Big Moves in 2013 for Kids Television
By Kristin Brzoznowski for WorldScreen.com
Digital platforms and OTT services made their mark on the kids’ industry in a big way in 2013. While studies continue to show that linear viewing among children remains high, the iPad and other tablets have become must-have gadgets for youngsters. Streaming services have been hard at work to meet the demands of tech-savvy kids, growing their children’s offerings by leaps and bounds over the last year.
None was perhaps more aggressive in the kids’ space than Netflix. The OTT service managed to secure content agreements with Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. Animation, Scholastic Media and others to build up its “Just for Kids” section. With Disney, Netflix scored movies for the U.K. and Ireland, landed a multiyear licensing deal to become the exclusive U.S. streaming service for a handful of Disney Junior and Disney XD series, and clinched exclusive Dutch SVOD rights for all Walt Disney Studios features released in the Netherlands.
One of its biggest deals of the last year, however, came with DreamWorks Animation. The two teamed up to create the first-ever original kids’ series for the Internet TV service, Turbo FAST. This partnership quickly expanded and, in its largest first-run original content deal, Netflix inked a multiyear pact for new original series from DreamWorks Animation, encompassing more than 300 hours of programming.
Amazon also went about amassing licensing agreements, to bring kids’ content to its Prime Instant Video service. This included a deal with Viacom that provides unlimited streaming access to shows from Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. Amazon’s LOVEFiLM service in the U.K. was doing the same. It too landed children’s programming from Viacom, and also from Warner Bros., NBCUniversal and BBC Worldwide, as well as Saban Brands for the Power Rangers catalogue. LOVEFiLM added Disney Movies on Demand to its offering, delivering instant access to a host of family-friendly feature films. Amazon has also gotten into producing original kids’ programming. It has been testing out a number of children’s pilots by making them available on Prime Instant Video and LOVEFiLM and allowing viewer feedback to help decide which go into production; several pilots have already been greenlit through this process.
Distributors from across the kids’ business have been taking advantage of these and multiple other VOD outlets as additional platforms to place their programming. One such company is DHX Media, which entered into an agreement to provide content for a new SVOD entertainment channel on PPTV for the Chinese market. The company secured a separate VOD deal in North America with the digital platform HOOPLA, which is committed to airing more than 1,300 episodes of content from its catalogue.
DHX Media also made headlines with its acquisition of Ragdoll Worldwide, owner of such popular children’s brands as Teletubbies and In the Night Garden. Just as the year was coming to an end, DHX Media made a major play in the kids’ space and struck a $170 million deal with Bell Media to acquire the Family channel, as well as three Canadian Disney services. The move came about due to Astral and Bell’s merger. The CRTC had approved the merger transaction on the condition that Bell would sell off a number of its specialty channels. This also saw Corus Entertainment purchasing the 50 percent stake in TELETOON that it did not already own. For around $233 million, Corus now assumes full ownership of TELETOON, TELETOON Retro, Cartoon Network Canada and the French-language Télétoon and Télétoon Rétro. As part of the conditions of the sale, the regulator ruled that Corus must ensure that content from TELETOON, YTV and Treehouse not overlap by more than 10 percent.
DreamWorks Animation was another company that had a headline-making year in 2013. Ramping up its TV efforts, it tapped Marjorie Cohn, a 26-year veteran of Nickelodeon, as its first-ever head of television. In addition to its Netflix deal, DreamWorks Animation acquired the library of Chapman Entertainment, known for hits such as Fifi and the Flowertots. It also made a major move with the purchase of AwesomenessTV, one of the most popular tween/teen networks on YouTube with more than a million subscribers. The company has since partnered with Nickelodeon to bring the AwesomenessTV brand to television in a new sketch comedy series.
Germany’s Super RTL secured a deal with DreamWorks Animation for access to more than 1,200 hours of programming. The agreement, which is in place through 2020, came about just as Super RTL’s pact with Disney, which provides around 30 percent of its schedule, comes to an end. Disney is planning to launch its own commercial channel in Germany this year. The 24-hour service will be targeted at providing family entertainment; the bulk of the programming will be from the Disney library, with some investment in local production and third-party acquisitions.
NBCUniversal and Corus Entertainment made the decision to discontinue their KidsCo joint venture, citing the challenges of operating the service in a crowded market. The announcement came a day after NBCU revealed that it was buying out its partners in the U.S. preschool network Sprout.
The French Moonscoop SA also faced challenging times in 2013. The company entered into administration in July and was later declared bankrupt.
Despite this small handful of channel closures and bankruptcy filings, 2013 was a solid year for the kids’ business. It marked the first-ever International Emmy Kids Awards. The second annual International Emmy Kids Awards will be held on February 10.