Top Buyers Talk Acquisition Trends at TV Kids Festival


The TV Kids Festival opened today with a panel featuring WarnerMedia Kids & Family’s Adina Pitt, KiKA’s Sebastian Debertin, M6 Group’s Maud Branly and CBC’s Marie McCann discussing acquisition trends.

The panel, moderated by Kristin Brzoznowski, executive editor of TV Kids, opened with each executive outlining the role acquisitions play on their services. You can watch it in its entirety here. Pitt, VP of content acquisitions, partnerships and co-productions for the Americas at WarnerMedia Kids & Family, noted that the importance of alliances has been “amplified quite a bit because the ecosystem is broader, and the consumer requires that much more content than what we used to pick up. The frequency is greater, and the volume is greater.”

Pitt noted that WarnerMedia has its own significant production capacity, “so the role of third-party content should be to complement and support the originals coming to us from [our] studios. It provides us an opportunity to give our viewers a chance to see stories from all over the world.”

Debertin, head of international content acquisitions in the programming and management department at KiKA in Germany, noted that the pubcaster is celebrating its 25th birthday this year. “You can imagine the shopping list for programming gifts for the audience and ourselves is long and huge! I’m buying for the linear TV channels, which are doing very well, we’re number one. It’s the first present we received from our audience. I’m also buying for our KiKA digital world. So it’s a lot to cater to, and acquisitions add up to our strong program platform, and they enrich the view of our audience into this wonderful world.”

Branly serves as children’s acquisitions director and international TV channels children’s programming director at M6 Group, working across a portfolio that includes Gulli, the leading channel for kids 4 to 10 in France. “We are very committed to societal issues, such as gender equality, and all our programs represent these values.” Her remit also includes the M6 Kid morning block, Canal J, Tiji and Santa Claus Channel in France, and branded services in Russia, CIS, Baltics, French-speaking Africa, the Middle East and Brazil. On the nonlinear side, Branly’s portfolio includes the SVOD service GulliMax, which has more than 3 million subs in France.

Marie McCann, senior director of children’s content at Canada’s CBC, says that CBC Kids serves children from the ages of 2 to 13. “We start with preschoolers on CBC Kids television, a national broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a morning block, traditional TV-style, about four hours a day. This content is also offered on our streaming platform CBC Gem. We’ve been building an inventory of amazing kids’ content there. We also use YouTube as a windowing platform for some of the content we have the rights for. And we have a pretty large group of in-house digital and television producers who make content. We have websites. We’ll be launching a new product for tweens. The role of acquisitions for us is quite strategic. We have an originals-first strategy, and then we get amazing acquisitions. We use acquisitions strategically to bolster our offering, often to look for international brands like Paddington Bear that will attract audiences.”

On the volume of acquisitions these executives expect to make in the year ahead, Pitt noted, “One of the biggest changes for us is we’re now venturing into preschool—we launched Cartoonito—we’re also looking at live-action and tween content. We’re looking at specials, snackable series, serialized series. The portfolio of demos and genres we’re looking for has expanded to such an extent that it’s hard to quantify. What’s exciting for any producers out there is that where we used to play in one sandbox, one lane—kids 6 to 11, leaning towards boys—has expanded into something much more commensurate with what my colleagues on this panel are looking for. That also gives us an opportunity to partner with anyone on this call.”

KiKA received more than 1,200 program proposals last year, Debertin noted, “They all reflected creativity and productivity. That’s a good sign in these times.”

Branly said that M6’s need for content continues to grow. “In the last year, we acquired more nonlinear rights. We started to make acquisitions for exclusive SVOD rights. Sometimes now, we make the first window on the SVOD platform. That’s a big change. In the past, the first window was always reserved for pay television. Now for some programs, it’s SVOD, pay TV and free TV. We also started to acquire content for our AVOD platform, without any linear broadcast. We know that in the upcoming year, the major challenge will be the digital transformation. We have to adapt our acquisition strategy because the kids’ habits are changing very quickly. And also, we want to strengthen the trust relationship with parents. With successive lockdowns, kids spent many hours watching television alone while parents worked from home. It’s very important to propose a secure and editorialized space with Gulli. Especially now that there are so many kids’ video offers for kids, it’s important to propose a secured space with our brands.”

McCann said that companies pitching to the CBC should consider “we’re buying for a four-hour television block, so the scale is different. We’re not looking for hundreds of hours of content—we’re looking for the right content. We’re Canadian first, that’s our mandate. We have our originals. We’re on the lookout for fantastic Canadian acquisitions. That would be our first priority with acquisitions. But we are on the lookout for international acquisitions. We’re looking for marquee brands or highly original, unique offerings that are breaking ground somehow.”

As for the CBC values that producers and distributors should be aware of, McCann noted that the pubcaster’s mission is to “entertain and inform. Both happen at the same time in a CBC kids’ show. We also hope that our programming will enlighten or help us understand ourselves, our audiences to understand themselves and their neighbors, who might be very different from them. A no-go for us is any kind of stereotype. We are looking for content that reflects people’s thinking in 2022. We want to make sure that kids are not given outdated ideas about femininity, gender or race. We’re on the lookout for diverse creators and voices that haven’t been heard before.”

Pitt added, “Not just the kid-empowerment element of it, but also high-quality, great stories, I love what [Marie] said about diversity. For us, if you look at the preschool lineup, we do have a curriculum associated with that, called human-centric learning. Within that, there are different parameters and qualities we’re looking for. Anything that falls outside of that probably wouldn’t work for us. Those are things like creativity, caring, courage, curiosity. When you do your homework and know the kind of content that each of our brands is looking for, it’s easy to eliminate that thing that won’t work for us. Anything that has imitable behavior that’s dangerous. Anything that is tokenistic instead of being authentically diverse. Anything that doesn’t fall within the brand attributes of any one of our platforms is probably a no-go for all of us. The good news is it leaves a tremendous runway for people to pitch us all kinds of content that we can seriously consider. We’re living in such an extraordinary time; the impact of this pandemic on our viewers is real. It’s important for us to tell stories where kids can see themselves and allow kids to feel empowered. It’s an important time for kindness. For all kinds of life-enriching words. It’s not our job to do anything but entertain and fill kids’ lives with humor and optimism. That gives producers a wide range of opportunities to come to us.”

Debertin added that KiKA, as a pubcaster, is looking for similar attributes. “We, of course, want to entertain while educating. At the same time, we want to bring great fun to the kids. Kindness and tolerance are so important. It seems to get lost a bit. It’s important we keep that up in these times. It’s also important to mention that societies in the West are getting older and older. We want to bring the value of community into the world again and bring the generations together. Sustainability is always on the list. I love to see companies coming up with programs that feature sustainability.”

Gulli is more than just entertainment, Branly added. “We want programs to offer ways of thinking about tolerance and open-mindedness, knowing how to live together. Any kid can watch any show at any time without seeing something inappropriate. We are very open-minded in terms of content, but of course, it has to be appropriate to kids, with no violence or cruel language. We don’t want any shows that are anxiety-inducing because kids are already facing complicated situations these days.”

KiKA’s success has come from its wide variety of genres, Debertin said. “High on the shopping list is feature films. We have three slots per week for feature films. As well as animated series, live-action, and we cherrypick when it comes to preschool.”

Branly also has a broad remit. “Our main goal is to keep [our viewers’] trust by offering quality content. We are looking for preschool, comedy series, live action, all kinds of content. We like to be surprised. We want to find the right balance between pre-existing, known programs and original creations.”

McCann puts comedy up at the top of her wish list. “We want kids to laugh. The challenge right now is that we’re up against incredible laughter platforms like TikTok, where even some younger kids are starting to watch with parents and older siblings. Translating that to storytelling on longer-form content in animation, I would love to see a fresh take on humor that is up to date with some of this stuff that kids are responding to on social. Music is also something we’re on the lookout for. We think this is something that is not only great for television and streaming but also our YouTube channels.”

As for what they’d like to see more of, Pitt said, “We need to encourage and give permission to the producers out there to tell different stories and not be afraid of it and surround themselves with talent that will tell those authentic stories. We’d love to see more of that. We’re starting to see some great stories come from very different places. That’s encouraging. But we still have a long way to go. Hopefully, what people are hearing is that this group of people is completely open to receiving that content and helping build brands for kids that are groundbreaking. That’s an exciting task for all of us to take on.”

“There’s always room for new, innovative ideas,’ added Debertin. “I want to see shows that are not just ticking boxes but really bring [diversity] to life.”