Pop go the platforms

Variety Junior 2011

With children as young as 2 increasingly exposed to digital media via Mommy’s smartphone or Daddy’s laptop, digital platforms once considered alternative have become essential branding tools for content aimed at moppets.

While some properties have vaulted from a small digital presence to mainstream entertainment success, the linear TV show remains — for now — the key driving piece of the puzzle, even as the relationships between new and traditional platforms grow ever more complicated.

Both large and small producers of children’s shows put great importance on having a presence on all the relevant platforms, from smartphones and the Web to the new breed of tablet computers. Executives are unequivocal in touting the benefits of their audience — and their audience’s parents — being able to connect in some way with their brands wherever and whenever they like.

Viacom, owner of the Nick brand that includes such huge hits as “Dora the Explorer” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” adopts what it calls a 360-degree experience for each of its shows, says Philip O’Ferrall, senior VP of digital media for Viacom International Media Networks.

Most shows begin life in any given territory with some kind of online footprint established in advance. The company offers simple apps, games and online video, as well as educational e-books for younger demos and social media and massive multiplayer online games for older ones.

These platforms’ value is in keeping the brand and audience connected as much as possible, extending the amount of time spent with the brand and driving viewers back to the linear TV experience.

“There’s no question that continuing to live with the brand whilst not with the TV set is a great thing,” O’Ferrall says.

Trying to turn something into a profitable worldwide property without a TV presence is possible, though it remains exceedingly difficult in all children’s demos, in all territories.

Children don’t go on the Internet to search and find content,” says Nuno Bernardo, co-founder and CEO of transmedia company beActive. “They go to places they already know, so it’s very difficult to promote and to connect with them on the Internet if you are not an established brand.”

Bernardo’s company established an online exclusive show called “Sofia’s Diary” that has since crossed over into TV and has now been adapted in more than 10 territories and sold more than a million books. He says that while new platforms are growing in popularity with kids, a good TV show remains essential.

TV is still a key media, because it creates exposure and establishes credibility for your brand,” he says. “Having a global online strategy associated with your TV program also allows producers to be less dependent on broadcasters and the best broadcast slots.”

Digital platforms also have a nimble quality that allows for a kind of grass-root marketing to pay off in ways it wouldn’t for the mass medium of TV.

Maria Doolan, managing director of brand and business development for Madrid-based Zinkia Entertainment, says the company’s aggressive digital platform strategy for preschooler property “Pocoyo” paid off in some unusual ways.

“The show started becoming popular in targets that we hadn’t previously expected would be consuming the show, basically teens and young adults,” says Doolan. “We had a promotion in France for example, with a healthcare company which was only very regional and very small, and honestly after we approved it we didn’t think much more of it. And when the promotion came out, I had the digital guys come to me and ask ‘What on Earth is going on in France?’ because all of a sudden we have thousands of people tuning in and watching.”

Pocoyo” was a pioneer in using platforms to maximum effect, and the show was designed with simple, clear images and shorter running times that would work well on TV as well as on smartphones, laptops and other platforms.

But again, Doolan says none of the digital strategies would have worked if the show itself were no good.

“If you don’t get the show right, there’s nothing to do after that,” she says.

That isn’t stopping people from experimenting. O’Ferrall cites “House of Anubis,” which debuted as an online project and is now a Nick series, and “Monkey Quest,” a popular game-driven Nick property that for now remains online only.

But no one expects TV to lose its crown as king of the kid hill anytime soon for the simple reason that TV has a tried and true economic model that the Internet and digital platforms still lack.

“The costs of producing quality programming and quality content today are not being reduced drastically enough yet to be able to launch something properly if it’s not via television or without television support,” says Doolan.

“It’s really important, I think, to engage with the audience where they are and at whatever time we can, and that often isn’t linear,” says O’Ferrall. “But ultimately, the big numbers always tend to be around the linear experience.”

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