Tween programming one of few bright spots

HOLLYWOOD — For North American companies, Mipcom Junior presents an opportunity to get product in front of important international buyers. The global economic climate necessitates multiple international sales of a program to cover costs, but without government subsidies to finance productions (such as those existing in Canada), and with many countries’ incentives for homegrown content, smaller companies are particularly challenged to make ends meet.

On Oct. 6 and 7, as producers offer their latest toons and live-action series at Cannes’ Hotel Martinez, they are prepared to face more cautious buyers seeking familiar brands and material with proven track records.

This ninth edition of the mini-market opens amid a hyperactive and rapidly changing children’s content market, according to event organizer the Reed Midem Organization (owned by Variety parent Reed Elsevier), which has added 30 extra screening booths to accommodate the 400 delegates expected to attend. In all, 230 booths will be available for viewing 728 shows (376 of them new) from 337 participating distributors.

Price wars

“Shows are much more expensive to produce (in the U.S.),” says DIC Entertainment prexy Andy Heyward, explaining, “We need multiple revenue streams for it to work.”

Luckily, DIC is armed with two of the hottest names on this year’s roster: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The tween twins’ Dualstar Entertainment has co-produced an animated series (with DIC) and a live-action series (with Saban) debuting this season on U.S. networks ABC and Fox Family Channel, respectively.

International sales of the programs have been strong so far, with auction-style bidding wars leading to deals like ITV’s exclusive broadcast rights in the U.K. , a pricey deal that eliminated the traditional cable window.

The appetite for tween- and teen-targeted programming is also being fed by other North American distributors. Saban is rolling out “Moolah Beach,” a reality show featuring teens competing for money. Alliance Atlantis is launching “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” While a new co-production effort between MTV and Nelvana will produce “Sausage Factory,” a live-action comedy compared to “American Pie.” This unprecedented partnership also includes MTV’s kid sister Nickelodeon, which has enlisted Nelvana to distribute two of its original shows, “Taina” and “The Fairly Oddparents.”

Distribution goals

Prexy of Nelvana Communications Toper Taylor says: “We have incredible global recognition in our sales and distribution of kids programs. Companies like Nickelodeon are looking to us to potentially maximize the revenue for a kids show.”

Taylor expects more orgs to follow suit in asking 30-year vet Nelvana to distribute their programs.

Skewing a bit younger, Nelvana is also bowing anime-action show “Medabots,” CG kiddie toon “Pecola” and educational toon “Cyberchase,” and pitching several unusual new shows, including one starring Kiss rocker Gene Simmons and another based on the pop-phenom Web site HampsterDance2.com.

Scores of new series ideas are also being pitched by indie studios such as Wild Brain (“Virus,” “Naptime”) Film Roman (“Mall Cops,” “Rex Riders”) and Gullane Entertainment (“The Adventures of Bug Boy”), among others.

Since hitting pay dirt with “Pokemon,” 4Kids Entertainment is offering three more Japanese animated series adapted for international auds: “Yu-Gi-Oh,” “Tama” and “Cubix.” Meanwhile, TV Loonland’s Sunbow Entertainment and Rumpus are co-producing “Kappa Mikey,” a new show designed for kids weaned on anime.

After a postmerger timeout from Mip TV in the spring, Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution will return as a Mipcom exhibitor with five new kids’ shows: “The Nightmare Room,” from “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine, “Justice League,” starring DC Comics characters; and Cartoon Network’s “Time Squad,” “Samurai Jack” and “Grim & Evil.”

Action-comedy combos are expected to sustain popularity, found in the likes of “The Ripping Friends,” from John Kricfalusi (distributed by Cinegroupe), and Buena Vista’s “Teamo Supremo” and “Kim Possible.”

Plenty of new shows for pre-schoolers continue to arrive on the scene, and the response of buyers to new offerings from Alliance Atlantis (“Henry’s World,” “Connie the Cow,”) CBC Intl. (“The Hippo Tub Company”) Nick Jr. (“Oswald”), Portfolio Entertainment (“Benjamin’s Farm”) Silver Lining Prods. (“Max and Ruby,” “Toot and Puddle”), Film Roman (“Jumbies”) and Cinar (“Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings”) will determine if a glut has developed in the itty-bitty-kiddie arena.

The success of DreamWorks’ “Shrek” and anticipation of movies like “Monsters, Inc.” and “Jimmy Neutron” (also a TV series being offered by Nickelodeon) should create increased demand for computer-generated animation shows in the near future. CG specialist Mainframe Entertainment is exhibiting at Mipcom for the first time, offering the new “Betty Boop” and “Gatecrasher” series.

“The success of features hasn’t really translated to TV yet,” says Dan DiDio, senior VP of creative affairs at Mainframe, who adds, “The benchmark is the feature level so it is hard to meet that standard, but we are looking forward to introducing audiences to diversified styles that they’ve never seen before.”

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