A fresh new kids TV studio is making waves in the U.K. and is aiming to gain traction in the hyper-competitive global content market including the U.S.
Beano Studios is based on the U.K.’s longest surviving comic, “The Beano,” which in its 1950s heyday sold 2 million copies. The studio may be new — it was launched in 2016 — but the inspiration behind the venture is venerable.
Owned and published by the same Scottish family, D.C. Thomson, since launching in 1938, “The Beano” has delighted generations of British kids who devoured the comic’s cheeky, somewhat subversive rebelliousness that lampooned school teachers and other authority figures. The stories featured such rebellious characters as Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street kids. Today, “The Beano” has undergone a digital makeover. Some veteran characters have been tweaked to make them more inclusive.
One of the most popular new characters from the rebooted “Beano” is Rubi, a gadget-loving girl in a wheelchair. “Her popularity is off the scale because she is a very with-it young girl who is in firm control of what’s going on in the gang,” says Emma Scott, founder and CEO of Beano Studios.
And Dennis still exists, but in his 21st century digital reboot he is a bit of a rascal but not as naughty as he once was. In his American incarnation, to be unveiled later this year, he will even have an American accent.
“Dennis and his friends are mischief makers, but they don’t set out to do any harm, they’re really good to other kids,” Scott says. “They get themselves into scrapes because they like to test the boundaries and take risks. That’s a universal truth about all children.”
Scott stresses that the revamped Beano is a broad digital entertainment platform and has hired digital specialists from a range of backgrounds. They include British pubcasters Channel 4 and BBC News as well as YouTube and Twitter.
Beano.com bowed in fall 2016 and will be given a U.S. launch in the next few months. The site features online games (“Spot ‘The Beano’ characters from their jumpers,” Scott says), videos (“How to draw a pug in 20 seconds”) and listicles (“Explanations for the Bermuda Triangle”) — all fashioned to tempt today’s choice-saturated 6- to 12-year-olds.
Driven by Beano.com, remarkably, the comic’s print sales (around 35,000 a week) have recently grown by 10% in the U.K.
A 52-part animated series, “Dennis and Gnasher Unleashed,” is a hit for U.K. kids’ channel CBBC. The show has been sold across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia and a sale in the U.S. is being targeted.
For parents, part of the appeal of Beano.com is that it offers a safe space in a dangerous online world. The site is COPPA (the U.S. Children’s Online Protection Act) compliant.
Crucial to the continued success of Beano.com (more than 1 million users have visited the site) is keeping up with kids’ changing tastes. So-called Trendspotters (a panel of 20 9- to 12-year-olds) are sounded out weekly to find out what’s going down in the playground. This research shows that President Trump is a constant source of fascination.
“When we cover him we get disproportionate traffic,” Scott says. “He comes up a lot in their world in school. In the U.K. they’ve got clear ideas about him, irrespective of social class or where they live. It surprised us and it’s not going away. They worry about him. They don’t understand why he doesn’t like Mexicans. To them, he is a bit of a villain.”
Unlike Dennis, the erstwhile Menace.