What Do Buyers Want?


From complex rights negotiations to the never-ending search for the perfect kids’ comedy, leading programmers weigh in on their acquisition strategies.

Kids’ content buyers may be spoiled for choice given the sheer volume of animated and live-action fare available on the market, from classic library shows to premium OTT commissions now hitting their second windows. But that certainly hasn’t made their jobs any easier as they look out for characters and concepts that will keep young ones engaged and tuned in when they have so many other options for their entertainment.

Negotiations have also become far more complex as distributors deploy finely crafted windowing strategies to make the most out of their IP.

“Exclusivity and windowing are very important when we look at the linear side and what we’re trying to achieve with Paramount+,” says Layla Lewis, senior VP of global acquisitions and content partnerships for Nickelodeon. “We want to reach our audience everywhere they are. If you have a broader scope of rights, you can work to meet them there. That’s not always the opportunity. When we have the pitch at an early stage, we can discuss that with the partner to say, What is the opportunity? How best can we navigate through the platforms and the rights? We try to think about what’s best for both of us in terms of our partnership.”

Francesca Newington, director of POP Channels at Narrative Entertainment—which operates POP, Tiny Pop, POP MAX and the POP Player in the U.K.—believes that the market is at a “pivotal point” when it comes to the question of exclusivity. “We are aware that cross-pollination is really important when it comes to the brand getting as many eyeballs as it possibly can. If you’re going to launch a commercial franchise, you want to be across as many platforms as you can. It seems that it isn’t that detrimental to each platform it is on—it seems to be successful for each one. I think there’s quite a large conversation to be had around this.”

Newington adds that the POP channels will often take a second window on shows that previously aired on a pay-TV or SVOD service. “The issue for us is that we get such limitations on digital rights. If we reject those limitations, that is detrimental to us because we lose that show, but it’s also not helpful to the commissioner who wants eyeballs on that brand and wants to launch consumer products. It’s about navigating those restrictions and whether we can deal with them. It is becoming increasingly difficult to comply with five episodes only [on-demand] and no more than that at any one time. If we want to increase our digital offering, we will need to be brutal and reject content we would love to have.”

At Sky, where Lucy Murphy, director of kids’ content, is doing both volume deals and cherry-picking individual titles, “it’s not a deal-breaker if the content isn’t exclusive; however, if it appears on several platforms, then, inevitably, our fees will be a lot lower,” she says. “The key is transparency—we need to know where else the content will be airing, so there aren’t any surprises further down the line.”

Hop! Media Group in Israel operates four kids’ channels—Hop!, Luli, Israeli Childhood and WIZ—and “full rights and exclusivity are a must,” says Sharon Moverman, VP of acquisitions and international operations. “Non-exclusivity and unavailability of digital and nonlinear rights may be a deal-breaker,” she adds. “Having said that, we are willing to consider joint windows with global platforms in the territory on a case-by-case basis.”

At De Agostini Editore, Brenda Maffuchi, head of acquisitions and property development, is buying for two pay-TV channels and an on-demand player. She says that exclusivity for her is paramount. “The only thing we can have non-exclusively is VOD rights,” Maffuchi explains. “Holdbacks are still quite important for us. Depending on the case, we will have between 6 to 12 months of exclusivity for the content.”

Meanwhile, at Sensical in the U.S., it’s all about volume, not exclusivity, per Bethany Boles, head of programming at the Common Sense Networks-owned AVOD service. “We are certainly looking to make deals that allow us rights for our growing products,” Boles says. “As we grow as a company, we’re thinking about worldwide, expanding with different FAST partners potentially. Those are the kinds of rights that we’re trying to work into our deals going forward. When we get to the point where we’re ready to have those conversations about exclusivity, it’ll be data-driven. We’re just not quite there yet.”

Brenda Bisner, the chief content officer at AVOD service Kidoodle.TV, is actively seeking non-exclusive AVOD rights with worldwide availability. “More rights restrictions that a brand has will translate to less reach and ultimately less revenue for them,” Bisner explains. “In some cases, and mostly with brands with measurable performance data and a historical relationship, we can look at opportunistic exclusivity models on a windowing basis.”

The POP services have largely been acquisitions-based, Newington notes. “We are trying to do more prebuys where possible so that we can broaden our rights and also so that we can plan future strategy a little bit better,” she explains. “And we are also now diving into the world of co-pros and commissions. We’re going to take it step by step, but we would welcome any submissions to us in that space. We also have our AVOD offering, the POP Player, which incorporates catch-up content. And for that, we are looking to introduce exclusive content that doesn’t feature on the linear channels.”

Newington also has her eye on gender-neutral shows for the 6-to-8 set on POP. “If we take something very girly, we need to make sure that we’ve got something for the boys as well,” she says. “We’re pretty much animation, but we are looking into that live-action space—either a drama or factual entertainment, as long as it’s upbeat and pacy enough, and it’s not too old, dark or scary.”

On Tiny Pop, the wish is also for shows that will speak to boys and girls, again mostly animated, but she isn’t ruling out live action. “We haven’t seen anything musical for a while, so any musical content would be lovely. We’re looking for movies, too. We’d like to build up a movie inventory for special themes: Christmas, October, half-term, Halloween.”

Newington adds that as the POP channels are free to air, “We have a broad socioeconomic audience. We’re keen for our channels to be all about diversity and broad representation. We want [audiences] to feel that the channels are genuinely inclusive and reflective of them. We are super commercial. We want to remain current. Volume is very important, so 26 half-hours minimum.”

Sky Kids’ Murphy is on the hunt for shows with a “fitness focus for younger children and premium animated specials that appeal to a wide age group. Music shows are successful for us, and this is an area that is constantly evolving that we’d always look to add to, although we already have a lot of animated nursery rhymes for preschoolers, so we wouldn’t be looking for more of those.”

For De Agostini’s Maffuchi, “character-driven” shows are paramount. “Friendship and diversity are two things that we’re constantly looking at. We are not 100 percent educational, so entertainment is important in terms of the balance.”

She and her teams continue to seek out big animated franchises for preschoolers. Like Newington, she is also eyeing gender-neutral shows for the 6-plus set, noting this becomes increasingly difficult for the upper end of the kids’ target. Finding good animated comedies for the 6-to-11 set is a challenge, she says.

In terms of live action, she is seeking content for the 8-to-10 set and possibly even reaching up to 13- and 14-year-olds. “We have the linear channels and the VOD platform. So, it’s not only the content but also all the content we can build around the IP to connect as much as possible with the kids on all the different platforms. From 9 to 12, it’s really difficult to keep them engaged as much as we would like to. This is what we’re trying to work on. We will produce local game shows or entertainment formats for this target, with family co-viewing. This is something we are working on for 2023.”

Sensical takes its cues from being affiliated with Common Sense Media. “All of our content is filtered through the world’s only age-appropriate content standards, grounded in child development and developed by experts from Common Sense Media over the last 20 years,” Boles says. The platform’s content is segmented by demo: 2 to 4, 5 to 7 and then 8-plus.

Boles, too, has her eye on shows that will key into an older kid demo. “I think we all know how hard it is to keep kids watching kids’ TV,” she says. “Finding compelling content for the older kids is always important to us. In that older bracket, gaming content is crushing it. So we’re looking for more age-appropriate gaming content—that’s the tricky part. We’re looking for content across all ages that leans into what we call watch and do: cooking, arts and crafts, science experiments, things that kids can explore and hopefully want to go off and try, maybe even as a family. And give us all the Minecraft, the Roblox, bring it on!”

At Hop!, the focus is on “inspiring curiosity, promoting social-emotional learning and broadening the minds of our viewers,” Moverman says, focusing on toddlers and preschoolers up to the age of 7. “We acquire shows of all genres, but animation takes the lead as it travels well, is easier to adapt and often resonates better than acquired live-action shows.”

Kidoodle.TV targets kids under 12 and families and is looking for content in the preschool, 6-plus and 9-plus sets, with a focus on “brands that come with awareness and partners who are excited to participate in their brands’ success on our service,” Bisner says.

Given the breadth of demos served by Nick’s platforms, “You have to have characters that resonate with the audience in all of those touchpoints,” Lewis explains. “Nickelodeon has always stood for the celebration of being a kid and understanding what it means to be a kid. So having that filter of a kid’s point of view is important for us.”

For all the programmers surveyed for this piece, shows that truly embrace diversity and inclusion are in short supply.

“Diversity in children’s media is severely under-served,” Bisner says. “That is an area we always look at, along with foreign-language offerings, as we serve over 160 countries.”

“We talk about wanting every kid to be able to see themselves in our content,” Sensical’s Boles says. “That includes diversity in its many forms. We are seeking out content that’s not only featuring diverse characters but also made by diverse creators. We are struggling to find content by Latinx creators and featuring Latinx characters. We want content from creators of all backgrounds.”

For Murphy at Sky Kids, a “black hole” in the market currently is “learning content that does the job of being inspiring and creative. A lot of the learning programming we are pitched feels old-fashioned, didactic and lacks spark, so we’d love to find more learning shows created for kids, who, let’s not forget, already have the world of the internet at their disposal.”

POP’s Newington identifies girl-led comedies for the 6-to-8 set as a significant gap in the market. “It needs to be where the female gets the laughs rather than the tokenistic joke. We want the girl to have her time in the spotlight. And for that content not to turn off the boys but actually to appeal to them too.” She’s also seeking out anime that is appropriate for the POP demo. “It’s difficult to pick up anime that isn’t slightly too grown-up or risqué. It would be fantastic to find something aimed at 8-year-olds without the concern that we would have to rip it apart in the compliance edit.”

She’s also keen to find a “laugh-out-loud comedy” for preschoolers that will entertain parents and older siblings. Lastly, Newington would love to see shows that “genuinely incorporate” environmental themes, “rather than being crowbarred in there.”

Hop!’s Moverman says she’s always in the market for shows that are “entertaining and fun with an added value—whether social, emotional or curriculum-based. We seek shows that echo children’s inner world and reflect their everyday routines, challenges and experiences at home, kindergarten or school. We are also on the lookout for shows that center around topical issues, such as the environment, media literacy and inclusion, in a subtle and age-appropriate manner.”

For Boles, it’s crucial that distributors “have a clear audience in mind” when approaching Sensical with acquisition opportunities. “Having a clear idea of where you think your content fits within one or more of [our] age brackets is helpful for us. We want to make sure that the content demonstrates benefits, whether learning benefits, D&I or social-emotional character-building elements. And then content that focuses on topics that kids love. So whether it is instructional—cooking, arts and crafts, sports tutorials—or more topic-based like travel or sports or music, we want to give kids what they want and do it in an age-appropriate way.”

Lewis calls on producers to spend time watching Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount+ before approaching her and her team. “It’s being aware of the shows we have and how anything will sit among them. We don’t want to get into a situation of, what do you do with it? We have seen a lot of pitches in the bridge space, and we now have quite a lot of shows in that area. We’re looking to complement that and maybe focus more on the younger end of the preschool demo. Another point that’s come up is around ancillary. We have within Paramount other lines of business. We can leverage our content partnerships and co-productions to look at how we can partner with our in-house consumer-products teams. We also have a movie studio. We are looking at exploring opportunities quite far out now. Know the audience and think about them in everything that you do. Know our shows and some of those brand filters. And have fun and surprise us.”

De Agostini’s Maffuchi expresses a similar sentiment: “We appreciate it when we are having a meeting with someone and they show us that they have studied. They know who we are and say, We think this could fit with this program.”

Sky Kids’ Murphy encourages IP owners to approach her with “distinctive and original content that will surprise us. Good visuals are important, so we can easily see how it will stand out on our crowded platform, alongside a rationale on why it would work for Sky Kids. We respond better to a tailored pitch of programs picked out for us versus a huge catalog of hundreds of shows.”

Kidoodle.TV’s Bisner offers this advice to distributors: “Know your rights, know how you can package to differentiate your content in the AVOD space. Having a social media strategy is really important. The messaging to complement kids’ content for the parent experience on social media matters. Partners need to think of the parent demographic when establishing how the brand will have an impact outside of the content airing. Also, please email just once—we get over 800 submissions a week and will respond as quickly as possible. The more robust, complete and proper the submission, the quicker we can make decisions.”