comes to the industry in 2017.
Name someone who doesn’t work in kids TV that you’d love to partner with?
Michael Carrington: “Richard Branson, because he has amazing ideas, he thinks on his feet, he’s a nice guy and he’s got the resources to help.”
Adina Pitt: “Alec Baldwin.”
Tara Sorensen: “Oliver Jeffers…because I think he’s got a really interesting point of view and he’s obviously a fan of kids. His books are stunningly beautiful.”
Jackie Edwards: “Geena Davis. I thought she was such an inspirational and visionary speaker and wants to do the right thing. She has displayed how we’re not doing the right thing yet in terms of proper representation on our screens.”
Massimo Bruno: “I’d look for a big Hollywood director just to see if they’re able to do a kids show without the budget that they are used to. I’d also like to work with President Obama now that he has free time.”
Eryk Casemiro: “Wes Anderson, because I love his sense of staging, his sense of artifice and his sense of story…”
What was the last show launch or big deal that made you envious?
Carrington: “I’m just in awe of the quality and range of kids shows that I just want all of them. But a) I can’t afford them. And b) I don’t have enough hours a day on my network. I think there are just some extraordinary things and there always has been some extraordinary things coming out of children’s producers minds and writers and creators. I’m not envious, I just want all of them.”
Sorensen: Little Lunch.
Bruno: “I’m almost jealous because I’m not a part of a network. It’s really difficult to buy a show just for a country because lots of networks work worldwide. But sometimes we’re able to do it, like Miraculous Lady Bug. There will be more I know I’m going to lose, but I can’t tell you now.”
Casemiro: “When 9 Story bought Brown Bag, I was envious because I did their first series with them. I was a writer/producer on Olivia and I love them—they’re so much fun to be with.”
What has surprised you the most recently about kids TV?
Carrington: “I guess what’s surprised me the most is how kids are responding to the current world crisis in thinking, and that they’re scared and they think the world is going to come to an end… now the world is so connected digitally that we know how they’re feeling almost immediately, and that surprises me and scares me. I just want to help them and nurture them.”
Cochaux: “The ability of kids to love something more than anything, and then to change their minds and find another one that they love even more. It’s their capability to put love above love above love.”
Pitt: “I think there’s an acute awareness of a need to be inclusive and to really be consumer-focused. That gets me very excited because I think people are being very smart about the kinds of shows that they’re producing more than ever before.”
Sorensen: “The diversity.”
Malabar: “Kids are starting to be able to determine the types of programs that they like to watch because they’re watching it all on YouTube. That is influencing what the content creators start to make.”
Edwards: “I think the scale of expansion is always startling, and the range of places we can put our content now. It is ultimately still about the content, there are just many more places to see things.”
Bruno: “Kids surprise you everyday because they move very quickly and they don’t follow trends. They create them. It’s surprising to me every day that they’re still watching linear television.”
Casemiro: “I think it’s the proliferation of commercial-driven development. So toy companies that are developing first the entertainment and moving in with the big toy line behind it. In the world of Nickelodeon, where I worked on Rugrats and Thornberrys, it was an era where they didn’t do any commercial projects, so that’s a different thing.”
What is keeping you up at night when it comes to children’s television right now?
Carrington: “I will always be worried that the resources and the support for children’s television would wane and go away, so I’m always trying to champion and support and uphold children’s industries specifically to make children’s shows from their perspective for them as opposed to them being very commercial or adult-oriented.”
Cochaux: “I am worried that kids will watch less linear TV. We have to adapt to new ways to consume digital TV.”
Pitt: “I just wish we all had deep, deep pockets so we could be equally competitive.”
Edwards: “I think it’s very hard for small producers with big ideas to break through these days. It’s hard for everybody across the playing field because money is tighter. I worry how over the longer term they’ll be able to get those shows made.”
When do you know it’s time to launch a series into consumer products?
Carrington: “That’s the US$64-million question. If I knew the answer to that, I’d have a big cigar, a yacht and I’d be on Sydney Harbour right now.”
Cochaux: “Any time is good.”
Sorensen: “Our customers will tell us that. I’m a firm believer in making sure there are eyes on the show and that we don’t start backwards from a toy product. The most important things are really the story and characters, and if kids respond to it then the licensing will come organically.”
What types of shows are you getting tired of?
Carrington: “I’m never attracted to a show that is cynically produced so that it’s merchandising and licensing heavy.”
Cochaux: “The shows that are showing violence as a way of life. The children who are watching our channels are the adults of tomorrow, and this is training. We have to show them.”
Malabar: “I’m sick of shows that don’t remember how smart kids really are.”
Edwards: “Anything that is really overtly pointing at licensing without giving anything nourishing in return. It’s fine to be toyetic, there’s a business at the end of the day, but something that is just empty and flogging toys, I don’t like that.”
What hasn’t been done in a while in kids TV that you miss?
Pitt: “I miss the scripted comedy shows like You Can’t Do That on Television, anything that embraces improv. You see a lot of prank shows and you see a lot of game shows but you don’t see a lot of the SNL-type of shows for kids.”
Sorensen: “The after-school special.”
Edwards: “I think great slapstick Saturday morning programs that are just a mess—but the best mess you’ve ever seen.”
Casemiro: “Single-camera quirky live action. We’re looking for our Pete & Pete, unique and low-budget happy but not shiny. Something for the tween experience because it’s such a painful time and I don’t know if there are enough stories for them.”
What has never been done before in kids TV that you’d like to see?
Carrington: “I hope that I have the answer and you’ll see it coming from my network this time next year.”
Pitt: “A user-generated TV show to see what that would be like and if it would have the same audience adoration that it does when they consume it online.”
Sorensen: “I would love to see television producers and game producers come together to create a truly interactive and immersive experience.”
Edwards: “Astro-physics for preschoolers.”
Bruno: “Kids TV is always replicating itself, because if it works, everybody wants to do the same show with similar characters. So to find something really brand new is difficult. But something related to caring would be new.”
Casemiro: “Live broadcast. I think kids are going to YouTube for a degree of reality because it’s all there and bare. It’s like SNL and it’s hilarious when an actor can’t stop from laughing it would be really fun to do that with kids.”
What is your favorite thing about kids TV?
Pitt: “The people.”
Sorensen: “The innovation.”
Malabar: “I think it’s the vision that kids TV is championing about diversity. It’s wonderful to see the industry recognizing that diversity is about more than just skin color. It’s a multitude of parts and I believe the kids industry is really championing that change.”
bruno: “That we play every day and it’s very fun.”