MIPJr: Kids Networks Face Pipeline Pressure as They Compete for Viewers

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Jace Norman of Nickelodeon's 'Henry Danger'; JoJo Siwa of Nickelodeon's 'JoJo Siwa: My orld'

“We need more, more, more,” said Disney vp worldwide programming strategy Karen Miller of the insatiable appetite for shows.

As kids' appetites for content grows, pipeline pressure is the biggest challenge facing programmers as platforms fight for viewers, executives from Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network said across the board at this year's MIPJunior in Cannes.

"Supply and demand is getting tricky,” said Cartoon Network vp acquisitions and co-productions Adina Pitt. “There is not enough out there or we can’t make it as fast as we need it. The economics are tricky."

The “new normal” is all rights with a minimum of 20 episodes to prevent brand dilution, she said, which makes the financing deals more difficult. “It means more money we have to pony up,” the exec said, prolonging both negotiation and development times.

As the 6- to 11-year-old demographic is on all screens, shows are being launched in apps before premieres and games are being developed simultaneously. To build a franchise, an IP must be on all screens.

The use of devices has pushed a downward demographic shift at Disney.  

“Kids are growing up way faster, and they’re leaving us way sooner,” said Disney vp worldwide programming strategy Karen Miller. The channels have seen their demo lose two years, now at 6- to 9-year-olds in recent years.  

Because kids’ tastes are changing at lightning speed, they are moving away from animation sooner, panelists said. “We’ve seen an evolution in the appeal of live action for us,” said Disney vp production and development David Levine. Telenovela-style shows geared towards a pre-teen audience have had success in Latin America, and Disney is now looking for similar serialized shows with appropriate themes for its younger viewers around the world.

At Nickelodeon, that means plucking talent from various platforms and developing shows around them. Senior vp international production & development Nina Hahn highlighted JoJo Siwa, a 14-year-old YouTube star with 17.3 million followers whose signatures are brightly-colored hair bows and "inclusivity." Siwa came to Nickelodeon via the company's consumer marketing group, and the network built a show around her bubbly personality.

“How she represents our audience is ‘future proofing’ us in an interesting way,” said Hahn, adding that Nickelodeon would be looking to develop more talents like Siwa as cross-device viewing overtakes traditional TV in a few years' time.

The migration to mobile around the junior high years has also been a major challenge. “Kids are moving off of kids’ channels and kids’ platforms, and certainly off of measured kids’ platforms at a great speed,” she said, inviting the Netflix and Amazon elephant into the room. “There’s a lot of viewership going to platforms that don’t have any sort of public ratings system, all of those viewers are going off into what we call ‘unmatched’ (meaning no numbers), “so it’s challenging from a monetization standpoint and it’s challenging from a business standpoint to get attention.”

Demographics are also becoming more gender balanced, and “diversity is a natural state” for them, said Hahn.

MIller emphasized it's not only quality but quantity that networks are looking for, to catch kids' eyeballs locked on screens everywhere, all the time.

“We need more, more, more,” said the exec, adding that a standard season for a children's show — 26 or 52 episodes aired in a single continuous run — is ideal. “We need to be able to create an opportunity to engage in a lot rather quickly, due in part to the way that content is dropped onto SVOD platforms.”

If there is a gap between seasons, the channels create shorts or special events to sustain interest in the property.

There’s a growing need for globally appealing shows, said Hahn, citing Nickelodeon’s Hunter Street teen dramedy. After the network picked up the original Dutch version of the show, it went on to develop a global English-language adaptation, sharing locations, scripts and some cast to film in both languages. They are now following the same mold with the Latin American show I Am Frankie and are looking for similar deals.

“It’s incredibly cost effective for us,” said Hahn, “and the global vision adds a really important layer.”