Jules Borkent, managing director and executive VP of international kids and family brands at Paramount Global, discussed his programming strategy at the TV Kids Summer Festival today before being honored with the TV Kids Pioneer Award.
Borkent’s keynote conversation with TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski—which you can view here—kicked off with Borkent discussing how his role has expanded since the rollout of Paramount+.
“One thing about working at Nickelodeon—and I’ve been working here a long time—is that there’s always change. I always look at change as another opportunity for us to serve our kids around the world with our great content. With the proliferation of platforms and the rollout of Paramount+ around the world, there are a lot of changes, but all good. I’m super excited about what’s ahead. There’s never a dull moment in the kids’ industry! We are working hard on getting our streaming services off the ground in the U.K., France, Germany and Italy this year. Kids is a super important part of our platform. We’ve always known this—Nickelodeon is a shining star in [the portfolio of what is] now Paramount, and that’s no different for Paramount+. From what we know in the U.S. and see in Latin America, Australia and the Nordics, Nick’s content is incredibly popular with our audiences. So, I’m super excited to be on this big, new adventure.”
Borkent then discussed some of the themes guiding his content strategy at present. “We looked in our vaults at the content that was popular in the past, and we’ve brought some of the big shows back. A good example is iCarly, one of our most beloved shows that is still very popular, also with an older audience. She’s still the same character, so she’s older now. What was exciting for us was to bring that show back in a new format for a new audience—both a nostalgic audience but also a new audience, an older audience, and that is what’s exciting to me. The streaming platform is offering an opportunity to step out of our traditional box of 2- to 11-year-old content, which we still do, and we make a lot of, but that’s really what has been fun for me—how we have been able to bring shows like Rugrats and iCarly back with great enthusiasm from both nostalgic and older, now-adult viewers who grew up with that content and bring it to a brand-new audience.”
Borkent discussed the company’s franchise strategy around megabrands like SpongeBob SquarePants. “We did a great spin-off called Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years. It launched on Paramount+ in the U.S. and was a fantastic success. While we launched it as a Paramount+ exclusive in the U.S., we very quickly transitioned it to the linear service, and there, it did phenomenally well. We did The Patrick Star Show, which was another SpongeBob spin-off. We announced for PAW Patrol a spin-off around Rubble. We’re bringing back Dora the Explorer. It’s coming back in two iterations. One is a new CGI preschool series. We are also in development on an older show, more in the tween space, based on the Paramount movie we did a couple of years ago. It’s just a fantastic pool of content we can delve into and work for the different platforms. The Dora live-action show will not be for the Nickelodeon linear channel; it’s very much for streaming. But I am hoping, for international, the Dora show will not just be on Paramount+ but can also find a home on linear after. We cross-pollinate our platforms, and I think these franchises are ideal for that.”
Original IP, however, remains key to the group, Borkent added. “We are known for bringing brand-new content to our audience, and that’s what we’re continuing to do in the U.S. and internationally.” Examples include Rock Island Mysteries, a live-action series with Network 10 and Fremantle in Australia and The Twisted Timeline of Sammy & Raj with Viacom18 in India. “Nickelodeon India has been producing a lot of home-grown content, and we’ve always been trying to work with them. How can we make a show together that works in India and also will work internationally? We hope that this show is going to be doing that. And with these launches of the Paramount+ platforms, how can we look at these local markets like France, Germany, the U.K., Italy? How do we find in those markets content that will build our platforms internationally? We’ve had some great success recently with a recent acquisition, Barbapapa, that came out of France. And The Smurfs launched this year with great success, and we’re about to go into a second season and in development on a Paramount movie for that.”
On the approach to acquisitions and content partnerships, Borkent said: “We’re flexible. What streaming has done for us is that we are more open to different formats. In the past, we were pretty prescriptive for what we needed—2x11s, 22 minutes, maybe some short-form sometimes. Now it’s looking at shows that still fit the Nickelodeon ethos—making the world a more playful place, comedy, laughter, still very important, grounded in reality for kids to recognize themselves. We are open to different formats now. We’re even looking at one-hour versions for streaming in shorter orders. It’s still longer orders for linear because, despite what everybody says, linear is still very much alive and a very important part of our business. We are looking for all platforms. Mainly, what we are going to be looking for in the animation space is comedy. Action-adventure will also be of some interest to us, given that we are just about to launch Transformers with our partners at Hasbro later this year. We’re looking at [Teenage Mutant Ninja] Turtles in a new iteration. We also announced Avatar Studios, where we are looking at the Avatar world and how we can bring that back for Paramount+ and potentially for linear services.”
Borkent stressed that linear is still vital as the company devises its rollout strategies. “Each piece of content is being treated on its own, so where is the best place to launch this? It could be on streaming, it could also be on linear, and it could stay on streaming forever and never move, or it can stay on linear and not go to streaming. Most of our linear content will eventually transition to streaming, but the platforms must have a unique offering. We think about these things. Our linear channels are shifting in how we program them. I remember the days when everything was to the minute; at every half-hour, there was a new piece of content. We’ve noticed over the years that it is shifting a lot. There’s a lot more volume of content that kids want to see over and over again. We are also expanding our linear services. In the U.K., we have two Nick Jr. channels that both show such a breadth of content. That is why linear is still really important. It’s a real shop window for us, for our best and finest, and that is what we want to continue to do. But we have to acknowledge that kids have a voracious appetite and are on a ton of platforms.”
On leveraging the company’s global footprint, Borkent noted that local shows like Spyders from Israel are seeing traction internationally. “As long as the stories are universal, they can appeal anywhere. One thing that Covid taught us is that international content became so much more widely available. Are kids interested in content from this particular area of the world? They are. We see more and more of this content catching on. That is a huge opportunity for us as content creators, as an international business, to tap into this real creative talent that we have in all these markets and work with local creatives to create shows and help them craft them in a way that we believe can live outside very specific markets.”
On an approach to crafting a show that will resonate across the world, Borkent noted: “We want shows to be watched as much as possible, so we do think about what are some of the universal themes that are appealing all around the world. Comedy is one of them. In preschool, we’ve shown that making the world a playful place and for kids to be engaged in our preschool content has helped us. If I knew how to make a global hit, I would be a very wealthy man independently. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. You make a lot of shows, and some catch on; sometimes, you don’t even know why. That’s also the excitement. What is considered a global hit and what is considered a success are two different things. PAW Patrol is definitely a global hit, as is SpongeBob, and we’ve had a fair share, and still do, that are considered global successes. But I look at what could be a success in a number of key markets, and that’s also really important to me. If this is a great hit in Europe, everything else is gravy, everything else is extra. A great hit in Asia, Australia or Latin America. We’ve had shows that were phenomenal to kids in Latin America that did well for us internationally, and that is just fantastic. Success for me is around if we make kids in a certain market happy and excited to see the content, that’s good enough for me.”
On growth opportunities looking ahead, Borkent mentioned opportunities with YouTube. “As a company, it’s been challenging for us in the past. We’re a pay-TV business, a streaming service; how do we manage that YouTube universe? We know our content is incredibly popular on YouTube, and we know kids are on YouTube in vast amounts. We’ve been figuring out how we can expand that even further. We launched Nick Jr. Español for our Latin American service; that channel’s being watched all over the world, not just in Latin America. We’re about to launch Nickelodeon Korea and Nickelodeon Japan. SpongeBob Germany launched recently as well. We’re looking at YouTube as a platform to bring our content to a [wider audience] in a different format.”
Gaming is also crucial around major franchises. Pluto TV, Paramount’s AVOD service, is a significant growth opportunity, Borkent said, “to dig into our library of content. Some of that content no longer lives on current linear services, but there’s still a real appetite for some of those shows on Pluto. How we manage from linear channels to streaming services to FAST services to YouTube to make our content available to as many of our fans as possible.”
The keynote wrapped with Borkent being presented with the TV Kids Pioneer Award for his many contributions to the global kids’ business, having started at Nickelodeon in the late 1990s. “Nickelodeon was early in the pay-TV world. It was very different. What I love about what I do is that the content that we create, the shows that we create, still put smiles on kids’ faces. They love our shows, and that is just something that, despite the proliferation of platforms, they still come to us and watch our shows. And I’m proud of my team and the people I work with. I always say change is good. You have to be able to cope with change, and that’s tough sometimes, especially after the two years we’ve had, but that’s where you have to keep looking forward, don’t look back. Well, you can look back in a good way and look at some great shows that are ready for reinvention, but I think looking forward makes it so exciting. There’s always something to look forward to.”