Junior's a tough sell these days

Output challenges abound at MIPCOM kids confab

Business continued to be brisk as MIPCOM Junior wound to a close Sunday. But despite a flurry of screenings and well-attended panels at the Carlton Hotel, executives reported that it's getting tougher to launch new product in the kids market.

"It's not easy at all. In fact, it's as hard as it has ever been," said Miles Bullough, head of broadcast at Aardman Animations, which is in Cannes to begin the presale process for its new show "little j," a co-production with British chef Jamie Oliver's Fresh One Prods.

The 2-D animation project will go into production in 2008, and the show's selling points include a healthy-eating message pioneered by the chef-turned-kids health activist.

But despite its credentials, securing distribution remains a challenge, said Bullough, noting that the recent decision by U.K. terrestrial broadcasters to cut back program commissions has made the key British TV shop window even tougher to crack.

"You always want to try and sell your home market first and raise a significant part of your budget, but now that ITV is out (of commissioning), the BBC is the only place that has real scale. People are adjusting their strategies," he said, noting that British producers are now taking their new shows to broadcasters like ABC in Australia or such cable outlets as Disney Channel and Cartoon Network rather than relying on domestic terrestrial television for commissions.

Although co-production remains one way out of the financial squeeze, the challenge of making them work is still significant, and some broadcasters said they were reviewing their future role in multiparty projects.

Jetix Europe senior vp programming Marc Buhaj told members of a panel Saturday that the pan-European entertainment network would be stepping back from multiparty co-productions to "avoid the co-production sludge and trying to be all things to all people and ending up being nothing to anyone."

Other territories like India, however, report successful co-production activity despite an absence of formal government support for the arrangement.

"We have never looked at the absence of co-production treaties as a barrier," said Ashish Kulkarni, founder and executive producer of Indian animation producer Anirights Infomedia, during a panel on animation production opportunities in India.

"We are looking at pushing the government to make co-production treaties, but we have never waited for them. However, the government understands they need to step up," he said.
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