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Henson’s Sid the Science Kid (left),and CAKE-distributed Total Drama Island

independent kids companies have to look elsewhere if they want to build a hit kids property in the US.

The most obvious place to turn to is public broadcaster PBS, which has car- riage in 97% of US homes and a track record in preschool that stretches back to the launch of Sesame Workshop’s iconic preschool show Sesame Street in 1969. Since then, it has underlined its impor- tance by launching properties such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Teletubbies. “PBS is a perfect partner for a company like ours,” says Peter Schube, president of US kids studio Jim Henson Co. “Because it doesn’t have a studio attached, it relies on companies like Henson to deliver shows. We currently have two properties for 3-to-6 year-olds on PBS, Sid The Science Kid and Dinosaur Train.” PBS is exactly the kind of platform that can help indie studios build a 360-degree brand strategy. In the case of Dinosaur Train an L&M strategy based around product from Learning Curve, Crayola and Hallmark Cards is currently being rolled out in the US.

a twin-track approach. “Disney, Viacom and Turner all run big channel portfolios - so there is scope for sales to second-tier channels such as Disney XD, Nicktoons and Nick Jr.,” says Scherba, “But it is harder to use these as the US launch plat- form for a 360 degree brand because they don’t have the same level of penetration. Toycos and retailers like to see your show on flagship channels: Disney Channel, Nick and Cartoon Network.”

This might seem unfair on content cre- ators, but it’s understandable when you consider the money a fully-fledged kids franchise can generate. Above all, the scenario the big three fear is that which occurred during the 1990s - when Haim Saban used Fox Kids Network to turn Mighty Morphin Power Rangers into a multi-billion dollar franchise.

The Boa Constriction of the US market by the three big studios means that most

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If anything PBS has become even more important since 2005, thanks to the launch of PBS Sprout, a digital cable/VOD channel which is a JV between US public broadcaster PBS, leading cable company Comcast, Sesame Workshop and preschool studio Hit. PBS Sprout is a classic response to the challenge presented by the big three. While PBS and Sesame Workshop were being squeezed by the global scale of their rivals, Hit was looking to build a US presence for its preschool portfolio, which was not dependent on the whims of the studio-owned kids networks.

By adding Comcast to the mix, the part- ners brought together the distribution muscle, audience affinity, quality content and retail relationships needed to estab- lish a viable network, which is now in 45 million US homes. Sprout doesn’t just provide Hit’s proper- ties with a stable US presence. It also gives other independent studios such as Henson, National Geographic Kids,

TBI Kids June/July 2010 15

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