Interview with Paul Robinson, Managing Director, KidsCo

By ANAND GURNANI | 17 May, 2010 - 15:24

What we are looking for is animated shows for boys and girls from the ages of 6 to 10 that involve great story telling, no violence and is family friendly, with great characters. We don't have a preference for CGI or 2D, and we don't have program length restrictions.

KidsCo aired for the first time in 2007, against a background where there are already lots of TV channels available for kids. Though there is always a need for more it is still quite a brave venture to start something new in any kind of market. Could you please tell us about yourself and what led you to starting KidsCo?

My personal background is in Radio and TV, before I moved across to children's television. I also worked for a number of years in the Walt Disney Company, initially as MD of its UK business and Head of Content for Disney Channel globally. The idea behind KidsCo was to find a way to enter the kids market with a unique proposition. Clearly there was no point in copying Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon.

Most importantly, the kids TV business is in the process of content creation, broadcasting and then merchandising and licensing. In kids entertainment, a lot of the revenue to be made is in merchandising, licensing and advertising. If you want to make profit, you have got keep your eyes open, you need shows on air or you will never be in a position to license your products. Secondly there are lots of kids' content creators around the world springing up all the time, including in India of course, and many of the companies find it hard to get the route to market and that's partially because, Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network are vertically integrating. By that I mean they are making stuff in Burbank and sending it around the world Sponge Bob and High School musical, for example, are everywhere. With the big players adopting this strategy, independence and market niches are actually getting harder to establish and it gets increasingly competitive to get shows on air.

We decided to approach companies like Corus, Classic Media, Decode and BBC Worldwide in a different way so all of these content creators, can get their route to market via KidsCo. The other thing we did was to look at where the channel needed to be positioned within various markets. There was a whole host of pre-school channels serving children under 5, Disney and Nick serving teens and 10 year olds, then there are the channels serving the middle age group of kids, but they tended to be quite violent. We decided to position ourselves as unisex orientated, age6 to 10, offering a safe environment, no violence, a place where kids can watch shows that parents feel happy with, with a focus on diversity, celebrating the family and being environmentally and culturally aware. Space in that market existed and so we positioned KidsCo there to make up for the under serve.

In India there is Pogo which is similar to KidsCo but still different. As a result of this we have grown very fast. We are in 83 countries, in 18 languages and growing.

You say that 18 languages. Are these separate fields in different countries?
The languages include French, German, Mandarin and Russian. KidsCo localizations its content before release into the different markets. We have Mandarin, Cantonese, Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia to name a few. The reason behind our exponential growth is due, in part, to our being competitive on price and that is quite important. We are not in India just yet, but we have a joint venture with NDTV and we are hoping to launch in India end of this year or the beginning of next.

We have a large range of content suppliers like Cookie Jar, Corus/ Nelvana, Classic Media, Sparrow Hawk, Decode, Marvista, The Wiggles, BBC Worldwide, Fireworks, TV Loonland, Sesame Workshops, Iconic, Daro, Beyond, ACTF, Freemantle Media and YFE. Within Asia we also have a co production agreement to produce KidsCo original content with Inspidea in Malaysia, called Boo & Me, and Image Venture in India.

What is the programming mix of KidsCo like?
We have about 8000-9000 hours of programming stored on our library. The strategy is to build the very best of libraries with exclusive and original programming as well as developing co productions. Normally we commission 3 to 4 big new shows per year - any more than that and great shows lose momentum. We are aiming to bring 125 hours of new library content every year.

When it comes to any studio that wants to work with you what kind of philosophy, focus and work type you would be having?
What we are looking for is animated shows for boys and girls from the ages of 6 to 10 that involve great story telling, no violence and is family friendly, with great characters. We don't have a preference for CGI or 2D, and we don't have program length restrictions.
What matters is do you have a good idea and a good story that's well told. The biggest failing of any new project is if it is beautiful technically but has no story, no originality of concept. The show, fundamentally, needs to be original and fresh and one needs to really think through the characters. So when you come and pitch to us, have all your bases covered.
What is lacking most often is the pre-production and post-production and that's the weak point in many pitches. It's not about the quality of animation.

How does the collaboration between KidsCo and content creators work?
We are relaxed most of the time. We do very few co- productions. Most of the times it is better that the production house do the whole thing by themselves and then deliver the finished product so all we have to do is dub it. Deliver it to us in English and that is absolutely fine.

What about working with Image Venture in India and Inspidea in Malaysia?
We don't have a fixed formula, we like to be flexible, we would like to support the production companies and create good relationships., we pride ourselves on being fair. With Image Venture in India and Inspidea in Malaysia we have good relationships and a good understanding of the markets, which works really well and the more trust and time we spend working together, the better the relationship. Those two companies are great examples of co-production ventures that are young and small. They have similar cultures and ambition as we do at KidsCo.

You said that lot of revenue comes from other revenue streams in animation so on the merchandising and licensing or DVD, mobile and online, what are the KidsCo things that you could share?
Generally the content creators have these rights. As a broadcaster we don't fall into licensing or merchandising, online or mobile rights. It is also about price, if you want to buy all the rights its going to cost you more money so we would rather grow a little more before taking on that market as well.

Channels like Nickelodeon, Disney, and Cartoon Network have gone on to do local shows from just dubbing, so are you also planning to do the same?
Individual feeds do have local interstitials now, I was in Malaysia for 3 weeks for filming to put those interstitials on Asian service and the reason we were filming in Malaysia was to get across a sense of cultural diversity. Malaysia is renowned for its different races; Chinese and Indian for example. We have done some filming for Western European feeds as well. We are just 2 and half years told and definitely will be doing much more.

How is the advertising market,since you are advertising plus subscription?
We have small amount of advertising currently. We want a relatively ad-free environment for our audience so the advertising market is not a big issue for us at the moment. We are more a Pay TV service. For example, in Australia Fox TV doesn't have any advertising at all and would only do a deal with us on the basis that we remained an advertising free service. There is no advertising at all in Australia. Some markets, like Turkey, have local advertising, so every market has different preferences and different needs which we try to cater to.

Netherlands 3 said that they did an experimentation of launching 19 pilots on television and taking audience feedback either to leave or develop the shows. What's your take on that?
It is the job of the executives to decide. Also it's a bit ambiguous because it isn't fair to put rubbish on air and leave it entirely up to the audience decide. I think it's our duty to decide what is appropriate and what works for which market. Our take on this is to put it on KidsCo's website to establish what the audience thinks about the new content, but not on the channel. We want our viewers to know that when they watch KidsCo they are tuning into a channel that is proud of the content that is on air and that they will enjoy.