Play Time!

Leading distributors weigh in on kids’ content acquisition trends across Asia.

The consensus among leading kids’ content executives heading to the Asia TV Forum is that streaming players have dramatically altered the landscape in the region. It’s no surprise, given how much Netflix, Amazon and others have reshaped the children’s media business everywhere else. But the speed with which it has happened in AsiaPac was somewhat unexpected, and it’s not even the global giants making the loudest noise. Indeed, it’s the Chinese players that have made the most headlines in the kids’ business lately. Of note, this past MIPCOM, Alibaba announced it was co-producing Genius Brands International’s Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten, and its streaming platform Youku landed the rights to 100-plus hours of CBeebies preschool content.

“The most important change we are seeing is that the nonlinear business is growing dramatically at the territory level, with new platforms increasing at quite an impressive pace,” observes Dorian Bühr, the head of global distribution at Studio 100 Media.

Raphaelle Mathieu, senior VP of sales, acquisitions and new media at Cyber Group Studios, reflects a similar sentiment, noting: “In all the countries in Asia, digital is becoming stronger than ever and we have to adapt to this new broadcasting structure.”

Nuno I, sales director for the Asia Pacific at Hasbro’s Allspark, says the company has positioned itself as a key supplier to new digital services eager for “well-known iconic shows to bolster their kids’ offering. We have some of the biggest names in our catalog, which puts Hasbro content in high demand.”

While digital is becoming an increasingly lucrative part of the value chain for distributors, “pay and free TV continue to play a major part in our 360-degree strategy as we work with them to distribute franchise and new programming,” Nuno I notes.

Indeed, “television remains our main focus for the first window,” reports Studio 100’s Bühr. “It continues to be the most important medium for creating a high level of awareness of a property and thus remains crucial, especially for our merchandising and licensing partners.”

Federico Vargas, VP of distribution at 9 Story Media Group, echoes Nuno I’s perspective when he says that working with digital platforms requires “careful attention to brand management and a tactical approach to building recognized IP through our distribution and merchandising and licensing divisions. We are keen to take advantage of the ability to work across digital platforms, like YouTube, as well as territory-specific platforms. Traditional partners and linear channels, too, still play a crucial role and are important to us as they evolve with the new media landscape. With a property like our Emmy-winning Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, for example, we are finding that a multiplatform approach is an optimal way to build a brand, ensuring linear TV, YouTube and territory-specific digital platforms play a crucial role.”

Bühr adds, “We are more cautious when selling a new show, especially with regard to ‘free’ VOD content. However, depending on the region, AVOD can coexist with television at the beginning of [a show’s] life cycle without jeopardizing each other.”

Cyber Group’s Mathieu observes that working with traditional linear broadcasters in their requests for more digital rights is an additional complication. “We are, of course, ready to take this turn and are open to new business models, but these new partnerships need to be fruitful for both [sides] and we need to work to structure new models. Working only on revenue share, as many OTT players are suggesting, is not the best option for an independent production-and-distribution company like we are, and probably not the most sustainable business model.”

From linear to digital, there’s a broad range of kids’ genres in demand across AsiaPac.

“Each territory in Asia has its own taste and particularity,” reports Mathieu. “Even though we can see that comedy-driven shows and CGI productions are performing well, we also notice that some broadcasters are looking for more arty and educational content. This is what makes this market so interesting and dynamic: a plurality of genres and diversity of needs.”

Vargas at 9 Story agrees: “Despite the ever-changing media landscape, audiences across AsiaPac have always responded positively to excellence in animation in all genres, whether it’s preschool, 4-to-9 or 6-to-12. This is extremely beneficial for us because of our extensive library of over 4,100 half-hours of distribution content.”

With a slate at ATF that includes the new preschool series Book Hungry Bears, Vargas adds, “Shows with large IP and pedigree, like Clifford and Moon and Me, are also particularly standout performers in Asia and seem to get the most considerable traction. At the end of the day, universal storylines resonate with children all over the world. This is true of Daniel Tiger, which has been sold to over 180 territories and performs particularly well in AsiaPac.”

Ania Rozenszprung-Clinton, the head of sales and acquisitions at Monster Entertainment, highlights “preschool big edutainment brands,” such as the company’s own The Day Henry Met…?, shows based on a STEM curriculum, like Earth to Luna!, and non-dialogue properties such as Jungle Beat.

For Allspark, key drivers have been the boy-targeted Transformers: Cyberverse and the more girl-skewing My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, which Nuno I says features “relatable storylines.”

At Studio 100, Bühr cites the strong demand for “curriculum-based content for preschool children, always in combination with fun and comedy elements. Buyers are looking for shows that have a central character, friends, positive role models and a sense of humor. For preschool and kindergarten, it is also always good to offer elements such as enchantment, adventure and action that appeal to girls and boys alike. In addition, and above all, every story must contain positive values such as friendship, loyalty and honesty.”

As for where business has been most active, Bühr mentions China, Korea, India, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand. “However, it’s our policy to target all territories across the region,” he adds. “We put a lot of effort into dealing with broadcasters from smaller Asian countries, and we have noticed an increase in demand from Southeast Asia.”

China, meanwhile, has become increasingly vital for Studio 100, Bühr continues. “For example, UYoung is our partner for licensing and merchandising for our brand Mia and me. We are very pleased with our successful collaboration with UYoung and its ongoing efforts in bringing Mia and me to China’s state-owned broadcaster, CCTV. It licensed Mia and me for its children’s channel CCTV-14, which reaches over a billion viewers.”

China has also emerged as a significant territory for 9 Story, Vargas reports, “and continues to be an important market despite current challenges. We are seeing tremendous growth and proliferation with OTT outlets.”

Peppa Pig has been key to cementing Entertainment One Family & Brands’ positioning in China. “This year a bespoke Chinese New Year campaign saw the brand’s first nationwide cinema release in China and exclusive merchandise to celebrate the Year of the Pig,” notes Monica Candiani, executive VP of content sales. The beloved Peppa is also building strong momentum in India and recently landed a volume deal in Korea with EBS.

China has also been a key focus for Monster Entertainment, Rozenszprung-Clinton observes, and the company has an eye on growing its business in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Allspark’s Nuno I is also focused on expanding the company’s business in Southeast Asia, notably Indonesia and the Philippines, while building on its brisk trade in China, India and Korea.

“Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and India are markets we have strong relationships with and we want our collaboration to continue,” says Cyber Group’s Mathieu. “We have also been very pleased to start strong partnerships with Myanmar, which is a territory open to acquiring international animation. For the year to come, we have the ambition to build new partnerships with Indonesia and Malaysia, and, of course, Japan is a key market for us; we are working to strengthen our relationship with the different actors.”

While tapping into opportunities with new buyers, several distributors are also looking to AsiaPac as a hub of talent. “Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen an explosion in original content production and local IP in the kids’ space across the AsiaPac region as audiences mature and reach for more and more new content,” says Allspark’s Nuno I.

Of note, 9 Story Media Group acquired PT Bali Animation Studio and PT Bali Animasi Solusi Ekakarsa (collectively known as BASE), a full-service CGI animation studio located in Indonesia. “Now rebranded as Brown Bag Films Bali, the studio bolsters our production pipeline and cements our commitment to the AsiaPac territory,” Vargas says. “Indonesia is a key area of focus for us after establishing Brown Bag Films Bali, which demonstrates our wholehearted dedication to growth in Indonesia as well as all of AsiaPac.”

Co-producing with Asian animation houses is another potential avenue of growth for some leading kids’ distributors. “Our animation studios Flying Bark Productions in Sydney and Studio 100 Animation in Paris have been very active and have been co-producing in the region for years,” says Bühr. “A large portion of our hit shows are born out of co-productions with partners across the Asia Pacific.”

Bühr highlights Doctor Space, a collaboration between Fantawild Animation in China and Studio 100’s Little Airplane Productions. “We plan to co-invest in the production of this brand-new TV series and IP initiated by Little Airplane,” he says.

“We are open to co-production with Asian players,” notes Cyber Group’s Mathieu. “We know this market has a lot of skills and expertise in the animation field. Aside from co-production, we would also be glad to partner on a distribution model with Asian producers.” Cyber Group already represents a number of series that involve animation houses in Asia, among them Purple Turtle.

Many other distributors have been looking to Asia for IP to take to the global market. Monster Entertainment, for example, arrives at ATF with the South Korean animated series Wow! Wow! Rolling Friends.

“IPs we currently distribute do have partners from AsiaPac as cornerstones of the productions,” says Vargas at 9 Story. “For example, our new distribution property, Book Hungry Bears, is a co-production between New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures, Canada’s Breakthrough Entertainment and China’s Hengxin Shambala Kids. [Our] Chinese-based property Luo Bao Bei is a co-production between China and Wales that was nominated for an International Emmy Kids Award.”

Vargas adds that with the creation of Brown Bag Films Bali, the company will explore “potential co-productions down the road. We look forward to the opportunities that the studio will open up.”

On the company’s overall expectations for its AsiaPac business, Vargas adds, “We expect to continue building as a brand-management company and expanding regional awareness of our core IP through distribution and merchandising operations. We also expect growth among pedigree IPs and series, like Daniel Tiger, Clifford and Moon and Me, as we know those resonate within the territory.”

Cyber Group’s Mathieu is also feeling upbeat about prospects for the company’s business across the region. “This last year has been very lively in the Asia-Pacific region. Year after year, we have to adapt to the market evolution. While historical partners have shut down or are reshaping their kids’ dedicated channels, we were happy to notice other partners are coming to the market with a stronger and bigger [approach] oriented to kids.”

Mathieu adds, “It is also essential to pay close attention to the diversity of players in Asia. This past year we got the chance to meet new partners with whom we want to establish long-term partnerships. Asia is a keystone market for us, and we are more than glad to bring high-end productions to it and see the strong interest of the broadcasters growing.”