Luca Milano, executive director of Rai Ragazzi, tells TV Kids about the unique position the company’s services hold in Italy and the kinds of content they are delivering that children can’t find anywhere else.
With two television channels and an on-demand service, the Italian public broadcaster Rai is committed to serving the needs of the country’s youngest viewers, from preschoolers with Rai YoYo to kids and tweens with Rai Gulp. As executive director of Rai Ragazzi, and chairperson of the European Broadcasting Union’s TV Children & Youth Experts Group, Milano is well aware of the challenges being faced by public broadcasters the world over as they compete with well-funded global giants, both linear and digital.
TV KIDS: Tell us about how Rai is serving young audiences on television.
MILANO: We are the Italian public broadcaster with a bouquet of many channels. Two are devoted to kids. It’s a structure that is similar to the BBC. We have Rai YoYo, the leading Italian children’s channel, and often the leading Italian thematic channel, which is devoted to preschoolers. It broadcasts for 24 hours a day. The second channel is Rai Gulp, which is more focused on kids. Rai YoYo is 80, 85 percent animation and the rest is live shows that are mostly produced in-house. Rai Gulp is 40 percent animation, 45 percent live-action series and the rest is in-house magazines and shows. Italy is not a country with many children—we are quite old in demographics, like Germany and other countries—but we have quite a lot of children’s channels. Italy has eight free-TV children’s channels and more than 15 pay-TV channels. Rai has the number one channel with audiences in Rai YoYo. We have a strong position that is very important for public-service television.
TV KIDS: What are the biggest challenges public-service broadcasters are facing in financing kids’ programming?
MILANO: There are issues with the financing of public-service media in general. In every country, it can be difficult to show how important it is to have a national public broadcaster when all the main channels are international, mostly American. In the fields of animation and kids’ drama, we, as a public broadcaster, still have national boundaries and national scope, but negotiations are now often made at a multiterritory level. It is more and more difficult to maintain a fresh and original excellent offer. That increasingly invites us to cooperate with other broadcasters. There are mostly two ways of financing series. One is by an OTT platform or a big international group that can invest in the funding and take the rights worldwide. The other is for a producer to look for two or three national broadcasters that can put their resources together and finance the project. It’s much more difficult for us to cooperate with OTT or big international partners because there is a conflict with VOD rights. We cannot just buy the rights for TV broadcast as we also have a VOD player that is becoming more important. Our acquisition strategies must put together VOD and broadcasting rights. It is less complicated [to cooperate with] pay-TV channels; the main problem is if the windows are long—we don’t like to wait. With OTT they ask for limitations to our VOD rights and we cannot accept that.
TV KIDS: What are you learning from your VOD platform about how audiences are engaging with content?
MILANO: We started about two years ago with RaiPlay, which now has more than 5 or 6 million registered viewers. The number is increasing because people love to see Rai’s prime-time dramas on a nonlinear basis. Less than one year ago we launched RaiPlay YoYo with almost all the content we have on Rai YoYo. It is the first app for children in Italy. It is completely free, without advertising and without a subscription, so it’s sort of a gift! It’s included in the license fee and it’s becoming more popular. We are now making more sections and we aim to transform it from what is now a shelf where you can go and choose all the programs into a more friendly companion for the children. For kids aged 8 and older, we want to launch something new by the end of the year. The way of consuming media by kids of 8-, 9-, 10-years-old is entirely different from preschoolers. We have to choose more original ways to present the content. Our goal is put in our offering another service for kids and maybe up to teens, [alongside] the two channels and the RaiPlay YoYo app. We also have quite a meaningful presence, especially for Gulp, on Facebook and Instagram. We are working on producing unique content for Instagram that will be launched by the end of the year.
TV KIDS: How do you balance your slate between co-productions, prebuys and original commissions?
MILANO: In Italy we have a system of quotas. It’s not as specific as it is in France, but we do have an obligation to invest in European animation. We are one of the leading investors in European animation. Since we have an obligation specific to animation, it’s more difficult for us to find funds for international acquisitions and live action. The main line of investment is co-production and pre-acquisition. Every title costs more when we have more rights and we have editorial participation. We work with independent producers; we do not produce animation in-house. We mostly work with projects from Italian independent producers, sometimes with us also being part of the development stage. Sometimes we prebuy series that are co-produced between Italian partners and international companies, often as a minority part of the co-production. The countries that we co-produce most with are France, Germany and Spain. We also work with Belgium. With the U.K. it’s more about acquisitions; it is less common for Italian and U.K. companies to work together. And we have good collaborations with Canadian entities, and sometimes with Brazilian and Indian and other Asian countries.
TV KIDS: What are some of your recent or upcoming highlights?
MILANO: In the field of preschool we are one of the main broadcasters to take part as a co-producer in the new series from Entertainment One Family and the Italian company Maga Animation Studio, Ricky Zoom. We support Rainbow, a long-term partner with us. We had great success with 44 Cats, the new preschool series that has been a hit since the first day of broadcasting. Rainbow produces it in Italy with one of its companies, Bardel in Vancouver. We are also working on a kids’ drama, Club 57, which is a co-production between Rainbow and Nickelodeon Latin America. It’s a series that was filmed between Italy, the region of Puglia, and Miami. It’s an important series because of the scale—it’s 60 episodes of 45 minutes, which is a huge production for our standards in children’s programs. We have several other co-productions, like Pat the Dog with Superprod/Superights and the Italian studio Animoka. There are now at least a dozen good Italian studios that are working very well with international partners. Some are specialized in CGI, some in 2D. It’s becoming easier to find co-production agreements because two years ago Italy introduced a large tax credit for animation and children’s productions. That’s been a big help for producers.
When there are 20 children’s channels, you have to show that your channel airs content that the others don’t have. It’s very dangerous for us if children cannot identify a title with the channel brand. Last year we produced an animated special, The Star of Andra and Tati, based on the true story of two Italian sisters who were sent to Auschwitz as children and survived. It was a great success. We are now presenting it in schools and also distributing it internationally. In March we launched a drama miniseries of ten episodes called Jams about sexual harassment. An 11-year-old girl is [abused] by a friend of her parents. Her friends understand something is wrong and are able to help her. The series is meant to show children how they should not be ashamed and that they should find an adult they trust and talk to them. We are preparing a campaign with a hashtag that translates as “It’s Better to Talk About It.” In May we’ll have an in-house production about coding. It is a game show with two teams in each episode and then there will be a final competition. They have to program the coding for robots, which must overcome some obstacles while the opposing team tries to disable the robot’s actions. It’s not so easy to make a game show on coding! In Italy coding is becoming [more prominent] in all the school curricula, so it was not difficult to find competitors that had quite good abilities.
TV KIDS: You’ll be taking part in one of the kids’ content pitches at MIPTV. What will you be looking for at the market?
MILANO: MIPTV is when we usually have to decide what shows will be finally approved to start during the summer. It’s especially important for live action. I’ve been invited to take part in a new speed-pitching for kids’ drama. Having these kinds of pitches is good. It’s much easier to co-produce animated stories because of languages and national tastes, but now and then we can also support the production of kids’ drama, as we did on Find Me in Paris with Federation Kids & Family.