MIPJr: 'iCarly' Creator Says More Screens Boost Business

Lisa Rose/Nickelodeon

Viacom says it is investigating why ratings at kids channel Nickelodeon were down 15 percent in total viewers in September compared with 2010 and nearly 17 percent for kids 6-11.

Dan Schneider talks about the promise of the second screen, while a Hasbro executive touts the next decade of 'Transformers' content.

While the conference was disrupted by the diluvian downpour that paralyzed Cannes and forced organizers to move from the Martinez Hotel to the city’s Palais, MIPJr, the two-day children’s programming conference that took place ahead of MIPCOM, stayed focused on the screens.

While the conversation at past conferences was around how to compete with "second screens," or mobile devices, this year’s participants  fully embraced devices as possible audience drivers.

"People say TV is in trouble because so many kids are turning to iPads or phones, but I say ‘Great, the more screens out there the better',” said Dan Schneider, creator and executive producer of hits such as iCarly and Sam & Cat. "Television is pictures and sound, and if you’re watching it on a screen and it’s our stuff, we’re winning." He added: "The more screens kids have, the more they need stuff to watch on those screens."

Hasbro chief content officer and executive vp Stephen Davis concurred. "TV is like Kleenex, it’s the catch-all phrase for any screen and any content," he said.

Even if 42 percent of children under the age of three are watching content on small screens, a statistic cited by Davis, they are moving around platforms and driving brand loyalty, as are licensing deals that keep characters at the forefront.

Davis cited Hasbro’s Jem & the Holograms, which will not be getting a traditional toy when its film opens later this month, instead seeding brand loyalty through lifestyle partnerships. Sephora, for example, will be launching a Jem & the Holograms makeup line. The ubiquity keeps families returning to the cartoons, Davis said.

Much of this has to do with cultural shifts, said Russell Hicks, president, content development and production at Nickelodeon. When the channel launched back in the 1980s, kids were “latchkey kids” that would spend time in front of the TV alone after school.

"Kids today are completely different," he said. "Their parents are completely involved in their lives. They are not ‘helicopter parents,’ they are ‘velcro parents.’ They are on their child 24/7, and the child likes it."

Added Hicks: "Families watch together now, they are enjoying it together. They share the same music, they dress alike." As a result, characters, plots and dialog need to have appeal across generational lines and play on different levels.

To create a compelling and long-lasting franchise that will have intergeneration appeal, Hasbro has planned out the next 10 years of the Transformers franchise with a stable of writers under the leadership of Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman. The plan spans film, television and digital.

Such planning is a reaction to the constant competition in the marketplace and the need to not focus only on driving toy sales, said Davis. “Consumers have very little tolerance for 22 minute, or 72-plus minute commercials,” he said. “They want to be engaged.” Just like Optimus Prime, the Transformers property will not die. "Transformers 5 is on its way – and 6 and 7 and 8,” said Davis.

Still, traditional television is the most important part of the overall ecosystem. "One thing that has not changed is that having a domestic broadcast network is very important to creating a globally appealing business and to be able to fully monetize it," said Davis. While Netflix and other online platforms have been successful in reaching children and adults alike, children and families still tune into TV.

With multiple screens and outlets, rights and windowing management have become the biggest challenge domestically and internationally, he said.

Daily formats are also a growth area, said Hicks. Nickelodeon has been looking to Latin America, where the formats are popular, for properties to develop. That has resulted in the show Every Witch Way in the U.S., which the company is also developing local versions of in the Netherlands and the U.K.

Davis cautioned about leaning on formats as a quick hit without localization and good casting. “Some people think formats will drive everything. A format’s really great for innovation but it’s got to start with character,” he said. “Noone really goes ‘what a great format'.”