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When ViacomCBS acquired Israeli pay TV channel provider and content producer Ananey Communications in April 2020, it touted that it was a “strong fit with the rest of our international networks and studios business.”
Fast-forward more than a year, and Ananey is looking to make a splash beyond the kids space, where it has been encouraged by the global success of its shows, such as live-action series Spyders, the first-ever co-production between the firm and ViacomCBS’ Nickelodeon International. Its management team is now looking to produce not only more global Israeli kids hits, but also hunting for success in the drama, documentary and even animation fields.
“Israel is producing a lot of great content to the world, and the merger with ViacomCBS has been amazing for us, because now we are in a big family that really puts content in front of everything else,” Orly Atlas-Katz, CEO of Ananey and executive vp, ViacomCBS Networks Israel, tells THR. “And the mission of ViacomCBS is to unleash the power of content to everyone on all platforms. So we fit like hand in glove for this vision. Prior to the acquisition, we were quite a big company in Israel and also had some success abroad. But since we became part of the family, it has become bigger and bigger.”
Leading the kids charge has been Spyders, a comic action-adventure series about three siblings who discover their parents are undercover agents for the Environmental Counter Crime Organization and form a task force called Spyders of their own to help.
After quickly becoming the most successful kids show on Israeli cable company Hot’s TeenNick channel, Spyders, from showrunner Michal Cooper-Keren (Spell Keepers), launched in more than 130 countries, including the U.K., Australia, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and the Netherlands. And according to Nickelodeon International, it has seen “worldwide success.”
Said the ViacomCBS unit: “Around the world, season one launched with stellar results, outperforming slot averages in most key markets. The second season performed even stronger, resulting in a pick-up of two additional seasons, currently in production.”
The ratings boosts it has provided across various Nick International markets has led the partners, as THR can exclusively reveal, to start working on seasons 3 and 4 for debuts in 2022.
In Spyders season 3, the protagonists travel to an RV campsite to stop a deadly earthquake launched by criminals who want to steal raw diamonds from an underground deposit inside a nature reserve. In season 4, the Spyders go up against a mysterious criminal who is secretly spreading toxic amoebas that are rapidly destroying plant life.
Atlas-Katz says her team has cooperated with Israel pay TV giant Hot and Nick International to ensure the show appeals to Israeli and international audiences, and that process has worked smoothly. “We write a script, we send it to our partners at Nick International, we get notes and if we don’t agree on something, we discuss it,” she explains. “For example, for us, it was very important to have a cast that is famous and has influencers on social media in Israel. But it is also very important for them to have diversity and all kinds of stuff in the casting. So we came up with an amazing cast for the third and fourth seasons.”
Atlas-Katz says the global success has opened the door for more Israeli kids content and has at times surprised even her team. “I was surprised by the English-speaking countries,” especially because Spyders is dubbed into English, she says. “It was huge in Australia and in the U.K. It used to be the English-speaking countries preferred their content in their own language, especially with kids. And they have so much content in English.”
Other Ananey kids program successes also began in Israel only to find a more global fanbase. One such Ananey story has been The Greenhouse, the first-ever Israeli series to be acquired by Netflix for a remake by Ananey’s Nutz Productions unit. The show, about a brother and sister who lose their mother in a spaceship crash and go to an elite school for gifted future leaders where they face challenges and must help save the country from a disaster, aired on Nickelodeon U.K. in an English dubbed version. It was also sold to HBO Europe and Belgium’s Medialaan/VTM KZoom channels.
Ananey’s pre-school DIY series Craft Party, which emerged as a top 5 hit on kids TV network CBBC in the U.K. that gave it a remake after the original became one of the highest-rated shows on Nick Jr. Israel, drama The Hood about a blue-collar neighborhood in a rich district, and fantasy-mystery show Spell Keepers have also ended up drawing international audiences.
Atlas-Katz tells THR that her team is looking to continue the momentum with an eye on global hits, with talent relationships a key focus and ingredient of success. While ViacomCBS’ investment in content is important, “for us, it is mainly about the connection with showrunners in Israel,” the executive says. “We have great relationships and are working closely with big names, because in the end, it’s all about the story. For example, on Spyders, we have Michal Cooper Keren who is amazing. It is her second show with us, and she is already writing the next project for kids for us.”
Asked about the secret sauce or key ingredient of Spyders and other Ananey kids shows, Atlas-Katz points to three things. “In our teen dramas, we always have a cliffhanger at the end of an episode, which fits streaming and linear, because kids must see the next episode. It’s something that we are really focusing on.”
She continues: “The second thing is that Israeli writers have layers when they are writing a story. On Spyders, for example, we got a lot of reaction from parents who watch with their kids, because you have a layer for kids, but you also have a layer for the parents. Family viewing is very important and a key factor in kids programming today.”
Finally, “we always focus on kids saving the situation,” explains Atlas-Katz. “It means that kids can solve anything. And it’s something that kids really appreciate because it is empowering and they feel really, really strong after watching it.”
Ananey also produces outside the young adult and kids space and is hoping to find more global success in other areas. For example, Atlas-Katz says the firm is currently working on seven animation projects and plans to do more documentaries after recently producing the original documentary Vaxxed Nation for ViacomCBS’ Smithsonian Channel, providing a closer look at how Israel became a world leader in vaccinating its population against COVID-19. The documentary premiered July 11 on Smithsonian Channel in the U.S. and U.K. “When ViacomCBS acquired Ananey, we understood and saw the trend of docs on Netflix and in other places, so we jumped into this as well. And our first one is already all over the world, so we are happy with it.”
Ananey is also looking to make a global splash with a drama hit. “Our goals include producing for the international market adult drama and kids stuff,” says Atlas-Katz. “We are going to produce more and more and we really hope for a big success. We are hoping that the Fauda will come out of Ananey. It was considered a huge success of Israeli content, and we are definitely planning to be the next one to launch some big series for adults that is successful all over the world.”
ViacomCBS is the first port of call for Ananey when it looks for a partner or buyer for its content, but the firm is also open to doing business with other companies. “But I’m happy that ViacomCBS sees Israel as an important part of their strategy,” says Atlas-Katz. “And I think now all the big platforms, especially with streaming, understand that people want to see content from all over the world.”
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