While the pandemic may have brought a temporary halt to programming pipelines, children’s broadcasters are using the opportunity to scope out the acquisitions market as well as applying strategies to entice tweens and teens back to their streaming platforms.

During Tuesday morning’s Mipcom Warm Up briefing on kids programming, BBC Children’s head of independent animation and acquisitions, Sarah Muller, admitted she was in the “unusual position” of being able to go on an international buying spree.

“I was able to go out and source content that we might not have bought in the normal course of events, because our schedule is normally so full,” she said.

Speaking to the session’s moderator, former Channel 4 commissioner-turned-consultant Sarah Baynes, Muller said that series acquisitions have included Australian broadcaster ABC’s four-part drama “First Day” which tells the story of a young transgender girl starting her first day at a new school.

Another acquisition made to combat the COVID-19 production logjam is ZDF Enterprises’ “Harry Potter with Fangs” series “Heirs of the Night.”

Muller added that the European co-pro, which launches on CBBC during Halloween week, was “something we might have made ourselves, if it had been business as usual.”

COVID has also speeded up the move towards the iPlayer as a content destination rather than a catch-up service, the BBC executive added.

Muller claimed the BBC’s OTT service has seen an 80% increase in use this year, with 30% of requests comprising of children’s programming – with box sets a “perennially popular” request. This trend, she said, opened up further creative possibilities.

“Box set viewing allows more for content with story arcs – something we were always told we weren’t able to do because the children’s market is so fickle that audiences can’t wait a week for the next episode – I get excited about this because it allows for more complicated stories,” she said.

Canadian pubcaster CBC’s kids programming strategy is also based around its streaming service, Gem, specifically attracting Canadian tweens and teens, according to Marie McCann, the broadcaster’s senior director of children’s content.

To this end, recent acquisitions have included the U.K./Canadian co-pro “Mallory Towers” which joins other acquisitions on Gem such as Cottonwood Media’s “Find Me in Paris” and original series such as CBC’s sci-fi adventure “Endlings” as well as the second season of Gem’s digital-first show “Detention Adventure.”

“The idea is to launch exclusive, high-profile titles to attract tweens to our platform,” says McCann.

“We’re trying to get a new behavior started, it’s a brand building exercise to engage with audiences directly and get them to know about our streaming platform,” she added.

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Heirs of the Night Courtesy: ZDF Enterprises

Another important series which McCann says speaks directly to teens is Quebec production outfit Echo Media’s 35-part series “About Sex” – another CBC original – that invites teens to talk about “what’s going on between their head, their heart and between their legs.”

“Some of the language means that we wouldn’t haven been able to broadcast this on CBC,  but by placing it on Gem we can compete with the likes of Netflix by speaking to teens in a frank and informative way in the language they are accustomed to,” McCann said.

Speaking directly to young audiences – especially during lockdown – was something that local Brazilian kids TV channel Gloob and Gloobinho felt was crucial, according to its head of content strategy and programming Luiz Filipe Figueira.

With production of the broadcaster’s locally produced sitcoms and even its animation pipeline on hold during quarantine, Filipe Figueira decided to commission “warmer quiz show formats” featuring children from its sitcoms working from home studios.

“This allows for us to reach out to our audiences directly – they could interact and play games and quizzes and challenges. This worked well for us and the ratings were awesome,” he said.

Once Gloob’s production pipeline is reignited, Filipe Figueira estimates that the broadcaster’s slots will be full “until the end of 2022” but he added that the long-term international co-production strategy remains “to get involved and develop projects early on to help those partners and give a perspective on the Brazilian audience.”

Such collaborations appear to be working wonders for Nickelodeon and IQIYI, China’s largest video platform, with the July launch of “Deer Squad,” a CG rescue-adventure series for three to seven-year-olds featuring four heroic deers who protect animals of the forest as well as nearby human inhabitants.

The series is the result of a three-year process mobilizing Nickelodeon’s content development expertise and aimed at both domestic and international audiences.

Vice president Xiaoxuan Yang – also the platform’s head of animation department – said the collaboration was a bid to “kickstart a new model of pre purchase plus production supervision” rather than taking finished series to market.

Yang is quick to point out the economic benefits of such partnerships for international producers: the gradual opening up of China’s second child policy means that the scale of children’s consumer market in China will have reached $200 billion by the end of 2020.  Monthly active users of IQIYI’s independent children’s channel currently stands at 200m.

According to Yang, “Deer Squad” already ranks among the top five of kids shows launched on the service and its success on Nick Asia in August has lead to further launches on U.K., German and French networks this month, with launches in Latin America and Australia to follow.

With such vast content libraries, streaming services in other territories are taking a more algorithmic approach to acquisitions and partnerships. 0

According to Igor Makarov, chief customer experience officer and head of kids at IVI, Russia’s biggest OTT service, any new content decisions are based on what might already compliment its vast library.

Regularly attracting 50 million unique users per month the streaming service claims to offer 100,000 pieces of content and 18,000 titles.

“If you watch our content without stopping it would take eight and a half years,” Makarov estimated.

“That’s why our navigation systems and recommendation systems are so important.  It’s about managing incoming content with our existing library and looking at the gaps we need to close,” he added.

For children’s shows, Markarov added that the platform is looking for content that matches carefully targeted age groups as well as content specifically aimed at both genders, which covers these  “soft skills” that address behavior, difference, friendship and family.

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Heirs of the Night Courtesy: ZDF Enterprises