Sunday, October 07, 2018

Nickelodeon UK Rides High with Growing Mix of Original and Acquired Content, Multiple Platforms and Real-World Experiences

Nickelodeon is riding high in the UK on a growing mix of original and acquired content, multiple platforms and real-world experiences. C21 Media's Gün Akyuz reports.


Three years at the top in the UK’s cabsat pay universe is no mean feat for a kids’ network in today’s fragmented landscape. Nickelodeon continues to claim that spot across its linear channels Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Nicktoons, under the direction of Alison Bakunowich, Senior Vice President (SVP) and General Manager (GM) for Nickelodeon UK and Ireland.

Her brief now also oversees the UK’s Channel 5 preschool block Milkshake! and a growing portfolio of Nickelodeon brands in NEE regions, the Nordics, CEE and Russia, where it’s making equally impressive gains.

Alison Bakunowich

“It’s a result we are extremely proud of and have worked very hard at,” says Bakunowich. “Last year we had the highest share performance on record across the combined network, Nick, Nicktoons and Nick Jr, as did Milkshake!, actually. That’s what motivates us.”

In 2017, Nickelodeon grew 7% and was the top kids’ network in pay TV homes, ahead of BBC Kids (CBBC and CBeebies) and Disney, while Nick Jr. achieved its best year on record. Over on Channel 5, Milkshake! also achieved its best-ever annual share of all kids’ viewing.

As a combined network, Nickelodeon claims to have had the largest year-on-year growth of the top five channels on the kids’ EPG in pay TV homes, and where half of the top 10 shows in pay TV homes are theirs. Unsurprisingly, they include the top two preschool shows, Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol, as well as Nickelodeon animation series ALVINNN!!! and the Chipmunks (in third), Horrid Henry (fifth) and the evergreen SpongeBob SquarePants, still among the network’s top five shows. Nickelodeon also has the top four live-action series: Henry Danger, The Thundermans, Game Shakers and Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn.

That’s only part of the picture. Nickelodeon has also seen a 22% growth in Video-on-Demand (VoD) viewing this year to July, with Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, The Thundermans, iCarly and Henry Danger driving that rise, according to the network.

“Live viewing is still critically important and still there, but VoD viewing is extremely important,” says Bakunowich. “We’re seeing huge numbers in catch-up and portable viewing. So whether it’s playing a game or watching something on the Nick Play app, for example, or the Nick Jr. play app, the consumption and the same content is still there, it’s just when and how.

“For Viacom, we see controlling the right to ‘must-see’ IP as key to growth in the emerging on-demand TV ecosystem and it’s an area in which Nickelodeon already has a strong pedigree and established pipeline.

TV movie Blurt generated Nickelodeon’s biggest live ratings since 2013

“We’ve always had a very strong brand personality, whether it’s Nick Jr., the first step on the brand ladder, right through to the live-action on Nickelodeon, there is a humour and irreverence that has always been very important to us. Specifically, it continues to be about key characters, IP, storytelling and, of course, how you consume it. Whether it’s new or returning, it’s still all about great shows for all ages, all stages, boys, girls, throughout your whole childhood. It’s that nappies-to-skinny-jeans thing.”

Nick UK also turned 25 in September. For Bakunowich, this signifies that there’s now a generation of parents who grew up with Nickelodeon. “That’s what’s interesting to me. We’re now a brand that has that connection with parent as well.”

A highlight for the network in September was the new series Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, backed by a raft of consumer products. The show launched on Nicktoons on September 22, a few days after its US launch. In a first under Viacom’s enlarged UK stable, the show is being simulcast on Nicktoons and Channel 5.

“It feels really modern and a perfect evolution of that series,” says Bakunowich, for whom the show is also a “great pointer” to the generational link between parents and kids and Nickelodeon as “a shared experience.”

Nickelodeon is extending the shared experience to a growing number of live events, such as Slimefest, featuring Nick-related talent like YouTuber JoJo Siwa (JoJo Siwa: My World), Jace Norman (Henry Danger) and Kira Kosarin (The Thundermans).

Last year Slimefest ran as six shows over three days attracting 12,000 people. This year’s events and real-world activities included The Nick Jr Adventure Centre in June and July 2018. Slimefest will be back on October 20-22, to be followed by a linear airing in November, plus events with Max and Harvey and JoJo Siwa.

“We’re bringing people to the market with lots of on-the-ground events, big tent-poles like Slimefest, and smaller activations across the country in cinemas and shopping centres,” says Bakunowich, noting that all such touch points “drove back to Nickelodeon UK’s most successful year ever.”

In April, the TV movie Blurt, featuring JoJo Siwa and Jace Norman, was aired as a linear TV event, generating Nickelodeon’s biggest live ratings since 2013. Norman was brought over to the UK to promote it.

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles airs on Nicktoons

“Kids love our characters and IP and want to experience that, whether it’s slime or JoJo Siwa. It’s about getting an opportunity to experience that in the real world,” says Bakunowich. “Real-world experiences and having something for families to experience together is so important for us.”

Bakunowich says the Nickelodeon group is looking to broaden its events in the UK, Ireland and globally, “with more on-the-ground brand exposure, and more real-world interaction with our audience.”

Current schedule, acquisitions, original production

Newly launched preschool animated series Becca’s Bunch

By the end of 2018 Nickelodeon will have launched 17 new shows across the network since the beginning of the year, a mixture of in-house intellectual properties (IP) as well as local acquisitions. On the local content front, Nick has just launched preschool animated series Becca’s Bunch, acquired from Anglo-Irish outfit Jam Media. “We’re delighted with this show and how it’s performing,” says Bakunowich. “It looks really different – it’s puppetry but stunning, and very much the premise we hold true on Nick Jr., which is about adventure.”

The show was picked up for Nick in the UK as well as globally. Another is Nickelodeon-backed North American animated adventure series Top Wing.

Over on Nickelodeon, a newcomer is Cottonwood Media and ZDFE’s live-action drama about a time-travelling ballerina, Find Me In Paris, plus Nickelodeon-backed US comedy Knight Squad.

Nicktoons, meanwhile, recently debuted Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Earlier this year it picked up all five seasons of Horrid Henry, which began airing in late May, with Nicktoons airing brand-new episodes in 2019. Another recent acquisition for the toon net is DHX’s Massive Monster Mayhem.

Bakunowich is also keen to flag up UK preschool production Digby Dragon from Blue Zoo Animation. Milkshake! has now commissioned season two of the show, originally a Nickelodeon commission, for next year. “It’s been a huge performer, so Milkshake! will now be the home of Digby Dragon,” says the exec. She points out the established track-record of IP sharing between Nick and Milkshake!, covering shows like Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, from before Viacom’s ownership.

“We’ll be doing more of that if it makes sense, and if it’s a show that will work on both networks,” she says, noting that Milkshake! skews a little younger, is more British at its core and a bit softer. Nick Jr. is “more forthright, adventure, humour and sometimes a bit glossier.”

Find Me In Paris, Cottonwood and ZDFE’s drama about a time-travelling ballerina

“We were extremely focused on almost every aspect of the channel, the brand and multiple strategies,” says Bakunowich. “Events are an extremely important part of it, as well as social. We have a multiplatform team who do on-demand scheduling – an artform in itself – but the channel business is still absolutely core to our business. It is like individual races that add up to the pentathlon, and we’re in to win them all.”

When it comes to talent-spotting, social media is already in the mix for Nickelodeon, which has recruited JoJo Siwa and works a lot with Max and Harvey, twin musicians with a big social media presence. “We always want to reflect society and kids, so that they’re not just from drama school, but also from bedrooms in Norwich, and you do get a broader catchment of talent,” says Bakunowich. “Because of social media, we’re able to segment our audience and communicate to them in a way we’ve never been able to before.”

She highlights Nickelodeon bulletin The Scoop’s social site, featuring Instagram-style stories aimed at girls aged 11-16, covering gossip on Nick stars and other celebrities, beauty, fashion, technology and wellness. “It allows us to talk to the tween girl end of the audience in ways we’d never communicate on the channel because that’s for a much broader audience. But it can connect with an audience that is very active on social. They communicate with us and tell us what they’re into – it’s a fantastic dialogue,” says Bakunowich.

The exec’s plans for Nickelodeon UK and Ireland over the next year remain firmly focused on “content and how it’s consumed. It continues to be our commitment and we’re constantly looking at pushing forward on platforms, on consumer products, on events and real-life experiences. There are literally no ways in which were not looking for people to work with us, whether it’s new technologies or event activations or IP ideas. We’re completely focused on the kids’ entertainment business and this market and moving ahead.”

But she does offer some advice: “We recently acquired Horrid Henry for the UK. It’s obviously a huge favourite here and works very well with our toon slate. It also works extremely well next to SpongeBob. That’s a huge factor – how well something will sit next to Nickelodeon IP.

“We’re always looking for great content, great characters that can sit in the Nickelodeon family and we’ll treat them like our own. I can’t stress that enough, because if we find something that we believe will work, we will find the money. Also, with some things we look at we’ll say, ‘Oh this is Milkshake!’ or Nickelodeon, or ‘This is great for the UK,’ and some things could be an international opportunity. That’s what, at Nick, we’re very good at. So in terms of maximising the opportunity for the creator or producer, we can facilitate that very easily.

Bakunowich doesn’t have specific acquisition hours to fill. “When we see it and we think it will work, we’ll just buy it. That’s the way we do it, rather than spending to a budget,” says the executive.

Also, from TVKIDS:

Eyes on the Prize

Andy Fry hears from leading commissioners at global and local channels about budgets, wish lists and digital initiatives.

From the global pay-TV behemoths to market-leading commercial channels and pubcasters, the pressure has never been greater for programmers to deliver compelling, engaging content for kids amid heightened competition from OTT, YouTube and a million other digital distractions.

The good news for content makers and distributors is that, for the most part, channels have maintained their levels of investments in children’s programming.

“Lagardère Active’s youth channels are profitable,” reports Caroline Cochaux, managing director of TV at the French channels operator and president of its DTT service Gulli. “Gulli is in the top three most profitable DTT channels. Each year we invest 10 percent of our turnover in animation, including linear and nonlinear rights. This is a good performance in a market transformed by digital developments.”

Sebastian Debertin, the head of fiction, acquisitions and co-productions at German kids’ pubcaster KiKA, says budgets have not changed—but there is additional pressure because digital activities need to be financed with the existing pot of money.

Jackie Edwards, the head of acquisitions and independent animation at BBC Children’s, reflects a similar sentiment when she states, “Our budget for acquisitions and independent animation has stayed the same over the last few years, but there is more funding for digital commissions.”

All kids’ linear channels have stepped up their online and on-demand activities to keep up with constant changes in viewing habits. So securing as many rights to a show as possible is crucial.


“Consumer patterns are changing and we must adapt,” Cochaux notes. “We have learned to work with new [platforms], such as Netflix and YouTube. For example, our DreamWorks series have the first window on Netflix before arriving as linear exclusives on Gulli and Canal J. These series remain very efficient on our channels despite this first window. We are also present on YouTube with thematic channels that sometimes promote programs even before they are launched on linear.”

“We know we need to be everywhere our young, mobile fans are, so we don’t manage linear and nonlinear rights separately,” says Layla Lewis, the senior VP of global acquisitions and content partnerships at Nickelodeon. “The management of different rights creates opportunities for us to program across an entire ecosystem and also launch specifically focused, targeted and curated services, such as localized content unique to different markets in Noggin, our educational SVOD preschoolers app in Latin America and the U.S.”

Lewis’s view is backed up by Orion Ross, the VP of content, animation, digital and acquisitions, at Disney Channels EMEA. “The way we manage linear and nonlinear rights is continuing to evolve. The rights we take may differ dramatically on a show to show basis. If a series is a co-production, we may have the flexibility to share rights with partners. The biggest challenge is trying to make our deals future-proof.”

Frank Dietz, the deputy program director and head of acquisitions and co-productions at Germany’s Super RTL, adds, “One of our most important objectives is to reach kids on every possible content platform and to create sustainable excitement for our brands. We are strong believers in controlling the rights to our own IP and always try to gain rights for our own SVOD platform, Kividoo.”


As Dietz notes, investing in digital is not just about making sure you can window effectively—it’s also about developing content exclusively for nonlinear services. “We invest in digital content significantly—apps, short-form content, etc.,” he says.

“With the launch of Viacom Digital Studios, producing original premium digital programming is a big priority across all Viacom brands,” adds Lewis. “This is taking shape in a variety of ways, including the new JoJo and BowBow Show Show.”

Patricia Hidalgo, chief content officer for EMEA kids and international kids strategy at Turner, references The Heroic Quest of the Valiant Prince Ivandoe as a good example of how Turner is experimenting with digital formats. “The ten comedy shorts launched as part of an interactive web game. The ability to launch new content on digital platforms allows us to experiment with how we put content out and get almost instant feedback.”

As the market evolves and channels have to stretch their budgets over linear and digital platforms, partnerships have become increasingly important across the kids’ channel landscape.

Lewis explains that while Nickelodeon draws on a robust pipeline of shows from the U.S., the company can also be “flexible and partner with content creators in a number of different ways with different deal structures. A recent example is the prebuy acquisition we did for Becca’s Bunch from JAM Media, which we committed to very early on and then got involved in the production.”

Lewis says Nickelodeon is also developing a new CGI-animated series called Deer Run with iQiyi, China’s largest video streaming platform. “It’s the first time Nickelodeon has taken a Chinese original series from its conception stage. Overall, we are always looking for new ideas and formats that allow us to tell stories in a different way.”

Disney balances its in-house production activities with third-party collaborations, says Ross. “We create content by working with independent companies and studios across Europe. For co-productions, we work with independent studios in a way that lets them hold onto some of their IP.”

Expanding on this theme, Ross adds, “We have several financing models and every series is different. We always look to set up a co-production structure that gives us the biggest budget we can achieve within the constraints of how the series is financed. We have more competition than ever and we have to deliver quality content, but that doesn’t mean throwing money at something; it can mean structuring the production in a smarter way.”

Cochaux at Lagardère says her channel group is involved with a raft of collaborations with French and international animation studios, including Squish with Cottonwood Media and Bionic Max with Gaumont.

Debertin at KiKA also points to the importance of co-productions. “We are very happy to have teamed up with Komixx for the animated series Dog Loves Books,” he says. “For Christmas, we are also looking forward to Lupus Films’ The Lost Letter, which tells the story of an enthusiastic boy and a lonely old lady who share a love for Christmas.”

The KiKA exec also mentions Hope Works, a project initiated by BBC Children’s and Sky Kids. “Hope Works brings together broadcasters and production companies from all over the world to work on a series of short films for children aged 4 to 12. KiKA will work with Sixteen South on Rise, which explores the impact social networks can have on children when used uncontrolled.”


Regardless of the funding model, kids’ commissioners are on the hunt for an eclectic mix of ideas and styles.

“For CBeebies, animation, please—we are always looking for fresh, inventive concepts with great characters and compelling stories,” says Edwards. “We only prebuy for the preschool channel. For 6 to 16, live action and animation are always on the shopping list, as are shows with a strong female lead. We’re always happy to see non-pink girl shows.” Comedy is, of course, key, “but we’re also interested in a strong action adventure with a public-service heart,” she adds.

Comedy remains the focus at Cartoon Network. Likewise at sister channel Boomerang, Hidalgo says she’s “looking at classic, slapstick humor and less complicated characters and stories. Together with Cyber Group Studios, we have produced Taffy, an homage to the Hanna-Barbera style.” The focus at Boomerang, she continues, is “visually funny squash-and-stretch animation that we know is loved by the channel’s core audience target of kids 4 to 7.”

Cochaux also highlights comedy, but says Lagardère is “open to all projects, even the most atypical, as long as they match our values: openness, good humor and tolerance. We are delighted to find nuggets all over the world that represent our viewers’ diversity, whether in Rabat, Abidjan, Moscow or Paris.”

Concerning what Disney is looking for, Ross cites “character-driven and creator-driven comedies. Comedy is an essential component for Disney Channel and Disney XD audiences. Our focus for Disney Junior remains on storytelling that incorporates a sense of magic, optimism, adventure and, of course, humor. We are also looking at different formats such as short-form, limited series, mini­series and special events, because the standard series formats are not the only game in town.”


For Super RTL, Dietz has his eye on shows that are “not look-alikes and have a fresh fit in our portfolio.” The channel reinvented its programming lineup after it was forced to replace its pipeline of Disney content at the start of 2014. “As a result of that, we remain very active in every aspect of content sourcing,” Dietz says. “We will broadcast many originals over the next six months, some of which are co-produced or co-edited by Super RTL, and we have invested a lot of energy in the production process of these shows.”

At Super RTL’s main competitor, KiKA, Debertin is keeping an eye out for “appropriate, high-quality programs for 6- to 9-year-olds, although an outstanding preschool show could also make it on our shopping list. We’re putting a lot of effort into co-production because it is difficult to find appropriate shows that reflect today’s kids’ needs. Too often there are action-driven, violent boys’ shows or far too many ‘pinkish’ girls’ shows on offer, which in terms of gender questions are very outdated.”

More generally, says Debertin, KiKA needs “kid-centric, character-driven, adventurous stories with a good portion of humor, reflecting issues like diversity. We are finishing the production and dubbing of Tib & Tumtum, a GO-N, TF1 and KiKA co-production that offers a wonderful new world for girls and boys. With Gerhard Hahn, we are preparing the first season of Mystery Museum. KiKA and Hahn Film are open to additional partners for co-production here.”

Debertin is also looking for new hits that can emulate shows like The Wild Adventures of Blinky Bill, Insectibles and Super Wings. “In other words, shows that have a great potential to work for the core target as well as reach younger and older kids with humor and adventure. We found Super Wings and Insectibles in Asia, so we keep a close eye on concepts from this part of the world. In general, KiKA is looking for appropriate, high-quality TV shows which we can co-develop, wherever they come from.”


While everyone is on the hunt for fresh, compelling ideas, there is still plenty of room on broadcaster schedules for shows based on existing IP.

Nickelodeon, for example, is launching Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which Lewis says “reinvents the franchise for a new generation of fans.”

Disney Channel has in the works 101 Dalmatian Street, inspired by Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel and Walt Disney’s 1961 film 101 Dalmatians. “Disney has a wealth of heritage properties, and that allows us to draw on a well of storytelling and reimagine classics for a new audience,” Ross says.

Cochaux at Lagardère Active is excited to roll out the Barbie animated series Barbie Dreamtopia and Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures via its long-term partnership with Mattel.

Even with the wealth of content, new and returning, on the market, there are still some things that are in short supply. Super RTL’s Dietz points to the limited availability of kids’ live-action “because the shows don’t have the same shelf life as their animation equivalents.”

Turner’s Hidalgo references a lack of “experimental content that incorporates the language and style of YouTube. That’s something we are focusing on at Turner. Our team in Latin America launched two formats that worked well, Another Week and Toontubers. We’re now looking at rolling these out across EMEA. We’re also excited to have our own Cartoon Network YouTuber in EMEA, Toony Tube (a puppet).”

Nickelodeon’s Lewis adds, “There is a plethora of serialized content, but we’d love to see something that works as standalone episodes and is fun and funny. We are always happy to partner early, so come and talk to us.”

Commissioners are also eager for shows that address pressing contemporary issues. “Diversity and inclusion are very much top of mind,” says Turner’s Hidalgo. “Relatability has always been key for us, but it’s great that we’re now seeing more and more diverse characters.”

KiKA’s Debertin says he wants to see “stories that capture kids’ attention while addressing diversity in a way that goes far beyond the gender issue. We need content that strengthens not only the self-confidence and self-awareness of children but also their respect for other people, no matter what culture, country or religion they represent.”


More Nick: Nickelodeon UK to Premiere 'The Bureau of Magical Things' on Monday 5th November 2018!

H/T: Huge thanks to RegularCapital for the news!
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