Tweens, Toys, Nostalgia Hot Topics at MipJunior

'Hannah Montana' creator talks about phenom, new series

CANNES -- Family-friendly franchises took center stage in Cannes during the two-day MipJunior confab that wrapped Sunday night. At its new HQ in the Martinez Hotel, this year's event was all about tweens, toys and trips back in time as the 16th annual children's programming event invaded the Croisette.

MIPJunior launched a licensing initiative this year featuring a series of case studies, matchmaking sessions and rendez-vous with top names in the global merchandising business. On Saturday, the seventh annual MipJunior Licensing Challenge was held as jury president Holly Stein, vp licensing acquisitions at Mattel, and her jury evaluated the hottest kids' property of the season to find merchandising potential. Industry execs focused on ways to capitalize on their brands with 360-degree global marketing campaigns and licensing franchises.

"Hannah Montana" creator Michael Poryes gave the MipJunior keynote Sunday and talked about creating a tween phenom that also became licensing gold with live concerts, video games, hit albums and magazines.

Next up from Poryes is "Life With Boys," produced by YTV in association with Nelvana and distributed by Helion Pictures, Classic Media and Nelvana. The tween series follows a 13-year-old girl living with her father and three brothers.

Producers from all over are also sinking their teeth into the tween market with shows like DMG's vampire drama "Split" from Israel or FremantleMedia's "My Babysitter's a Vampire." Canada's Cookie Jar is hoping tweens will chew on comedy "Decidedly Debra," now on Family Channel Canada. Kids adventure shows like Marble Media's "Splatalot" and the BBC's "Escape From Scorpion Island" also offer an increasingly popular genre in the tween category.

Zodiak Rights announced Friday the launch of "Qpiz," aimed at young teenage girls, which will feature a mix of animated shorts, an online site complete with games, quizzes and a female-driven video game, plus a facebook page, a series of comic strips in teen magazines and a book. In addition to the licensing capabilities of teen and tween programs, one of the most attractive aspects of the genre for producers and broadcasters is that these shows are typically "co-viewing" programs that parents can enjoy with their children.

"If you look at the successful kids networks today, they all offer a lot of co-viewing programs. Co-viewing is a trend started by Disney around 10 years ago, and it's arrived in France more recently thanks to the launch of the DTT channels," Marathon's general manager David Michel said. "When you have a 24/7 network, you need parents on board too."

Marathon just renewed a second season of "Rekkit Rabbit" with Disney Europe and France's TF1. The 11-minute series, aimed at 6- to 11-year-olds, was written by head writers Reid Harrisson of "The Simpsons" and Mitch Watson from "Scooby-Doo," no strangers to writing scripts that appeal to both kids and parents. "There's one level that will appeal to kids and another, more second-degree level, written for parents," Michel said.

Even kid-centric channel Nickelodeon is seeing more programming fitting into the family model. "The stuff that works for kids has to work for grown-ups too in this day and age," Nickelodeon executive vp Steve Grieder said. "We're still kids first, but we're also family-friendly. There's a real generational shift taking place where these shows can be shared experiences."

For example, Haim Saban is bringing back "Power Rangers" for an 18th season with new episodes already set to air on Nickelodeon Stateside.

Like the Power Rangers, several old brands are getting a new look. By relaunching familiar series, broadcasters can attract both parents who grew up with the original versions of the series and their children.

"In this age of multimedia devices, it's great to have TV series that can reunite families with trans-generational fare," France-based distributor PGS Entertainment's founder and managing director Philippe Soutter told THR.

On Sunday, "Sesame Street" celebrities Bert and Ernie headed to the Croisette for a Q&A session to promote NDR's "Sesamstrasse's Carrot for Two" in co-production with Sesame Workshop.

Method Animations' "The Little Prince" has been a hot topic on Planet Mipcom all weekend as well. Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic children's book is now an animated TV series produced by Method Animation with France Televisions, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Gallimard Jeunesse and Saint-Exupery's inheritance foundation. "The Little Prince" team is hoping that parents will be eager to rediscover the book they grew up with as children with their own children, who will now be able to "read" the story through TV, books, DVD, internet and musical albums.

"At what point do parents take a franchise seriously? When it's not just a TV show," Grieder said of the urgency for multiplatform content.

"The Little Prince" Gallic broadcaster France Televisions sees the series as a way to not only link parents and children, but also as common ground for brothers and sisters of different ages. "Co-viewing isn't just a trend. It's in the DNA of youth programming, and it's fundamental to the industry," France Television's head of Youth Programs Julien Borde said.

PGS, who is handling international sales for "The Little Prince," has had an active market with several other established brands, including Method and Marvel's 26-minute HD CGI "Iron Man: Armored Adventures," which airs on Nicktoons in the U.S., and "Marsupilami: Houba houba hop" from Marsu and Samka Prods. in co-production with France Televisions, which airs notably on France 3, ZDF and Disney.

"It's easier to relaunch a brand than to launch a new one -- an extension of an already popular brand is a safer bet than starting from zero," Soutter said of the revamping craze sweeping the globe and market.

The two-day market wrapped Sunday night with a special screening of "Le Petit Prince" followed by a closing-night cocktail at the Martinez Hotel beach.