MIPCOM Jr. comes of age

Kids TV market focuses on cross-platform strategy

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CANNES -- The 15th annual MIPCOM Jr. market wasn't all fun and games, though gaming and other multiplatform media were the talk of the Riviera town during the two-day kids market preceding MIPCOM that wrapped Sunday night in Cannes. MIP Jr. turned 15 this year and showed signs of growing up smoothly as it enters its later teen years.

This year's theme, "Resetting the button on kids TV," allotted for business deals and cross-cultural channel surfing between media execs from all over the world throughout the weekend. Toy manufacturers, product licensing businesses, cross-platform brands and new-media partners convened for the event.

Despite the sunny skies, MIP Jr. attendees couldn't escape the large clouds of global recession and advertising slumps on everyone's minds. However, the global youth market, while not recession-proof, seems to be surviving the storm.

"The only thing that this economic crisis really means is that good content is more keenly sought because that's where you're going to get your return. People have smaller baskets, but they're going to load things that they know are going to work," said Steve Grieder, executive vp of Nickelodeon and program sales for MTV Networks International.

Networking cocktails and conferences focused on such a global fusion as execs discussed how to appeal to all levels of entertainment for this generation's technologically advanced youth. Simple TV formats are no longer enough, and licensing merchandising, cross-platform content and the crossover to the world of gaming were hot topics throughout the market.

Some old favorites are getting modern makeovers, such as Franco-Canadian co-production "The New Adventures of Babar," in 3D produced by Nelvana Studio and TeamTO, or SND/M6 CGI-animated "Little Nick," based on the popular books whose big-screen live-action adaptation hit Gallic cinemas this week. Other companies are opting for more innovative multiplatform offerings like Gaumont-Alphanim and Muse Entertainment's online interactive game based on animated series "The Mysteries of Alfred Hedgehog" or Marblemedia's TasteBudsTV.com, an site where kids and parents can search for recipes, activities and HD series "TasteBuds," distributed by E1 Entertainment.

International co-productions are facilitating the move to cross-platform and cross-cultural programming. "When we co-produce with Canada, we have more possibilities to develop cross-media content," France Televisions Children and Youth Programs director Julien Borde said of "Hedgehog."

Mahmoud Bouneb, executive general manager of pan-Arabic Al Jazeera children's channel gave the closing keynote on Sunday. Bouneb stressed the importance of international co-productions in order to create content with international appeal.

On all continents, youth market content providers agree that joining forces for production is the logical business model for the next generation.

U.K.-based Aardman Animations has partnered with ABC Australia for new live-action series "Wallace & Gromit present a World of Invention." ABC picked up the format on Sunday. Leading French network TF1 also has sights set overseas with 2009 titles "Oasis," produced by TeamTo and Korea's Tuba Entertainment, and "La Famille Trompette," produced by GoN with the BBC.

Kids TV brands are heading to the gaming playground as video game publishers are on the lookout for children's TV series to develop and turn into popular game franchises.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the "SpongeBob SquarePants" series, Nickelodeon and THQ will release "SpongeBob's Truth or Square" in the fall.

Gaming is proving to be a significant source of income across the board. "If you look at our Web sites, the majority of time spent viewing is totally tied to gaming. Gaming is taking the experience of a TV show and translating it to other mediums," Grieder said. Gaming certainly has international appeal. "Gaming is one medium where the cultural barriers are very low," Grieder said, adding: "Games do not require much adaptation or translation. If you're a kid playing online, you have the same experience everywhere."

Cartoon Network series "Ben 10" has been turned into popular game "Ben 10: Protector of Earth" from D3Publisher and has already sold more than 4 million units worldwide since its October 2007 launch.

The gaming frenzy has also sparked interest in programming for the "pre-tween" 6-8 age bracket from buyers everywhere. "This is due to the double impact of video games and live-action content. Animation appeals more to younger kids today," Borde said.

Zodiak Entertainment Distribution is expecting strong sales across the globe for "Sally Bollywood," which airs on France 3 in Gaul. The 13-minute format aimed at the 6-9 set will also air on Disney France, Disney India and Super RTL. "It's really pure comedy, which is a real change from our usual action-comedy formats," said Zodiak Scripted Sales director Emmanuelle Bouilhaguet.

Live-action shows are also popular among the 6-8 and older kids' markets. Some hit series in this genre include Disney-ABC-ESPN Television's live-action series "Jonas," starring the popular trio of singing brothers, Sinking Ship Entertainment's live-action CGI series "Dino Dan" and ZDF's "Stella and the Star of the Orient."

Live-action comedies are especially popular among tween audiences, ages 8-12. "Bear Behaving Badly," an ensemble comedy from multiple BAFTA Award-winning indie producer Darrell MacQueen Ltd., is a huge hit on the BBC's terrestrial and digital networks. Live-action comedy is making a comeback. Why? "If scriptwriters can make kids laugh, they'll come back to watch again and again," Darrall Macqueen's co-founder and managing director Billy Macqueen said of the series whose first season has already aired more than 15 times on BCC's digital kids channel CBC since its 2007 launch. He added: "When the credit crunch is on, parents like to hear their kids laugh."

Nickelodeon International is banking on spooky live-action comedy "The Troop." "There's been a real generational shift over the last five years in terms of the growth of live-action as a genre that appeals to both boys and girls. What started out as a tween phenomenon is now trickling all the way down," Grieder said.

Hybrid formats mixing live-action and animation are also sparking interest among buyers and their audiences, such as Toronto-based Decode Enterprises' "Dirtgirlworld," a live-action and animation fusion format combining an environmental theme with music, commissioned by ABC, CBeebies and CBC.

"You can add more emotion into content if you've got that mix, more so than with straight animation," JAM Media CEO John Rice said of the increasingly popular hybrid genre. JAM Media's animated/live-action show "Roy," about a Dublin family with a cartoon son, has been a ratings hit on CBC since it aired in August.

"Hybrid formats are more family-oriented. They can be both educational and entertaining at the same time," Borde said.

MIP Jr. wrapped Sunday night at the market's HQ in the Carlton hotel.