Estonia-based Kidzone TV is on the lookout for content children can relate to as it eyes further expansion beyond the Baltics.
Kidzone TV is still enjoying the benefits of being the only dedicated kids’ network in the Baltics to broadcast to children in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in their local languages.
“No international channel has yet started broadcasting in Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian, so we do very well,” says Jüri Pihel, partner and programming executive at Tallinn-based Kidzone TV.
The 24-hour channel, aimed at four- to 14-year-olds and operated by Estonian media business Kids Network Television, also airs some shows in Russian, if the rights are available.
Kidzone’s schedule is made up entirely of acquired programming, the vast majority of which is animated. The channel is joined by Kidzone Plus, a premium version of the network that airs newer programming and feature films in HD without commercials.
Pihel is pleased with the progress the network has made since launching in June 2013, initially in Estonia before expanding to Latvia and Lithuania. He highlights shows such as Horrid Henry, My Little Pony, Heidi, Lego Friends and Lucky Fred as some of the channel’s most popular.
“We like to give kids programming that is relatable. Even if there are cars with eyes, we want them to behave like kids, so we have barely any monsters or fantasy creatures,” says Pihel. “Many studios can do great animation, but not everybody can do great storytelling. We are looking for a combination: shows that are well drawn but with really funny, powerful and relatable stories.”
The exec emphasizes the need for properties that are “safe” and which parents will trust, although the channel isn’t averse to airing action shows, such as Lego Legends of Chima. But it’s important the high-octane programming isn’t just about “showing power,” adds Pihel.
In 2014, shortly after Kidzone had launched in the Baltics, Pihel was on the hunt for shows that would appeal to boys, describing the channel’s schedule at that time as “girlish.”
Since then, however, Pihel’s approach to gender balance on the channel has changed as a result of the audience’s reaction to My Little Pony, which attracts a fairly equal number of boys and girls.
“Sometimes the best product is targeted at one gender, but the best of the best always involves both of them. The first time we saw evidence of this was – surprisingly – My Little Pony,” says Pihel. “It looks like a girls’ show. But it’s so funny and has so much adventure that, when we look at the actual viewing, it’s half and half.”
Kidzone is also looking to acquire programming for other parts of the world as it broadens its horizons beyond the Baltics. At the time of writing, the carriage deals are not yet closed, so Pihel declines to reveal the next countries where Kidzone TV will be available.
Future launches elsewhere will, however, build on moves Kids Network Television has already made in 2017 to expand the reach of Kidzone TV. These include a deal with Middle Eastern pay TV operator OSN to carry an Arabic version of the channel in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
As a result, Pihel says he is looking for more shows that skew towards the younger end of Kidzone’s demo, as these are the programs that have been performing well in MENA since the channel began broadcasting there in March.
Meanwhile, the channel is partnering with local IPTV providers to launch Kidzone-branded video-on-demand services in the Baltics. Despite being based in Estonia, a country with one of the highest internet penetration levels in the world, Kidzone is not yet feeling competition from the likes of Netflix, as the U.S. giant is not yet localized in the Baltics, Pihel explains.
And although international expansion is on the cards, the intention is for Kidzone TV to continue focusing on acquired programming, as opposed to pushing into original production.
“There is no such thing as a common culture or language between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And all three are just too small for high-quality original production on pay TV. That’s the reality,” says Pihel.
This article was originally featured in the official NATPE Budapest Global TV Market & Conference Market Guide, powered by C21 Media.