Kindernets Looming On German Horizon

Toddlers and teens across Germany are in for a surprise: The kindernets are coming and at least four major players are poised to exploit this massively underserved niche of Europe’s biggest broadcast market.

Two U.S. players, the Walt Disney Company and Viacom-owned Nickelodeon, started the rush late last summer, when the Mouse announced a joint-venture with Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Telediffusion (CLT), the European broadcast group that owns Germany’s most successful commercial web, RTL.

But the ink on the Disney-CLT deal was barely dry by the time Variety learned that U.S. children’s network Nickelodeon had also filed for a broadcast license, and by December had formed a local partnership with Germany’s Ravensburger AG. The German toy manufacturer and producer of children’s entertainment shows took a 10% stake in the $45 million German-lingo version of Nickelodeon.

Not to be left behind, domestic players have jumped into the fray, most recently with main pubcaster ARD’s announcement in early February that it would spin off its own kids web.

But how many channels can survive, and on what basis, remain uncertain.

“I personally don’t feel that children’s television can work as pay TV,” says ZDF’s head of children’s programming, Susanne Mueller. She argues that parents won’t pay for a kids channel if there’s a good public kindernet out there for free.

Claude Schumacher, whose investor group is betting Mueller is wrong, sees things differently. “There are a lot of parents out there upset over commercials,” he says. Schumacher thinks that pro-business politicians will ease restrictions on ad-supported children’s television within the next year, making his commercial-free service attractive to those concerned parents.

German society is vigilant as to the signals broadcasters send children; it is illegal, for example, to air commercials during children’s programs.

Top web RTL recently came under heavy public fire for airing “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” which it was ultimately forced to move to a later timeslot. The PRO 7 network has also been criticized for interrupting kiddie favorites like “Tom & Jerry” with ads; the network argues the shows are “family” programs.

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