Family Time

A look at how producers and distributors are serving broadcasters’ needs for shows that encourage co-viewing.

Kids today seem to be growing up faster than ever before: toddlers with tablets, school-age children with smartphones, tweens with Twitter accounts. They’re media- and tech-savvy from a very early age and use their own digital devices to access content with ease. Parents, meanwhile, are often overworked and over-scheduled, and they too are constantly connected to their own entertainment options. This makes finding family time all the more challenging and more important; thus, the need for shows that can bring everyone together around the TV is rapidly rising.

Indeed, “co-viewing” has become something of a buzzword in the children’s programming business. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but it is of greater interest to content buyers and suppliers nowadays. Olivier Dumont, the managing director at Entertainment One (eOne) Family and eOne Licensing, is among the executives who note that there is “absolutely” a higher demand for kids’ content that can be co-viewed.

“There are so-called ‘hovering parents’ who are much closer to their kids now than [parents] were in the past,” Dumont says. “Therefore, co-viewing is something that is valued not only by kids (which has always been the case), but also by parents, who want to share these experiences with their kids a lot more. Being able to sit together and watch something that everyone will actually enjoy—or at least something that won’t turn off the adults—is important to parents these days.”

Dumont also believes that the demand for co-viewing content has contributed to the rise in reboots of classic properties. “Beyond prior recognition—which everyone likes on the property side, for marketing purposes—there’s this idea that parents will be able to sit and watch a show with their kids because it reminds them of their childhood and is age-appropriate for their children.”

Natalie Dumoulin, the VP of creative affairs at 9 Story Media Group, agrees and cites as an example Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, inspired by the classic series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001. “The parents who watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood loved Mr. Rogers and know that [his world was] a safe environment,” she says. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood is the 2.0 of Mister Rogers. It was developed to speak to parents and kids alike. It reinforces the values that Fred Rogers brought forth, such as helping kids in their daily routines and helping them grow.”

Jérôme Alby, the managing director at Mediatoon Distribution, calls this uptick in remaking classics the “old is the new new” phenomenon and says it is “definitely helping the co-viewing trend continue.”

At MIPCOM, Mediatoon launched Bobby and Bill, which is based on comic books that were first published more than 50 years ago. “Parents know the characters, and programmers and buyers know the IP, so it helps the show stand out,” Alby says.

One of the most talked-about recent reboots in the kids’ TV sector undoubtedly is Danger Mouse. The original series dates back to the 1980s, making it prime nostalgic co-viewing for parents who grew up following the adventures of the eponymous secret agent.

“Co-viewing was very much our focus with the new Danger Mouse,” says Tessa Moore, the senior VP of global brand management at FremantleMedia Kids & Family Entertainment (FMKFE). “There is a lot of nostalgia for the show, and parents are very keen to introduce their kids to shows that they enjoyed when they were children. If parents have watched specific programs themselves, they’re more likely to watch them in a new iteration with their kids.”

Another co-viewing draw for Danger Mouse, according to Moore, is that it has two levels of humor. “Kids understand the comedy in the immediate dialogue, and parents understand the positional level of humor that goes above and beyond the kids,” she says. “Kids really love to watch the action and slightly slapstick comedy. Parents like to watch their kids’ reactions and compare them to their own. Then they have something to talk about later as well.”

Mediatoon’s Alby echoes the idea that two different levels of humor or two different levels of plot are needed to provide both parents and kids something to relate to.

“Comedy is definitely one of the key ingredients,” he says. “Another one is anything that relates to family. The Crumpets is a very good example of a co-viewing show. It [depicts] the entire family: lots of kids (each of whom has a different personality), dad, mom and even granny—all the generations. When you add comedy to a show that features a family, it helps build a co-viewing opportunity.”

Peppa Pig, part of the eOne Family catalogue, has been a hit with parents and kids alike because of these same attributes—comedy and the portrayal of family. “Parents recognize themselves directly in Peppa’s parents or the other adults portrayed in the show,” says Dumont. “Because it’s done in a humorous manner, [parents] love to compare their families to the Peppa Pig family. We see a lot of that on social media, fathers and mothers identifying themselves or their personality traits as Daddy Pig and Mummy Pig in the show.”

In regard to Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, another co-viewing success for eOne Family, Dumont says that it’s the humor that brings everyone together.

Both Peppa and Ben and Holly are preschool shows, a segment that has typically been tough to attract parents to, because the subjects and humor are somewhat limited to being age-appropriate in scope. The 6-to-11 demographic is often cited as the sweet spot for co-viewing shows, since making content for the tweens and teens segment includes kids who are clamoring for their independence and mom and dad have become oh-so uncool.

“Parents often have a hard time talking to their tween child; they get monosyllabic answers from them,” says Dumoulin of 9 Story, which is working on a new live-action tween series that aims for co-viewing. “The show that we’re developing features [family-centric] story lines and taps into what we know works in early-childhood TV, in that it opens up discussion and communication bet­ween parents and kids. In a less uncomfortable fashion they can talk about what’s going on in their lives [by watching] television together. [The show] won’t appear as educational, but we’re hoping what will come out of it is an open dialogue, because that’s what co-viewing should create.”

Educational elements are another entry point to securing co-viewing, as is the case with The Inspectors, which MarVista Entertainment launched at MIPCOM. “It is a perfect co-viewing show,” says Vanessa Shapiro, the company’s executive VP of distribution. “It carries an E/I [educational and informational] logo in the U.S., so it clearly has educational value. It’s like a family-friendly version of CSI.”

The MarVista catalogue is also home to a range of family-targeted TV movies. In addition to holiday-themed titles such as My Dad is Scrooge, 12 Dog Days Till Christmas and Northpole, MarVista has a slate of Disney telefilms. The latest is Mark & Russell’s Wild Ride, which is the second movie MarVista has produced under its multipicture development deal with Disney XD.

Shapiro says that what these family-friendly offerings have in common is the ability to spark a dialogue between parents and kids. “They all show you the difference between right and wrong,” she notes. “They usually have a resolution and a happy ending, and share themes of problem solving or learning to do the right thing. The Inspectors also has themes such as teamwork and perseverance.”

“When parents and children watch media together, they share their ideas and feelings,” says 9 Story’s Dumoulin. “It presents an opportunity for learning first. That’s a key ingredient for early-childhood co-viewing.”

Because of this ability to generate parent-child conversations, a lot of co-viewed programming is grounded in real-life situations that resonate with kids. “Parents use co-viewing content to relate to their children’s everyday lives,” Dumoulin says. “A good co-viewing show would be more about routines and things that kids actually do, as opposed to, say, being in outer space! It’s the shows that are kid-relatable on an everyday level that parents are attracted to.”

Having content that parents approve of (and even enjoy!) is a benefit for broadcasters, since parents “are the gatekeepers after all,” says eOne Family’s Dumont. “Getting the parents’ endorsement is crucial. We see this with all our brands; if the parents don’t embrace the brand, it’s harder to get their buy-in.”

“Broadcasters want viewer loyalty and viewer trust,” says FMKFE’s Moore. “It’s about creating a shared family experience. If you can offer that as a broadcaster, it gives you a definite benefit.”

Another boost for broadcasters, Moore says, is that co-viewing can drive ratings. “You’re creating an appointment to view, encouraging viewers to tune in at a particular time. This can drive additional advertising revenues. Family viewing is the holy grail of prime time.”

The ad potential of co-viewed programming is certainly part of the allure, agrees Mediatoon’s Alby. “If you have two people in front of the TV screen, the advertising revenue you get from it is obviously bigger,” he says. “You can address both kids and parents, with commercials for toys as well as travel, household products, shampoo, etc.”

Alby also notes that channels are becoming more and more specialized and segmented. He says that co-viewing potential is highest on broad-reach broadcast networks versus niche kids’ channels. “There are still free-to-air channels that air animation right before or after the evening news,” Alby notes. “The fact that it’s on a free-to-air, generalist channel helps a lot.”

He adds that access prime and prime time are key slots for family co-viewing. “Our show Pirate Family was aired in many countries on free-to-air television very often at 7 p.m. or 8:45 p.m. The Darwinners, which is a mix of The Simpsons and The Flintstones, was generally aired at 8:35 p.m. on free-to-air.”

Broadcasters are mindful about scheduling shows with the greatest likelihood for co-viewing at a time when both parents and children can be in front of the screen. “Internationally and in the U.S., our movies tend to air on the weekends, because that’s when the family is together at home,” says MarVista’s Shapiro. “Our Christmas movies play very well during the holidays and Christmas break, of course. I see a lot of our international clients looking for shows for Saturday morning blocks or Sunday afternoons.”

Shapiro notes that due to the increasing number of digital outlets, MarVista has a lot of new emerging clients that are SVOD platforms geared specifically toward kids. Since the offerings are available on demand, the appetite for co-viewed shows is now yearlong.

“Because of the rise of new platforms on the digital front, there has been a rise in demand from our clients for family-friendly content,” Shapiro says. “A lot of the new platforms have space dedicated to families and kids, and because of the on-demand factor, you can propose way more content to these customers than you could have with traditional linear channels.” This has been driving MarVista to increase both the production and acquisition of family content.

9 Story’s Dumoulin points out that “slots” has become a somewhat antiquated term in today’s increasingly digital kids’ TV business, where so much is available on demand. “As a developer of content, what the SVODs are bringing to us is exciting. We don’t have to be as concerned with slots [or specific channels]. A lot of the barriers are being broken down. Historically, all of the networks have represented very key target age groups. I love the accessibility nowadays and the fact that there are fewer rules! I can develop something for both an adult and a child, and I do think that [SVODs] are pioneering that.”

Overall, Dumoulin is enthused by the increase in the development of shows that parents and kids can enjoy together and discuss later. “There’s a need from parents who want to spend time with their kids and want to have that family moment together since we are all so separate, and that is driving the developers of kids’ TV. This has always been the case for films, when great family movies come out in theaters, but now I am seeing it trickling down more and more into TV series.”