MIPJunior: "Second Screen" Is Priority for Children's Programming

Thunderbirds - H 2014
Courtesy of Mipcom

Executives across the board discussed apps and interactive for kids' channels

If the mantra of MIPJunior was “content, character, story” as executives repeated throughout the weekend, the tagline was: “There’s an app for that.”

While the need to create engaging children's characters was highlighted by speakers in keynotes and panels in the two-day conference preceding MIPCOM, the leaders from brands and channels discussed their increased focus on development of engagement tools for kids now that the “second screen” is often the first.

Kids don’t distinguish and expect seamless movement between devices, said Nickelodeon’s president of content development and production Russell Hicks: “They are watching TV with their devices in their hands; they want to look at interactive everything and to interact in every which way with the programming.”

The channel is seeking out ways to connect with the youngest generation — those under 9 years old. “We research them daily to figure out exactly what they are doing,” he said, noting the company conducts traditional market research and focus groups but also uses analytics to follow the fingers tapping across multiple screens. “It’s not just ratings information — those days are gone, as we know,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Instead, they are focusing on building original short-form series and content for web and app, and following their Emmy-winning Nick app, they’ll be launching a similar Nick Jr. product before the end of the year.

Read more MIPCOM: 9 Story Working on Animated Kids Series 'Super Movers'

ITV hosted the first-ever MIPJunior world premiere for the highly anticipated Thunderbirds Are Go! and rolled out its interactive hub that was developed to simultaneously deliver additional brand-based content and retail tie-ins.

“You have to be clear about your ambitions,” said ITV’s executive vp kids Steven Green. “When they go online, you want them to go to places to reside and play, but actually they hop about.” The app opens up a direct line of communication and delivers hard metrics through participation in offline events and product offers from retailers. It’s essential for a big franchise property to develop a fully immersive experience, Green said.

"There are lots of people who just want to entertain with a comedy product, but Thunderbirds is mixed media with a high production budget," he said. "It’s not about just getting ratings; the 360 part is very important for the franchise." The show has sold to Israel, Australia and the Middle East so far, and will debut in the U.K. next year.

During the "What Do Buyers Want?" panel on Sunday, execs agreed that any new programming must have a companion experience and highlighted original content creation designed to build brand loyalty.

“We are trying to be everywhere our viewers are, to create great content and have brand extensions of that,” said Cartoon Network vp content acquisitions Adina Pitt. “We are sort of platform agnostic.”

No longer bound by the half-hour segment, program formats are changing. "Not everything is 22 minutes long," she said. "People are pitching us bite-size content, everything from a minute and a half to five, seven, 11 minutes, which is non-traditional and excelling."

Programming is also moving away from the traditional “buddy comedy” to larger ensemble casts that appeal to a broader range of viewers. “You have a point of entry for everyone, female, male, the dog, the baby, the father. There’s a lot going on.”

Much of that shift can be credited to what they called co-viewing, or parents and kids watching programming together. Pitt said Cartoon Network has seen an increase in family viewing across platforms. “We are still targeting kids, but we know that at certain times you are having a co-viewing experience and sometimes those numbers are shocking because you didn’t expect to get that high a volume of moms or dads watching with their kids,” she said.

Disney vp worldwide programming and strategy Karen Miller said they launch about 70 percent of their content on the app first, ahead of the linear premiere.

“It complements our business,” she said of their Watch app. “It’s not taking away. You may get those ratings, but if you get the 3-day or 7-day you can see how kids are actually consuming our content.”

During her speech on Saturday, Peanuts Worldwide senior vp Kim Towner said the company is also concentrating on digital ahead of the cartoon classic’s 3D CGI revamp film next year. Its existing apps have 15 million downloads, and the company will be moving into games with a major gaming company ahead of the film’s premiere in November 2015. “We will announce a partnership soon,” she added.