Kids programming crosses all borders

Mar 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The popularity of kids networks is not limited to the United States. The majors have taken their programming beyond U.S. borders and found that their shows have mass international appeal.
“The basic goal in going global is wanting to serve kids with quality entertainment, regardless of where they are,” said Linda Schupack, vice president of brand management for Nickelodeon International. “Creating shows that we know resonate with kids so strongly in the States and having the opportunity to tell those same stories to kids all over the world-that’s why we’re out there.”
But before entering any international market, an understanding of the culture is key. “You’re working in markets that have different habits, different histories, different cultures-although differences in cultures can be overstated,” said David Hulbert, president of Walt Disney Television International. “When it comes to entertainment, there’s often a lot more similarities than there are differences-storytelling, emotions, all those things.”
Barry Koch, vice president of Cartoon Network Latin America, agrees.
“Sibling rivalry is universal; the relationship between kids and their families is similar,” he said. “But there might be some cases in which [shows] don’t work well in other places. Do you put `Cow & Chicken’ on the air in India, where the cow is a sacred animal? I don’t know what the answer is, but there’s a case where there would be a cultural imperative to do or not do something.”
The networks rely on a variety of programming for their international kids channels, most of which comes from their own show libraries. Ms. Schupack said “Rugrats” is one of Nickelodeon’s biggest global success stories. “Recess,” “Duck Tales” and the classic Disney characters have worked well for the Disney Channels, according to Mr. Hulbert. And Mr. Koch said original shows such as “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Dexter’s Laboratory,” as well as classic shows such as “Tom & Jerry” and “The Flintstones,” are popular on Cartoon Network Latin America.
Emiliano Calemzuk, vice president and general manager of Fox Kids Latin America, added that “Power Rangers” and Marvel classics such as “Spiderman” and “X-Men” do well for his network.
“We look for programs within the animation genre that are quirky, that are edgy, that have a sense of humor and that are truly representative of the kids of today,” Mr. Calemzuk said.
But not all international channels air just animation. Mr. Hulbert said “Boy Meets World” and “Smart Guy” have done well for the Disney Channel in the United Kingdom, and Ms. Schupack said “Kenan & Kel” is popular on the Nickelodeon channels.
“The physical humor cuts across cultural boundaries,” she said.
Though most international programming comes from the United States, some networks produce shows locally. Mr. Hulbert said the Disney Channel’s “Art Attack,” an art “make-and-do show” produced in the United Kingdom, is so successful that it has been translated into seven languages around the world. And Ms. Schupack said Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues” is shot in such a way that each region can have its own local host, a concept that is being used in Korea and the United Kingdom.
Networks also acquire content from outside sources-such as Cartoon Network Latin America, which offers “Pokemon,” and Fox Kids Latin America, which telecasts “Angela Anaconda.”
“Every show we put on the air has to go through this brand lens and really go well with the brand concept,” Mr. Calemzuk said.
While entering a new market at the proper time and with the proper programming is difficult, the networks have found that the advantages of establishing international channels far exceed the challenges.
“Not only do you get to leverage your business,” Mr. Hulbert said, “but one of the fascinating things is you get to learn more. We’ve got 13 Disney Channels internationally and one in the U.S. In a sense, we’ve got 14 laboratories for finding out what works.”