Federation’s David Michel, Rainbow’s Cristiana Buzzelli and Lambur Productions’ Joan Lambur weighed in on challenges of financing live-action kids’ fare in a session at MIPTV.
The panel was part of MIPTV’s Junior strand this week. It kicked off with Michel, president and founder of Cottonwood Media and head of Federation Kids & Family, highlighting Find Me in Paris, which was the first-ever Kids’ World Premiere Screening at MIPTV. The series, Federation’s first live-action tween show, is a co-pro with ZDF, ZDF Enterprises, Disney, Hulu, France Télévisions and ABC Australia.
Until two years ago, Michel had never produced a live-action show. Find Me in Paris started with a conversation with ZDF. “They were looking for a show set in the Paris Opera House, with a twist, something to make the show unique. That’s when we met these wonderful Canadian writers and showrunners, who came up with this idea of mixing a show about ballet and hip-hop and time traveling. So a pinch of Doctor Who!”
The first season of 26 episodes was made with a budget of 12 million euros and work has begun on season two. “That’s a very high budget in kids,” he noted. “It’s a very expensive show and I’ve never financed a series that fast in my life! It took me triple the time to finance a 4 million euros show. I think there are two reasons. The first is the script. Every time we shared it with a new broadcaster, they would fall in love with it. That’s how the show got financed quite quickly. And the second reason is the fact that there’s very little independent live action for kids. Premium live action for kids is a niche within a niche within a niche. So when you do come up with something that has great storytelling and a great cast attached,” broadcasters and platforms will be interested, he said.
Buzzelli, the senior VP of sales and acquisitions at Rainbow, showcased Maggie & Bianca: Fashion Friends. The Italian studio’s first live-action series is now in season three and has spawned two TV movies, a full consumer-products program and a concert tour.
On Rainbow’s move into live action, Buzzelli said that as a European independent producer, “you always need to put yourself in front of new challenges. We were looking to expand our target demographics to 9 to 12, the tween audience. The time to market for live action is faster. And there was and still is a demand from the market.”
Veteran producer Lambur, who set up her own outfit after leaving Breakthrough Entertainment, spotlighted the Anne of Green Gables TV movie trilogy that she has been involved with. The company has recently optioned the rights to Sophie Kinsella’s first kids’ book, Fairy Mom & Me, to be developed as a series of TV movies.
“I love doing movies because you have more latitude,” Lambur said, noting that the TV movies will be targeted to “moms and daughters. We’re hoping for a multigenerational audience. You can do that much more easily with movies than a TV series.”
Whether it’s live action or animation, co-pro is key to securing the financing on projects, Federation’s Michel noted.
Another option is to bypass the commissioning route and find private investment to make a show.
Buzzelli said that at Rainbow, if CEO and founder Iginio Straffi believes in a project, “he goes for it. Our business model is based on not giving away equity or revenue shares as much as possible. Normally it’s not more than one co-producer, and we build our revenue model through presales coming from distribution but also from licensing.”
All three producers on the panel have access to tax credits in their markets. The Canadian market, however, does have its challenges. Corus, which owns a large number of kids’ networks in cable and free TV, “has moved away from the kids’ business,” Lambur said. “That’s a real shock to the community. It’s created a big hole, for animation especially.” She added, “TVO and CBC Kids are back on top.”
As a result of challenges in the Canadian commissioning landscape, producers “have to be more American in our thinking, possibly give up rights or get that private investment,” Lambur said.
OTT platforms have become more important in the financing mix. Maggie & Bianca presold to Netflix, Buzzelli said. Hulu boarded Find Me in Paris. “The reason we’re here talking about premium live action is because of the SVOD platforms,” Michel said. “It really started with Amazon commissioning very high-quality shows, many of them from Canada, like Annedroids. Amazon started with this trend of looking for compelling, high-end kids’ shows, and it’s something no one was thinking about at that time. Four or five years ago, most of the kids live action was multi-cam sitcoms coming from Canada or the [big global] networks. Then Netflix started commissioning quite a bit as well. Now hopefully we’ll have Apple as well.”
Lambur said that OTT services “are not making brand promises to the parents and children” the way that the kids’ linear networks have to, “so they have more freedom creatively. They’re able to go out on these limbs and do things in a way that’s not going to interfere with any non-existent brand promise they’ve made.”