Leading distributors weigh in on the trends in Asia’s fast-moving kids’ content sector.
It was standing-room-only for the keynote presentation by Netflix’s Andy Yeatman at MIPJunior last month. Producers from every genre are undoubtedly eager to be in business with the streaming giant, and the kids’ TV segment is no different. Significantly for Asian content creators, the two new global kids’ originals unveiled by Yeatman at the market both hail from the region: YooHoo & Friends was created by Korea’s Aurora World, based on the company’s hit toy brand, and Mighty Little Bheem comes from India’s Green Gold Animation.
The other big piece of news out of Asia this MIPJunior came from China, where Zoland Animation revealed it is launching Zokast Kids.TV, a subscription VOD platform for children in partnership with France’s M.E.I. Group.
Both developments illustrate the transformations in the fast-changing kids’ programming industry in Asia, with new platforms creating a wealth of opportunities for both homegrown outfits and international players.
“Everyone has understood that Asia is going to be the next big thing,” observes Rajiv Chilaka, founder and CEO of Green Gold, which is a partner in the inaugural ATF Animation Pitch. “We want to find talent—students, artists, studios. We’ll help [the winning entry] produce a pilot and if it works, make it happen.”
Green Gold is not the only producer-distributor keen to help take Asian concepts globally. That has been a fruitful initiative for France’s Cyber Group Studios, which has taken on titles from production houses in South Korea, China, Hong Kong, India and, most recently, Singapore, where it worked with Omens Studios on Leo, The Wildlife Ranger.
At ATF this year, 9 Story Distribution International will be showcasing Luo Bao Bei, co-produced by Magic Mall Entertainment in Beijing and Cloth Cat Animation in the U.K. “It is a unique property based on a famous and well-established Chinese character,” says Federico Vargas, senior director of distribution at the company.
A number of companies are also looking to up their co-production initiatives across Asia. FUN Union, for example, is working with CCTV Animation in China and the Riki Group on a new show for primary-school-aged kids, Krash and Hehe.
China has also been a critical co-pro territory for ZDF Enterprises, according to Peter Lang, the VP of ZDFE.junior. “China is one of the most important partners in the region in terms of co-productions,” Lang notes. “We are always open to evaluating new projects that have strong storytelling and reputable partners.”
Meanwhile, digital platforms in China are giving international distributors new pathways into the country. FUN Union, for example, took BabyRiki into China with the main local digital platforms. “It launched July 8, and by the end of August we had 145 million views,” says Christine Brendle, the CEO of FUN Union.
At MIPCOM, France’s HARI International clinched a deal with China’s Mango TV for Grizzy & the Lemmings. “It will give visibility to the program in the territory, and hopefully that will have a domino effect in the region,” notes Adeline Tormo, the head of sales at HARI International.
The proliferation of online platforms has been a boon to distributors working in the region over the last year. “We have established strong connections with pan-regional platforms as well as local platforms—Amazon in India, tonton in Malaysia and Doonee in Thailand,” reports Raphaelle Mathieu, VP of sales, acquisitions and new media at Cyber Group. “Digital platforms are very dynamic in the region and are always on the lookout for new business opportunities, which makes it very refreshing to work with them. While their needs can be quite close to free- and pay-TV operators, they are more flexible regarding the production date of a program and remain quite open-minded on acquiring 2D animation, which allows some of our programs to have a second life. On the other hand, as digital platforms are big players in the industry, when a title catches their attention and fits their needs, they are ready to invest more to get the first run and exclusivity.”
Vargas at 9 Story expresses a similar view. “I believe there is a real potential for explosive growth in the digital sector still to come, in traditional territories across the region as well as emerging markets where data is becoming more accessible for downloads and streaming more reliable. Traditional linear services will continue to be home for brand building. And while new digital players will always need a volume offering for their subscribers, we will see more first-run content on select platforms.”
Martin Krieger, head of global distribution at Studio 100 Media, has observed the “impressive” rate of growth at emerging platforms. However, “TV still is our main focus with regards to the first window,” he explains. “In terms of establishing a high awareness level for a property, it is still the most important medium, especially for our merchandising and licensing partners.”
For Krieger, preschool is a strong seller in Asia, particularly content “with at least a light curriculum [combined with] fun and comedy elements. It is important for us as a studio to package educational elements suitably without lecturing the kids, so the shows are perceived as fun rather than pure learning. We think this approach is also appealing to kids and buyers across Asia.”
Preschool also features prominently for Superights, which is bringing to ATF Helen’s Little School—a show that promotes “edutainment and social development,” says Safaa Benazzouz, sales manager at the company—as well as Emmy & Gooroo and Story Time!
It’s a similar view at FUN Union, which is rolling out BabyRiki, KikoRiki and PinCode to Asian buyers this ATF. “The beauty of the three brands is you attract the child and the family. If you catch them with BabyRiki, the parents trust you, the children love you, and it’s a natural transition from there to KikoRiki and PinCode,” says Brendle. “The children recognize the difference in the animation, but at the same time, there’s a familiarity. That works well for us.”
On BabyRiki in particular, Brendle says the show was “developed with a huge amount of input from early learning specialists and children’s psychologists. It hones in on the core skills that are usually recognized as the foundation of any good education—communication, cooperation, creativity and critical thinking. Each of the episodes features some aspect of this learning, and at the same time some cognitive skills learning. And the look and feel are unique, with the combination of CGI with live video. The big musical component, plus the foundation learning, makes for a really lovely recipe.”
At HARI, Tormo sees interest in dialogue-free comedies, such as the company’s own Grizzy & the Lemmings. “Non-verbal shows targeting all ages are very well adapted to the new consumption modes of programs on smartphones and tablets. With a large number of smartphones and the high development of internet networks in the region, Asia is a favorable ground for the consumption of those kinds of programs.”
Rainbow is looking to build on its strong presence in Asia with a brand-new gender-neutral preschool comedy, 44 Cats. Andrea Graciotti, head of TV sales, describes the show as a “great physical, character-driven comedy with strong storylines based on powerful musical assets. It is about how cats see the world and is very easy for young kids to relate to, both boys and girls. Key themes are friendship and altruism, and the stories will promote tolerance and diversity and offer important life lessons.”
The company will also be touting new episodes of Regal Academy, which has rolled out to platforms in Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, in addition to its slot on Nickelodeon.
Cyber Group’s success in Asia stems from the diversity of its catalog, Mathieu explains. “Traditional kids’ buyers need more and more brands and properties that already have [awareness],” she says, referencing top sellers like Zou and Zorro the Chronicles. “In the preschool and tween markets, the main trend is that buyers are looking for entertaining kids’ productions that also transmit good values to children,” she adds. “All of our productions have in common the transmission to future citizens of important values such as solidarity, respect for wildlife and curiosity about other cultures. On the other hand, for some other broadcasters, the goal is to provide fun and entertaining programs, where comedy and creativity are the key selling points. From one country to another, or one broadcaster to another, each player has very different editorial requirements.”
Indeed, 9 Story’s Vargas says that a key evolution for the company in the region has been moving from a “pan-regional approach to a more territory-specific strategy. Asia contains so many diverse markets and each market has its own unique sensibility and demands. We tend to look at the Indian subcontinent, China, Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan and Australia as the separate areas of focus. Each market is quite different from the others and cannot be catered to with a generic, one-size-fits-all approach.”
Nonetheless, there have been some standout titles across multiple markets for 9 Story, among them its PBS Kids slate—Peg + Cat, Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, Wild Kratts and Nature Cat. “Series with an educational curriculum tend to perform well within the territory,” Vargas says. “Live-action series are also performing well. Animated comedies with an element of slapstick humor have also been popular across the territory. We see strong demand across all age categories, from preschool right through to tween.”
For ZDF Enterprises, a particularly strong area has been its portfolio of tween dramas, among them Mako Mermaids—which is airing on HBO in Southeast Asia, MCOT in Thailand, GMA in the Philippines and on Netflix—and Wolfblood. “Preschool programs are also working well in the region,” Lang adds. “Our new School of Roars, produced for CBeebies in the U.K. and Universal Kids (Sprout) in the U.S., had a tremendous response in Cannes during MIPCOM, and we are eager to introduce the property to buyers in Asia at ATF.”
For kids’ distributors heading to ATF, the mood is upbeat about the prospects for new deals at the market and into 2018. At HARI, Tormo is focused on free-TV and VOD deals for Grizzy & the Lemmings, “especially since we now have two seasons to sell. Pay TV has been secured for both seasons with Turner worldwide. We are very excited about our new collaboration with Mango TV in China and we hope that this enthusiasm for the series will spread throughout Asia. The idea is to cover the main territories in all the regions to ensure the best exposure,” paving the way for an L&M rollout.
FUN Union is taking a similar path for its portfolio of shows. “In China, once the popularity was there we got a huge amount of attention. We will announce before the end of the year a large toy licensing agreement, we have signed a book publishing agreement and we have [apparel] for children and a whole bunch of accessories lined up.”
Mathieu from Cyber Group has been encouraged by the arrival of players like Canal+ in Myanmar and is seeing territories such as Mongolia open up to the company. While China and India remain Cyber Group’s strongest markets in the region, Southeast Asia has been developing quickly and Mathieu is eager to ramp up business in South Korea and Japan. “As both countries have strong local animation production, there is little space for foreign acquisitions,” she says. “Therefore, we are trying to build strong business relationships with key players to really understand their needs and try to find a match.”
9 Story plans to continue its “tailored” approach to the region, Vargas says. “Asia is a huge and complex market that cannot be well served by a generic strategy. It’s important for us to understand the nuances of each territory within Asia Pacific to offer content that will resonate with its diverse fan base.”
China, Southeast Asia and India are among Vargas’s key markets and while the company has built up a strong presence in the region, “there is always room for improvement,” he says. “We’d like to increase our penetration across smaller territories and stay focused on the digital space across all markets as it has the potential for dynamic growth.”
Like others surveyed here, ZDFE.junior’s Lang highlights China, both for co-pros and finished content sales, as a major hub for the company’s business in Asia. The pact with HBO Asia for live-action series has also been a significant driver. “The Philippines is also very successful for us, where H20: Just Add Water, Mako Mermaids and Wolfblood are performing very well. And we are looking at developing new partnerships in Indonesia, where we would like to do more over the next few years.”
Benazzouz says that Superights has clinched deals across the pay- and free-TV landscapes with such partners as Disney, Animax and TVB. “Our ATF plans are to find broadcasting partners for our highlights and also to sell the free-TV window of our biggest sales hit, Pat the Dog, after Turner’s first pay-TV window,” she says. “We will also be looking for new IP to distribute.”
On the road ahead for the kids’ sector in Asia, Lang notes, “We still believe that the market will remain strong over the next few years as new digital platforms and OTT channels are launched on a regular basis. We also expect a rapid shift towards mobile consumption, something that we have already seen over the past years, and which is even more acute with kids.”
Pictured: 9 Story’s Luo Bao Bei.