Nina Hahn Nickelodeon
People Moves

An inside look at ViacomCBS’s kids studio

Nina Hahn opens up about her role leading the VIS Kids division and what the future holds.
February 3, 2021

For more than 15 years, Nina Hahn has served as SVP of production and development for ViacomCBS International Media Networks (VIMN). During her tenure, she has worked in direct partnership with Nickelodeon’s content teams around the world, and has been a key figure in more than 2,000 hours of original kids content. Many of Hahn’s launches have marked a number of firsts for the company, including popular telenovela House of Anubis (Nick’s first US live-action show produced outside of North America), live-action series Spyders (Nick International’s first original Israeli co-pro), iQIYI co-pro Deer Squad (Nick Asia’s first Chinese original series) and The Twisted Timeline of Sammy & Raj (Nick International’s first collab with India’s Viacom18).

To capitalize on the growing appetite for these kinds of international kids shows— especially from third-party broadcasters and streamers—production arm Viacom International Studios (VIS) launched a kids division in October, and Hahn was tapped to lead it. In her newly expanded role, she’s now tasked with growing VIS’s global pipeline to include short- and long-form kids content that will be produced and sold to third parties as well as ViacomCBS brands and platforms. According to VIS, the studio has generated nearly 50% revenue growth on average since it launched in 2018, and kids content has played a big part in those gains.

The studio is now branching out with its first animated series, Gloria Wants to Know it All, a preschool co-production with Marc Anthony’s Magnus Studios, Juan José Campanella’s Mundoloco Animation Studios and Laguno Media. Additionally, its new children’s musical series Funknautas is the first kids project to come out of VIS’s new strategy to invest 25% of its budget in LatAm to create content that spotlights marginalized characters and creators. The studio is also producing Nick Shorts Program finalist Sharkdog, its first international series made for Netflix as part of a multi-year output deal signed by Nickelodeon and the SVOD last November.

Kidscreen: Why did ViacomCBS Networks International decide to launch a new kids division?

Nina Hahn: Given the enormous global demand for kids content across multiple platforms, and the fact that Nickelodeon continues to produce content that speaks to kids everywhere, VIS Kids was launched to provide opportunities to make short- and long-form content—not only for our owned and operated channels, but for third-party buyers, too, whether they be SVODs, AVODs, terrestrials or hybrid platforms. Linear is still strong, but there are a lot of other ways to deliver your content.

KS: What is the strategic purpose of VIS Kids in the broader ViacomCBS ecosystem?

NH: This is really an expansion of ViacomCBS International Studios, and the goal is to take the expertise we have in producing kids con- tent and super-size it, using our international studios and distribution capabilities. This will not only bring new content for channels and platforms, but also bring new revenue via sales to third parties. It will also be an opportunity to share our expertise as kid experts, as well as increase our presence in the market.

KS: What types of programs does VIS Kids want to make?

NH: We are looking for live-action and animated content across all genres. For our Nickelodeon channels, we want creator-led shows with emotionally-driven characters that the audience will care about, along with the comedy, drama or whatever else might be a part of the project. From a demographic perspective, we will continue to look for preschool and bridge content, as well as shows aimed at nine- to 10-year-olds. A new area we will definitely spend time on is the young adult age group, with a focus on content for 13- to 14-year-olds.

Being platform- and content-agnostic opens up a lot of avenues, especially to people who may never have been able to come to us before because they had a kids drama, or a six-part TV movie idea, or something that is not necessarily the DNA of Nickelodeon alone.

KS: How does VIS Kids decide on developing third-party versus proprietary content and whether they will be short- or long-form series? How do you decide where they will live and how they’ll work with ViacomCBS?

NH: When it comes to project length or project lane, there is no black-and-white decision-maker. VIS Kids is deliberately set up to be creatively fluid, allowing us to form, build and mould a project to meet its full potential. This means that we will look at projects as they grow and decide their specific pathway in real time, maintaining a nimble and opportunistic approach.

KS: How are you working with the studio’s development and production teams in Latin America, the UK, Spain and Israel, along with an expanded central team encompassing international development, production, sales and distribution?

NH: ViacomCBS International Studios already has extensive production capabilities across the world—especially in Latin America, with over 11 stages and 40 editing suites in Argentina, and creative and production hubs in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Miami. In Israel as well, ViacomCBS-owned Ananey has the capability to produce high-quality content, thanks to experienced teams and great relationships with top Israeli talent. Finally, across Europe and Asia, we also work with world-class partners such as Zeta and Diagonal TV.

In terms of distribution, our teams are already settled in our key territories, and we’re in a similar position for the development teams, which are already built and working on hundreds of projects internationally. The structure is there, and we’re using it fully to share knowledge and experiences in order to make the most of it and come up with premium content for our own channels and our partners.

KS: What does the new “No Diversity, No Commission” policy mean to you and the industry?

NH: It’s a bold starting point and a wake-up call. We’re working with all of our partners to give a voice to those who don’t have one. And wherever you are in the evolution of diversity and inclusion, [we're sending a message to] do better. If a company comes to us and they are good, but not great [at representation], they need to demonstrate that they’ve upped their game in a way that is significantly better than whatever they were doing before. It is the smartest way for us to move forward with progress that is realistic, authentic and allows producers to be in control of how they are going to change their game. But the new policy also can’t be one- size-fits-all because when you look at the global landscape, some diversity and inclusion issues may be relevant in one country, but not in another. It’s about deliberately avoiding box-ticking.

KS: What are your takeaways from the pandemic, and how should the creative industry approach 2021?

NH: It’s important to look at COVID by asking, “What is the upside of the downside?” For creative people, the upside has been that a lot of rules have been lifted for how to make live-action and animated content. Because of this, it’s been an exciting time of innovation. The pandemic has reminded the creative community to not get stuck doing the same things over and over. For us, we’ve had to shift away from the traditional places we’ve produced live action, and instead consider more countries like Australia, which hasn’t been as affected by COVID and is safer for filming. And although animation has been relatively unscathed, we’ve seen the birth of some amazing new ways of telling stories that I hope continue.

KS: If you could, what advice would you give to your younger self just before you entered the kids industry?

NH: I would tell myself to always remember the smell of Play-Doh because it keeps you a kid forever. I actually travel around with a tin of Play-Doh wherever I go.

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at jdickson@brunico.com.

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