As a producer, distributor and licensor, FremantleMedia Kids & Family (FMK) is able to map out a 360-degree brand plan for properties from the earliest possible stages. The company has recognized the increasingly important role that digital plays in reaching children nowadays and is creating bespoke original content for online platforms that amplifies exposure for its IP. Rick Glankler, the president and general manager of FMK, shares with TV Kids the strategy for engaging young viewers as active participants with the brands it represents.
TV KIDS: How have you approached growing the company while maintaining the level of quality and flexibility required in today’s ultra-competitive market?
GLANKLER: We are very nimble and are able to work with partners in different ways. Whether it’s co-producing, being a licensor or distributor or looking at format production, we are flexible and strategic. Regardless of the rights ownership or role that we’re playing, it is about making sure that our investment is commensurate with the risk and opportunity. Rather than setting the bar in the same place with every brand that we invest in, it’s about setting the bar in the right place. If it’s a lower risk, maybe we will make a greater investment—and vice versa. That allows us to get over the bar more consistently. This strategy is paying off.
TV KIDS: What have been some of the successful results from the five-year BBC Children’s partnership?
GLANKLER: Tree Fu Tom, which launched in 2012, has seen continued ratings success across its seasons. Danger Mouse was the first brand that I worked on as part of this partnership, and it premiered in 2015 as the most successful CBBC launch of the prior two years. It was not just about the joint storytelling we were able to do in the reboot, but also the BBC leveraging all of its strengths and consumer connections to amplify viewership and engagement. The on-air stunts, online and iPlayer support really did help to create success for both parties.
We are also developing Bitz & Bob, which is a groundbreaking preschool show. In a world where consumer viewership is so fragmented—almost to a point where content is now disposable—how do you create breakthrough content? For us, first and foremost it’s about recognizing where there’s a white space and a need in the marketplace. Bitz & Bob addresses the need for girls to be represented in engineering-related fields. We are the first in preschool to deliver this message. We have worked with female engineers on both sides of the pond to have an authentic female voice and to ensure that the curriculum is appropriate for preschoolers. Not only are we doing traditional storytelling, which is the 11-minute animated pieces, but we are also doing a live-action companion show, how-tos, online content, encouraging user-generated content and creating a robust bespoke world that we know will reach kids in the way that they’re consuming content today.
TV KIDS: Is it important nowadays to have short-form content that complements the traditional linear-length shows?
GLANKLER: It depends. Consumers are engaging with brands differently than they have historically, and they have different expectations about their relationships with brands. Kids today want to be immersed, they want to have a personal one-to-one relationship; they want content to be interactive and, in many ways, in their control. It’s also about the other experiences, whether that’s short-form, the toy-related unboxing phenomenon that’s happening, seeing character interviews, seeing other kids interacting or stories they create around a brand. We are looking at all the ways kids are engaging with brands and making sure that our content is there, and that the right form of our content is there. For example, for every 11-minute animated episode that is for linear broadcast, our goal is to have 15 to 22 minutes of custom content that will be online. That could be on YouTube, multichannel networks or broadcasters’ own websites. The digital strategy for many companies is to put their episodes—or portions of them—online and monetize it that way. For us, it’s about creating bespoke content.
TV KIDS: Are platforms like YouTube becoming a more important part of your overall strategy
GLANKLER: We don’t see it as a revenue-driver as much as we see it as an opportunity to engage our consumer and expand our relationship with them. Our success in this space isn’t based on the amount of ad revenues but in the amount of time kids spend with our content. Our hope is that kids can go from a passive viewer watching it on TV to an active participant in the brand through digital. If we can leverage platforms like YouTube by creating custom content, it’s going to bring children more into the brand so that they become passionate advocates. We are using each platform to strategically further engage each and every consumer that we have around the world.
TV KIDS: And that strategy for engagement also extends into FMK’s wider consumer-products and live-events businesses.
GLANKLER: Exactly. We are not losing sight of those in any way. It’s about the traditional [brand extensions] as well as the new ones. So, while we are focused on digital extensions and game apps, live shows and experiential events are still critical to our business. We continue to have success with Tree Fu Tom experiences at Alton Towers. We have had a lot of live appearances around Danger Mouse at the Thomas Cook resorts in Europe. Kate & Mim-Mim is doing a theater tour in Spain and Portugal.
TV KIDS: How did the partnership with Shellhut Entertainment come about for Tasty Tales of the Food Truckers?
GLANKLER: One of our strengths, alongside global distribution, is the ability to tell a story and have our storytelling resonate globally. Shellhut came to us because of that strength. They had been creating an animated food-based show, which was in development but not fully realized. Our production team had a look at it, knew there was a great idea there, dialed up the comedy and reworked the characters and Tasty Tales was the result.
Comedy is always important for the 6-to-11 demographic. We also recognize that kids are engaging with food, either on a personal level or watching [shows about it on TV]. While every episode has zany comedy and is completely fantastical, at the root of every story there is also a real food ingredient. There is a balance of the humor, fun and irreverence with the touchpoints that have a truth to them, and that adds more to the authenticity of the comedy.
TV KIDS: How does FMK tap into the larger FremantleMedia expertise?
GLANKLER: We do this in several ways. One example is, [CBBC] had a format that has done incredibly well for them in the U.K., Marrying Mum and Dad. We stepped in to help sell the format internationally and just did our first sale on it, in Sweden. We were able to tap into our FremantleMedia Sweden production office to help produce this show for SVT.
We have also produced two new game shows for NBCUniversal’s Universal Kids. That came about through our joint kids’ teams speaking about format opportunities and game shows targeting kids, and we looked to our FremantleMedia North America (FMNA) office to make that link. From that, FMNA created The Noise and a kids’ version of Beat the Clock. We will continue to look for more opportunities like those as we go forward.
TV KIDS: What are some of the opportunities that FMK is finding in the Asian market?
GLANKLER: We opened an office in Hong Kong over three years ago. I’ve had proven success in my prior experiences of building Western brands, like Thomas & Friends for example, into regional successes. You need boots on the ground to do that effectively. I brought over Henry Or, who is our senior VP for Asia. He has the relationships and expert consumer knowledge and understanding that allow him to tailor our programs to create the best fit. We’ve had two shows airing on CCTV, Kate & Mim-Mim and Tree Fu Tom. Launching on CCTV is a tremendous feat in and of itself, but we also went to next-day airing on seven SVOD and digital channels in the region knowing that it would continue to get more consumers into the brands. Our first licensing deals are coming through for both brands in China as a result.