TV Kids Festival 2024 Recap

Get creative. Brace for this disruption to last a little while. Embrace a newfound willingness to rights-sharing, unique funding and distribution models and partnerships. Always have a 360-degree strategy. Known IP really helps, but don’t stop coming up with great new ideas that entertain and enrich young ones. Co-viewing very much still matters, perhaps more so than ever. Those were the overarching themes that emerged from the fourth annual TV Kids Festival as we convened leading IP owners, producers and programmers to weigh in on how to navigate a business in the midst of a dramatic reset.

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Our trademark opening session brought together four leading programmers to discuss how they are acquiring and commissioning content that will lure kids from YouTube, TikTok, Roblox or anywhere else they’re spending their time. Disney’s Rick Clodfelter, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Zia Sands, BBC Children’s Anna Taganov and SVT’s Helena Nylander all spoke to a trend that we would hear across our three days of keynotes and panels: rights negotiations are not what they used to be. And everyone still wants the next Bluey, a breakout animated comedy and some really compelling scripted live-action.

All the programmers referenced a newfound flexibility on the exclusivity question, partly for budgetary reasons and partly because it does help to have a ubiquitous distribution strategy when building a brand.

“It used to be that linear broadcasters were the key curators of video content,” said Josh Scherba in his first TV Kids Festival appearance since rising to the president and CEO position at WildBrain. “Now, kids are doing their own curation; they go from screening something on an SVOD service to YouTube to non-YouTube AVOD and then over to gaming platforms—whether it be Roblox, Minecraft or Fortnite. For brand owners to really understand this and have a holistic strategy is a huge advantage.”

“I’ve been an advocate of non-exclusive rights for as long as I’ve been doing this,” said Ed Galton, CEO of CAKE, in his keynote. “Especially in the kids’ business, the need for content to be everywhere is really important. We’re finally seeing a willingness to share more than ever before. Part of that has to do with the economics. Platforms are saying, Well, if we can pay less, but we can share windows, that’s a win for us, and it’s a win for you. Is it a win for us, economically speaking? Maybe a little bit; maybe not—that’s still yet to be determined. But if the show that we’re putting on the platforms can be more successful as a result, then that’s the win. We’re seeing more of that happen now in the economic downturn than we had in the past. I also think people are starting to see the data, and the data supports that they don’t really have a degradation of audience by having these non-exclusive rights work with particular brands.”

Our super panel on industry shifts with BBC Studios’ Cecilia Persson, Cyber Group Studios’ Raphaëlle Mathieu, Paramount Global Content Distribution’s Lauren Marriott and 9 Story Media Group’s Alix Wiseman also highlighted the evolution in windowing strategies as a bright spot in the market now.

“I think we’re seeing less demand for exclusivity in favor of more rights non-exclusively and a preference for building franchises rather than keeping everything exclusively,” Marriott said.

Scale at a time like this is key, Mathieu added. “Right now, being a small independent is harsh. We’re pretty lucky. But we need to be smart as well to make sure that we are creative enough, both business-wise and editorially. We need to invest in development to have a wide variety of content to be able to interest a wide range of potential partners.”

Persson agreed, adding, “You need to be a partner that can bring several aspects to a property, particularly if you’re trying to get an original idea away. One of the things I see as a positive in these uncertain times is the fact that the rights are being asked for on a more non-exclusive basis, which is actually very helpful for an original idea. We have a content strategy team that spends time thinking about those things because it is needed—that additional push to make sure that you can get an original idea across the line.”

Wiseman is of a similar view on partnerships, “not least because needs must, but also because it’s a really interesting way of attracting different creative visions and talent outside of what we’re doing on our own slate.”

Partnerships and non-exclusivity were also key themes of our session on funding with APC Kids’ Lionel Marty, Guru Studio’s Frank Falcone, Thunderbird Entertainment’s Richard Goldsmith and Sixteen South’s Alexandros van Blanken.

“The streamers know that they want to have awareness, and that means sometimes sharing exclusivity or having non-exclusive rights with other broadcasters or other platforms, AVOD, YouTube, because they know that it can bring some awareness for the shows they will market,” Marty said.

“It has been a major shift in the dialogue that we’ve been having,” Goldsmith added. “Streamers particularly, or worldwide linear companies that traditionally wanted all rights, are now coming back and saying, Well, if you are getting some funding from a territory or two, we can share rights in those markets. We haven’t had that conversation in years. There are lots of discussions now about co-funding series. We’re doing deals now where we’re putting up money, and we’re sharing rights. The time of the windows is also being loosened up. That is one of the silver linings of the situation now.”

That approach does require some “complexity in dealmaking,” Falcone observed. “When you’re constructing deals with many potential windows and financiers, the recipe becomes complex. And sometimes deals lose momentum in this process. So, we really are reliant on our legal and business affairs teams to pull together tight, interesting deals quickly because, as you know, time kills all deals. We want to be quick about how we pull together our shows. Windows of opportunity can be missed if we’re not moving quickly.”

Van Blanken added: “Dropping the need for exclusivity also has meant some of the deals are for less payment or no payment at all, which is kind of a rev-share model. This becomes increasingly difficult and a challenge when you’re having a conversation and you’re trying to fund a show or trying to at least back some of your investment, especially when it comes to significant territories. I agree it is a bit of a silver lining, but it’s also effectively decreasing the financial burden on that licensee. So, it’s a balancing act.”

Across all of the sessions, the importance of known IP was reiterated over and over again. Just a few months since taking on oversight of Mattel Television Studios, Michelle Mendelovitz talked about how the toy giant is expanding its slate of shows based on its powerhouse brands. “Mattel has iconic brands and IP that we can utilize as we’re moving into our next phase of studio television content. We’re looking to leverage those brands into premium, best-in-class creators and create top-tier content for all platforms across the board.”

DreamWorks Animation, similarly, is tapping into its beloved library. This March, Peacock launches Megamind Rules!, a continuation of the beloved feature film. “It’s been over 13 years since we caught up with Megamind,” said executive producer Eric Fogel in his creative keynote. “In that original film, he went from being a supervillain to a superhero. As a fan, I was really excited to catch up with him and see how he’s been doing in this new role as the hero of Metro City. For a lot of people, that curiosity sparked this new chapter. We’re picking up just a few days after the events of the original movie. So, thanks to the magic of animation, it’s as if no time has passed at all. We just jump right back in.”

Audrey Diehl, senior VP of series at Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios, is also spending some of her time on shows that reinvent classic properties.

“Given the massive pile of content in the marketplace, especially for kids, our buyers feel like IP has an advantage,” Diehl said. “It has that built-in marketing. It has that name recognition. It’s hard for networks and streamers to spend a lot on marketing all the shows because so many come out every year. So, having that built-in recognition of a Superman or a Bugs Bunny is just a huge advantage for them. We want to believe that original series can break through as well, and they have certainly over time. That’s how we got the IP we’re using now, right? But yes, in this current climate, where buyers are a little more risk-averse, IP is very beneficial to take out.”

Whether reintroducing a classic brand or trying to crack the market with a new one, using YouTube is paramount. Speaking for the first time at a TV Kids Festival, Lauren Glaubach, director and global head of youth partnerships and programming, shared with delegates some insights on how best to work with the leading video platform for kids.

“First, if you’re not on YouTube, join us. YouTube is the best place for kids to discover new characters and IP. It’s also where they go deep into their favorite characters and stories. Two, if you are already on YouTube, lean into multi-format. Across long-form, video-on-demand, shorts, live—you can tell your story in the format that makes the most sense and to reach your audience no matter what they’re doing. They’re going to find your characters, find your story. It’s great to be everywhere they want to be. The third thing I would say is to experiment and have fun.”

We also convened a panel to hear more about the various ways in which IP owners are using the platform, delivering intel from HARI’s Sophie “Kido” Prigent, Wind Sun Sky Entertainment’s Jo Redfern,’s Brian C. Janes and C To The B Productions’ Claude Brooks about volumes of content, promoting discovery and the best ways to use analytics.

For Redfern, YouTube has “moved from what used to be perceived as just a marketing platform to now being a platform in and of itself. You can create and launch brands on that platform. It’s not that magic money tree that perhaps it was once considered, but the platform is so entrenched now in the lives of digital native kids. Its importance to people like us who work in that brand space has only increased. It’s their default search engine. It’s the thing that they go to when they have some downtime. It’s the thing that is more or less always on [their devices] when they’re in their hands. So, it’s become ever more important in terms of a platform for brand owners.”

Ecosystems feed each other, Prigent said, “whether we’re talking about linear, SVOD or YouTube. You have to have this exposure on YouTube because it means that kids anywhere can find you—and parents and carers. It’s massively important.”

As for how to program a YouTube channel, Janes responded, “If you’re going to launch a YouTube channel, you have to have a plan for uploading videos on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be daily. It could be weekly. It could be one to two times a week. Having a full season of something to launch can be nice, so if you put the marketing out there and people come and binge-watch, great. But if you don’t have that 16th episode or that 16th video after those first 15, your audience is not going to stick around.”

While being on a platform like YouTube is critical, we also heard from a range of speakers about the vital role of the public broadcasting landscape in the U.S. and abroad.

“Our goal at PBS is to be thinking about being as accessible to as many kids as possible,” said Sara DeWitt, senior VP and general manager at PBS KIDS, in her keynote. “It’s more important than ever that we’re here—that the U.S. has an accessible, engaging media option for kids that’s also noncommercial and isn’t feeling the same pressures in the same way. We are trying to think about how we are having an impact on kids and making sure that we can reach as many kids as possible throughout the country. We aren’t having to watch that bottom line in the same way that a lot of others in the industry are.”

We heard a similar sentiment on our panel on producing for pubcasters with Mediawan Kids & Family’s Julien Borde, The Jim Henson Company’s Halle Stanford and Dandelooo’s Emmanuèle Pétry-Sirvin.

“For children whose families can’t afford Disney+, Netflix, you name it, they can always rely on the public broadcasters to enrich and educate their children,” Stanford said. “Times have changed, but their intention hasn’t. I think it’s their superpower.”

Borde added, “In Europe, we are lucky to have strong public-service channels and groups. They are critical for us to manage to produce quality premium content. More and more, they are into their own mission of educating and entertaining. I’m a big believer then that in the future, they will continue to care about children and that in a more commercial environment, they will be asked by local governments to do more.”

“I have a very strong belief in the role and the value of public-broadcasting systems because their goal is not to make money or to make a profit; their goal is to service and give food for thought for children to grow up, to understand things, to understand themselves, to understand their emotions,” Pétry-Sirvin said. With intense competition, “now they have to reinvent themselves. But their role is huge.”

We also heard about the enduring value of pubcasters in our sessions focused on delivering those enriching nutrients to young ones. Sesame Workshop’s Susan Scheiner, ZDF Studios’ Oliver Grundel and Bejuba! Entertainment’s Tatiana Kober shared with TV Kids Festival delegates their perspectives on how best to incorporate science, technology, the arts, engineering and math in kids’ shows. Then, Atlantyca Entertainment’s Claudia Mazzucco, Acamar Films’ Mikael Shields, Lion Forge Entertainment’s Koyalee Chanda and MIAM! distribution’s Mélanie Errea weighed in on the best approaches to delivering social-emotional learning in content.

Over and over again, our speakers kept returning to a critical mantra: kids will not stop wanting great storytelling. It’s up to the industry to figure out how to get that content to them in the smartest way possible.

“Buckle up; it’s going to be a minute,” said industry veteran Tom Ascheim on where the business is at present in his keynote session. “This is not going to be an easy time for any of us. We always go through tumultuous times. Being great is your best strategy. Trying to find ways to make sure you’re digging deep to find the creative that inspires you and will inspire the audience is always your best strategy. It is less clear how we’re going to bring that forward. Therefore, the other thing to remember is that whatever got us here is probably not going to get us there. So, be great and be forward-looking. That’s back to: Look at the audience, understand what they’re caring about, and make sure you’re anticipating, not just chasing.”

Sky’s Lucy Murphy, the recipient of this winter’s TV Kids Pioneer Award, remains energized about her work in the kids’ business despite the challenges the sector is facing. “The creativity of this industry gets me out of bed every morning. When you see something that is just so beautiful, so heartfelt or so original, and you think, Oh, I haven’t seen that before! And the way that tech is constantly leading us into new places is exciting. We’ve been having a lot of fun with a new bit of tech called Sky Live, which is a camera that sits on top of the TV and allows for really immersive, interactive, gesture-based gameplay where you’ve got children up on their feet using their bodies to play games. It’s about making entertainment fit into families’ lives, and that’s exciting.”