Creative Keynote: Keith Chapman


Keith Chapman, the renowned creator of PAW Patrol and Bob the Builder, closed day two of the TV Kids Summer Festival with his thoughts on navigating the kids’ media landscape.

The keynote, which you can watch here, was moderated by TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski, who started the session by asking Chapman for his thoughts on creating new global IPs today. “When I first started, there hadn’t been that many big global breakout hits,” Chapman said of the launch of Bob the Builder in 1999.

After an initial 13-episode order by the BBC, Bob the Builder quickly became a preschool hit, running for a whopping 20 seasons. “I think I hit the market at the right time with that one,” Chapman said. “Mattel, which owns Bob now, is going to make a Bob animated movie with Jennifer Lopez’s company, and she’s got some Hollywood stars involved. That is amazing because that will refresh the brand and keep him going for a new audience.”

Chapman then talked about how the creative process is evolving to meet the needs of the landscape today. “The way that we used to create shows—and the way I still do—[they have] a true story arc; we’re talking about the 52×11 traditional model or maybe 26 episodes. The more episodes you can get, the more chance you have of building a brand. But it’s been fragmented with all these new platforms coming on board, short-form on YouTube and TikTok, and Roblox. It’s a different way of doing things with these new, young creators. For people like myself who’ve been in this business for 25, 30 years, I still believe that in that classic preschool age group, from 2 to 5 especially, it’s still that age of innocence; kids have not been corrupted. They will still sit down and watch those more traditional types of shows. Bluey has proved that recently. It’s still possible to get that breakout hit. Beyond 5 and 6, they’re more corrupted with technology, and they’re watching stuff [that has] quick editing, quicker imagery, the storyline is less important. It’s more visuals, style and music.”

Brzoznowski asked Chapman about the keys to creating IPs that will lend themselves to L&M and other extensions. “I’m more commercial-minded, having come through an advertising background, working on brands where I had to find what we used to call the USP, the unique selling proposition, of that particular product, trying to find the big idea. What would capture the audience’s imagination and make it compelling to buy that product? I still use those skills in the way that I approach creating shows. I’m always looking for that big idea.”

PAW Patrol emerged from a brief from Spin Master for a boys’ action-adventure show featuring emergency vehicles. “They were a toy company and needed to relate it to what they did. The idea was a simple one-liner: rescue pups that rescue people, and their kennels transform into vehicles. Those two little ideas became a really strong idea that scriptwriters could take and turn into a thousand storylines. I’m always looking for that idea that is adaptable and versatile.”

Chapman’s current slate includes Jonny Jetboy with WildBrain and iQIYI in China, with WinSing handling the animation, and the animated feature Ozi: Voice of the Forest, based on an idea Chapman has had for 14 years. Leonardo DiCaprio is co-producing, and the voice cast includes Laura Dern, RuPaul and Djimon Hounsou.

Ozi: Voice of the Forest marks Chapman’s first long-form feature cinema release. “I had to invest quite a lot of my own money to get it going, get a script written based on my treatment, get some songs written and go on this journey, sending the scriptwriter off around the world to the rainforest to get his facts right, both of us going off to studios in Taiwan, Germany and Korea. It’s a much bigger financial commitment when you get into movies.”

Asked for his advice to up-and-coming animators, Chapman conceded that “it’s getting harder. It’s tough for me to get a show away, and I’m still trying to get shows away that I created years ago. They are with production companies, with bibles, trailers and scripts. And I’m looking at these things and thinking, why is nobody picking this up? Obviously, I can get in the door with my track record, but it’s still tricky to get a show greenlit. For a young creator, it’s a tough world to come into. There are so many more people doing it than when I started. Thousands more creators, animation companies and production companies creating their own IP worldwide. All the countries have upped their game and quality over the years. They’re all pitching to the same broadcasters, but the broadcasters are swamped with materials. And even then, their slots are filled up because all the budgets are spent. They’re talking about ’27 or ’28. But, of course, they haven’t got the budgets released for those years, so everybody’s hanging tight until those budgets come through. You really have to be very determined and stay in it for the long game. And it costs money to do that because it’s all speculative. You’re all spending tons of money and time on these things, and if they don’t get picked up, it’s money wasted. Everybody is doing it because they love what they do. That’s the most important thing: You have to love what you’re doing. And just hope, keep fingers crossed, that you get a lucky break.”