German pubcasters seek federal cash for kidweb

Germany’s two national pubcasters plan to seek DM540.8 million ($388 million) in federal funds over four years to jointly launch a commercial-free children’s channel tentatively called “From 8 to 8.”

The chairmen of Germany’s main pubcaster ARD announced their intent to ask a federal budget committee for an extra $97 million annually to cooperate on a 12-hour, non-commercial kindernet with sister network ZDF beginning in 1997. Six hours of new programming are slated.

But Germany is flooded with projects targeting the children’s market right now and public television, which costs the taxpayers a staggering $6 billion a year, is under heavy fire to save, not expand.

Many advertisers see the kids market here – which has never been specifically targeted – as the richest vein in the field of niche programming: German kids 13 and under have a combined purchasing power of $8.2 billion in their piggy banks and jeans pockets, according to a study released recently by the media authority in the state of Nordrhein Westfalen, to say nothing of the amount of goods purchased for children.

Focus on youth

More and more, the advertising lens is focusing on these young consumers. In June 1994,10,000 commercials were directed at kids here, according to figures compiled for the same study. Less than six months later, the number was 15,000.

That beckoning market has created an implausible number of new suppliers, locked up the rights to classic kid product here and driven up prices for other acquired programming, now as much as $30,000 per half-hour, according to industry sources. One reason for the rush to acquire kidvid rights is that everyone here who already owns programming is saving it to plug into their own kindernet project.

Loading library

Leo Kirch, for instance, who owns more foreign programming rights than anyone in Europe, is saving his library for a pay channel that’s all licensed up but has nowhere to go. He and his pay TV partners Canal Plus and Bertelsmann have frozen plans for Premiere 2 because demand for pay TV in general is not high enough.

Should that trio give up, a former Kirch employee and Munich-based ad exec, Claude Schumacher, says he has $143 million in financing and 70% of programming to step in to the breach and launch “Fun TV.”

‘Street’ rights

Now the pubcasters, which own the German-language rights to “Sesame Street” and have libraries of popular domestically produced programs, also want to spin off a channel rather than sell catalog product.

Even WDR, the biggest of the regional pubcasters, is still mulling some form of cooperation with Nickelodeon, which is skedded to launch its German-lingo channel soon in partnership with the leading producer of children’s programs here, Ravensburger.

ARD’s contribution

Some classic Disney programs remain with ARD through next year, but the Mouse is already working with Euro broadcaster CLT and will correspondingly direct its software to Super RTL, their joint venture family entertainment channel, which launches at the end of April.

The national pubcasters have a few good children’s programs, such as “Cap’n Bluebear,” but they are steadily losing the young audiences, and the newly proposed channel represents a concerted attempt to win them back.

As ARD chairman Albert Scharf put it, “Whoever wants to succeed as a media company – be it publicly or privately organized – must expand full-service networks through digital niche channels. It is an illusion to believe one can survive tomorrow’s television world with normal full-service programs.”

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