Speaking at the TV Kids Summer Festival, Maria Kyriacou discussed the success of ViacomCBS Networks International’s (VCNI) kids’ businesses in the U.K., Australia and Israel and highlighted some of the company’s inclusion initiatives, including its “no diversity, no commission” policy.
Kyriacou serves as president of ViacomCBS Networks UK, Australia and Israel. “I look after what I consider to be the three creative engines of ViacomCBS Networks International for English-speaking,” Kyriacou said in conversation with TV Kids’ Anna Carugati, pointing out that VCNI also has a thriving LatAm production business.
Read excerpts of the keynote below and watch the entire video here.
VCNI’s free-to-air businesses under Kyriacou’s remit—Channel 5 in the U.K. and Network 10 in Australia—had a strong performance in the past year amid the pandemic. “Both of them experienced much stronger growth than the competitive set,” Kyriacou said. “Channel 5 grew its share year-on-year by 5 percent, more than any of the other PSBs in the U.K. Network 10 was the only commercial broadcaster last year to have grown overall. Both channels have a history of investing in kids’ programming.”
Channel 5’s Milkshake! offering “continues to thrive and strengthen,” she said. “And our reach has stayed relatively stable, no matter what’s going on in the rest of the media landscape. We appeal to parents because we are a good, safe destination and one that reflects back to them the lives of their children and themselves. We are committed to British content on Milkshake!, as we are through the rest of Channel 5. Channel 5’s success over the last few years has been built on an investment in original British content in prime time. We’ve moved from a largely acquired schedule to a largely originated, commissioned schedule. We doubled our investment in Milkshake! original British content. We’re now in a really strong place, thanks to initiatives like the Young Audiences Content Fund, which has really helped us invest in the kinds of programming that wouldn’t normally get made if you were just reliant on the commercial model. So we’ve been able to make more live action, make shows that are about social issues. We’ve been able to back our diversity agenda to reflect all of British life in all its diversity. We’re also very committed to regional programming. We are a big investor in production companies outside of London…to make sure we are delivering the best of what the U.K. has to offer.”
Last year, VCNI unveiled a new channel brand, 10 Shake, in Australia, which caters to kids from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then skews slightly older in the evenings. “It’s been a huge success in bringing families and children to our network overall. We’ve seen growth in viewing from when we launched until now of over 100 percent.”
Local content is key across the portfolio, Kyriacou said. “It is really critical that kids see their lives reflected back to them. When you’re talking about preschool programming, it’s really important to parents as well that their children feel they can see themselves on-screen. The way to do that is to make sure that you are commissioning in your local territory. I have three territories that are known to be highly creative. Between the U.K. and Israel, in particular, we have two of the markets that punch way above their weight across the globe in overall creativity. This is the market that originated Peppa Pig, Thomas and Fireman Sam. We’re able to originate here, playing to the strengths of the creative community around us, and it allows us to create shows that then travel across the world on the Nick network. That’s as true for Israel as it is for the U.K.”
On how VCNI is reaching kids across multiple platforms, Kyriacou said, “Kids are natural multiplatform users. They are connecting with the characters and the shows themselves. They’re not thinking about the business model behind it. So it’s important for us to make sure we are where the kids are. The BVOD business that sits alongside Channel 5 and Network 10, My5 and 10Play, has also grown exponentially over the last year or so. When we went into lockdown, we made a commitment to increase the number of hours of kids’ programming available on My5. We continued to build up the overall volume. So far this year, we’ve seen a 27 percent increase in the amount of kids’ streams on My5 year-on-year. We announced the August 11 launch of Paramount+ in Australia; it will have a strong kids’ proposition from day one. It’s also important for us to be on social media. We have a Facebook and Instagram presence, a YouTube channel. And we’ve been feeding that YouTube channel with shorts and interstitials all the way through lockdown, focusing on education, crafts, getting kids active and connecting with the parents as well as the children. On top of that, we think it’s important to have a real-world connection with kids. We’d like, fingers crossed, to get back into a world where we can have SlimeFest, where we will meet kids in person. We’re introducing a new event, 5 on the Farm Festival, where we will have a strong Milkshake! presence. That will be up in Yorkshire at the end of August. We also have our PAW Patrol live events around the world and Milkshake! events throughout the U.K.”
Diversity and inclusion have long been part of the Nick approach, Kyriacou said, referencing the brand’s 1990 Declaration of Kids’ Rights. “That lives and breathes in the No Diversity, No Commission strategy,” which originated in the U.K. last summer and was expanded across the VCNI footprint in October. “People have a right to be seen. We need to honor that by making sure we have representation on-screen and behind the camera and within our organization. And not just representation, but also a sense of inclusion. Inclusion is about making people feel that they can succeed no matter what. It’s really important to us that in our programming, we reflect all lives.”