By Ryan Tuchow and Cole Watson
The final day of Kidscreen Summit 2023 kicked off on a high note as longtime kids content creator and beloved Sesame Street alum Sonia Manzano sat down with prima ballerina Misty Copeland, who is just getting started in the children’s entertainment industry.
Manzano reflected on the role her Sesame Street character Maria played in representing Latino kids on TV, and how her new PBS KIDS show Alma’s Way, produced by Fred Rogers Productions in association with Pipeline Studios, continues that tradition. And Copeland spoke about her new show in development, Firebird, which is based on a book she wrote about an aspiring young ballerina struggling to find confidence. Moderating the discussion was Maria Perez-Brown, TIME Studios’ head of kids and family.
Bringing some actual kids into the mix, “Who’s the Boss: Powering up kid-led content” featured 13-year-old actor Ainara Alleyne (Ainara’s Bookshelf) and 19-year-old magician Dan Rhodes. They talked about the value of putting children in the driver’s seat of content development, and the experience they’ve had working with seasoned executives at pocket.watch and Turtlebox. Alleyne reviewed a book live on stage and discussed her literacy-focused series Ainara’s Bookshelf, which is aimed at highlighting diverse authors and getting kids into reading, while Rhodes performed some magic tricks and talked about how inspiring it is for kids to see someone their age mastering cool and complex skills.
National Science Foundation program director Kevin Clark moderated a panel session titled “Tough Talk: Kids content fills the gap on heavy conversations.” Industry heavyweights Sara DeWitt (SVP & GM of PBS KIDS), Georgina Lopez (co-founder of Lopii Productions) and Amanda Evans (founder of Obki Productions) spoke about their experience exploring issues like climate change and fear by talking to kids early in development, blending in humor, and being very considerate of what’s age-appropriate.
Also on Wednesday, consumer products experts took the stage to discuss the future of the toy industry and the current retail climate. Yvette Sittrop, Moose Toys’ global head of franchise development, noted that kids want toys that allow them to enter into new ecosystems and community platforms. By interacting with consumers and gaining valuable insights online through social media, Moose is reducing its market risk by allowing fans to help co-create the toy line, she said. EPI Unlimited CEO Lisa Williams added that toycos need to connect frequently with their fanbase to identify and jump on new product opportunities as fast as possible.
Casey Collins, Hasbro’s head of global licensed consumer products and business development, warned that the retail landscape is extremely difficult to navigate for both major toycos and emerging IPs. Between reduced retail space, a harder focus on data analytics, and buyers being more fickle, even evergreen properties (like Hasbro’s tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons) are shifting their strategy to e-commerce platforms and lower-tier retailers to launch new product lines. Collins added that he is bullish on the future of value retailers—such as Dollar Tree and Dollar General—that are finally starting to carry officially licensed products.
And in the last session of the day, Patricia Hidalgo, BBC’s director of children’s and education, announced a new animated series with Banijay Kids & Family called Super Happy Magic Forest. She added that the pubcaster is eager to work with talent around the world on other new shows and podcasts, and wants to expand iPlayer’s offering with fresh animated content.