The kids biz has a new buzzword: co-viewing. In sharp counterpoint to the rapid evolution occurring with digital distribution platforms, children’s programmers are taking a page from an earlier television era and resurrecting the notion of family viewing.
“It’s kind of interesting because it goes against some of the reasons why television has splintered into so many channels,” observes Alan Gregg, Alliance Atlantis VP of children’s television. “The move in the last 10 years was narrowcasting. But now the likes of YTV and Teletoon in Canada, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network — which traditionally were at pains to put on programming that would turn adults away — are all talking about it. It’s basically going back to the traditional Sunday night-type viewing because the co-viewing audiences are really an important demographic.
“Co-viewing is going to define the kind of content being produced over the next little while. I think we will see a rise in live-action family programming and, maybe not a fall in animation, but perhaps a change in style.”
Disney Channel is already reaping co-viewing benefits, attracting large adult audiences for both “High School Musical” and the second “Cheetah Girls” movie.
“Our movies tend to have a broader entry point,” explains Scott Garner, senior VP of programming for Disney Channel. While movies have always been a staple of the net’s programming, Garner says they’ve adopted a less-is-more strategy.
Less original pics
“We have cut back the number of original movies we do over the past couple of years and keep the premieres event-based. That’s what makes it special. Kids look at these movie premieres like the breaking of a big box office movie. You can’t go to the well too often; overkill would undermine our strategy.”
Whether prompted by Disney’s success or simply zeitgeist, there’s an increased interest in specials and one-offs among kid content providers.
“Reruns are not enough anymore and neither is just doing series,” says Michael Ouweleen, Cartoon Network senior VP of creative direction and development. “I think kids want movies. You need special events.” To that end, CN has produced “Re-Animated,” its first live-action/animated production, as well as three other original movies.
Likewise, Discovery Kids will broadcast two environmentally themed specials, “Saving a Species: The Great Penguin Rescue” and “A Year on Earth.”
Wider programming landscape
“It used to be that Saturday morning television was the end-all and be-all for kids,” says general manager Marjorie Kaplan. “It’s not that way anymore.”
All the executives agreed that specials and one-offs are simply pieces in the growing puzzle of kids’ entertainment that includes mobile, iTunes, video-on-demand, DVD and broadband.
“You don’t think about developing a show for television only anymore,” Kaplan says. “Everything needs to be thought about as cross-platform,” for promotion as well as distribution. Discovery Kids launched its new series “Growing Up Creepie” via a Web site that went online in July, two months prior to its TV debut.
Kaplan points out that employing a multiplatform strategy levels the playing field.
“We’re in 45 million homes, but that doesn’t necessarily make us a smaller competitor because we can reach people on other platforms.”
Such increased competition has translated into yet another new trend: increased production.
“The overall trend in terms of TV for kids and teens is that there’s so much more development now,” says Cartoon Network’s Ouweleen. “The competition is forcing everybody to be better at their game and to think differently about how we operate. It’s creating an environment where people are trying a lot of different things and treating their audience with a lot of respect.
“The competition has also made everyone realize that this audience has critical faculties. They choose. Just because you put something in front of them does not mean they’re going to watch it.”
Although DVD sales are not enjoying the explosive growth of years past, Mar Vista managing director Fernando Szew says it remains an important auxiliary platform.
“It’s not just a program, it’s a product. DVDs are an especially good fit with the kids market because they love to see and engage with favorite characters outside of a linear show.”