Children’s audiences are evolving as fast as technology is able to provide them with different platforms to access content. Even at the youngest end -- preschool kids -- parents are providing them with the devices they need, giving them a vast library of content from which to choose.
A review of children's audiences by the BBC Trust found, although TV remains their main source of entertainment, this growing fragmentation has made the task of connecting programme brands with audiences more complicated.
So how can you make your programme stand out and achieve growth?
Ultimately, it is the story that matters the most to children and the brand evolves from this. Growth, therefore, lies in delivering engaging content across multiple platforms in a variety of formats beyond the traditional 52 x 11 minutes for animation, and 26 x 22 minutes for live-action shows.
Most of us in the children’s TV industry are resigned to the fact that broadcast commissions and television distribution rights alone are no longer a viable commercial option and we have to look at alternative sources of funding, including maximising a show’s licensing and merchandising potential.
This can be done with integrity and indeed help the attachment to the TV property as there is a mutual relationship between the content, particularly in animated series, and core play materials – kids want to interact with, and role play around the characters and products that embody them.
Consumer products may therefore form a key part of the business model. Developing with a 360 degree approach, i.e. the television series and the product concepts at the same time in order to meet or exceed your audiences needs and expectations. Strong well developed characters and emotional stories are the best place to start. That is the important base for creating other manifestations of your idea... like books, games, DVD's, playsets and apparel.
Of course not all concepts lend themselves to 'toys' nor does every idea need to be 'toy-etic'. Indeed most public broadcasters are shy of commercialisation and err on the side of building audiences with great stories first. Creating a concept purely to commercialise the content is seen by most platforms as cynical and exploitative -- remember we are talking about children's audiences. An overly commercial show is very likely to be rejected -- and without TV (for the moment) you are "dead in the water".
Interestingly in recent years, event programming (e.g. TV / DVD specials) has become an increasingly important strategy. The investment is significant, but this type of activity extends a child’s engagement and connection with programme brands by providing a new, longer form of storytelling. It works for broadcasters and other platforms as a tool to drive audiences to view them. It also allows you to introduce new characters and locations, and provides a platform from which to create spin-off coverage that creates noise at retail. With specials, you can connect with children at multiple viewing points: via home entertainment through SVoD platforms; in limited theatrical release; on your own YouTube channel; and, ultimately, on Television. The order in which you exploit your brand will be dictated by your broadcast platform.
Digital is now an important part of any brand strategy too. Children are platform-agnostic – they expect content to be delivered on all touch points. Creating an App and a dedicated microsite should be considered up front as it can also help extend the audiences engagement with your characters.
Live-shows and personal appearances (when relevant) are also important. With a direct connection to your audience you can build a long standing relationship to your brand.
So in summary, by integrating content development and with brand management via specials, live-shows and products, all centred on great storytelling and quality production values, it can drive and increase the success of your property and ensure that it not only cuts through with your audiences but maintains the brand’s life moving forward.