As the CEO of Zodiak Kids, Jean-Philippe Randisi oversees production operations in the U.K. and France and a distribution division that places in-house IP, as well as select third-party fare, on platforms across the globe. Zodiak Kids is home to a broad and diverse slate, encompassing the live-action comedy Secret Life of Boys, the CGI preschool property Lilybuds, the superhero show Kody Kapow and more. Randisi tells TV Kids about the strategy at Zodiak Kids and shares his views on trends in the children’s programming space.
TV KIDS: How is the commissioning landscape in the territories where Zodiak Kids Studios is active?
RANDISI: If you look at it purely at the French or U.K. level, it’s not drastically changing. On one side, a lot of the commissioning money is still coming from public broadcasters, whether it’s BBC or France Télévisions. Those two broadcasters have a tremendous impact in terms of feeding the industry with commissions. There’s been a tighter approach to spending money from commercial broadcasters in the U.K. With the appointment of Sarah Muller at Milkshake!, there is a more upbeat sound bite coming from Channel 5, but it’s still early days. ITV is still keeping a very tight approach to commissions. They do just a few. In France, alongside France Télévisions, TF1 is still developing its pipeline of commissions, and Lagardère Active as well. And on a lesser level M6 and Canal+. On the animation side, about 70 percent of the television commissioning money in France is coming from France Télévisions.
From a consumer standpoint and a ratings point of view, part of the audience is now watching SVOD services, but the commissioning process for the big SVOD players is still really centered on the U.S., there’s not much yet in Europe. Disney has been quite strongly expanding its roster of Europe-made IP and series. We’ve got quite a few projects in development with them and in production for them. Disney ramping up its European-commissioned content is probably the biggest thing on the radar.
TV KIDS: What gains are you seeing in your distribution division?
RANDISI: Traditional broadcasters are still the bulk of the business for us. There’s not so much pressure on prices as there is pressure on what broadcasters get for the same price. There is a push from a number of broadcasters to try and secure broader or deeper rights for the same amount of money, which has an impact in the long term on how much money you can get from distribution. We tend to have more and more business with SVOD platforms in terms of acquisitions. And then AVOD is accounting for a fairly decent part of our revenue now—probably around 15 percent of our distribution revenue comes from AVOD.
TV KIDS: What particular technologies or storytelling forms most excite you?
RANDISI: Three things are more exciting than others. First is the nonlinear way of telling stories. We have had a bit of success with a series commissioned by CBBC and ABC in Australia called Secret Life of Boys. We’ve produced two seasons to date, and we’ve had several awards, including a BAFTA, for the digital component of that series. It was really designed as both a linear and nonlinear series. You can navigate through short segments online and build your own way through the story, or watch it on television as a regular series. That’s been an interesting experience. Is that something that is going to trigger a lot of things in the future? I don’t know yet. Netflix has said it is keen to explore nonlinear ways of telling stories, so that’s interesting. The reality though, if you look at the market, is that the vast majority of broadcasters are just not equipped to deal with that in a meaningful way. So there’s a gap between what technology can do and what is feasible at the broadcast level.
Second, the level of quality you can get from CGI animation these days, on a television budget, is increasingly interesting. You get closer and closer to things that you could only dream of before and that only theatrical budgets could afford.
The third is hybrids, mixing animation with live action. Hopefully, that’s going to help broadcasters regain some of their audience. Kids are moving out of animation earlier, and some broadcasters would like to see hybrid mixed media as a way to retain kids a bit longer.
Very shortly after that, there will be AR and VR, but I think it’s still at an experimental stage. We are developing one series with a VR component. How broad is it going to be? I don’t know yet. We are going to experiment and see where it takes us.
TV KIDS: You have a strong L&M background. How has that space changed in that last few years? What are some of the keys to landing shelf space?
RANDISI: On a very top-line basis, every year there are announcements about licensing growing by 3, 4, 5 percent, toy sales growing by 3 or 4 percent. The reality of it is that we are increasingly in a system where the winner takes it all. It is a fact that nowadays if you are not a U.S. studio or a toy company that also has control of certain IPs, securing shelf space is extremely hard. The only real weapon that can be used by independent producers and distributors is patience. It’s essentially about creating a positive experience for retailers, as opposed to what the dominating strategy was maybe ten years or 15 years ago, which was to stuff retail with a lot of products as soon as a show was launching. Typically today you do just the opposite, which is hold tight, wait, and then start testing your IP at retail with a limited line on the assumption that if your limited line is selling well, then you’ll start building your shelf space there. If you go with big volumes, the risk is just too high for anybody.
TV KIDS: What’s on your new slate for MIPCOM?
RANDISI: We will present a new series called Lilybuds, which we are doing for France Télévisions, Discovery Kids Latin America and TiJi. It is about a group of characters living in a park, invisible to human eyes, whose role is to help nature do its work. We are also distributing Kody Kapow, which launched in July on Sprout [on Universal Kids] and is rating well, it’s one of their top five. We are presenting a brand-new show from Plug-in Media called Tee and Mo for CBeebies. And on the live-action side, we have the new season of Secret Life of Boys and a new program called Joe All Alone for CBBC. And then there are a number of projects in development.
TV KIDS: What are your major priorities over the next year or so?
RANDISI: The priority for us, as for any medium-sized producer and distributor, is to try to find a balance in the portfolio, to be present in the different segments. At the moment we’ve got a fair amount of preschool, a fair amount of animation. We want to strengthen the older segment, the kids’ part of our animation pipeline, and live action. And then it’s always about spreading your risk. We’re keen to keep cultivating the relationships we have with key commissioning broadcasters. We’re also keen to open up to commissioning broadcasters in new territories and new platforms. So it’s always trying to strike that balance between growing what you’ve got already and at the same time diversifying your risk and having more partners to work with.