Media: Double Standards - 'Our ambition is to be everywhere children are'

Two figures in the fiercely fought arena of children's TV talk about threats to ad revenues, content quality and what children actually want from their programmes.

BOBI CARLEY - children's director, Viacom Brand Solutions

- Who are the biggest advertisers on children's TV?

The large toys and games companies are the leading spenders. These are followed by certain FMCG clients that are targeting family viewing.

- What effect are the food advertising restrictions having on revenues?

There's no doubt that Ofcom's announcement was tough for the dedicated children's channels, but the change in spending patterns has been evolving over several years. It's very positive how certain brands have changed the way they communicate and the way their brand messaging has changed. VBS's focus now is to be even more innovative and creative in our approach.

- Do you expect more restrictions on advertising to children?

The Department of Health is looking at non-broadcast marketing, and we're waiting for its conclusion.

- Are you doing anything to prevent further restrictions?

VBS's focus is on encouraging the advertising of healthy foods across the board, whether it's on-air or online.

- What do you think of the overall standard and quality of children's programming?

It's high quality. Production values, storylines and sheer variety of shows rival any programming made for adults.

- What sorts of innovative programming do you have coming up in 2007?

We broadcast a mixture of live-action, animation and short-form programming across our channels. On Nickelodeon, we have shows such as Me:TV, which is a multi-platform format and combines live studio programming with home-based viewer interaction via broadband webcams. It has been an instant hit, with nearly a quarter of a million kids tuning in each day.

- Do you initiate your own programming?

Yes, Nickelodeon is the number-one children's commercial network and investment in original production is very important to us. We have a piloting scheme that is unique among children's channels. The sitcom Genie in the House, which immediately became the number one Nickelodeon show when it launched, was developed through this scheme.

- How do you integrate TV programming with online?

Our ambition is to be everywhere children are, so bringing TV and online together is integral to all Nickelodeon and Nick Jr shows. We start with great creative ideas that work across all platforms. We're already seeing phenomenal success with TurboNick and Nick Jr Video.

- Are children's viewing habits changing?

Overall, children's viewing habits haven't changed significantly. They just want the richest and best possible experience of their favourite shows. This is definitely a time of experimentation for broadcasters and for viewers with the plethora of technology available.

- What is your favourite children's TV show?

My favourite shows as a child were The Littlest Hobo and The Red Hand Gang. Nowadays, with a three-year-old in the house, clearly my life's all about Dora the Explorer!

IAN DOWDS - UK sales controller, Turner Media Innovations

- Who are the biggest advertisers on children's TV?

Toys and games advertisers form the largest part. These include Hasbro, Mattel, The Character Group, Vivid, Tomy and Lego. Other significant spenders include Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and now gaming companies such as Nintendo.

- What effect are the food advertising restrictions having on revenues?

Ofcom has estimated that children's and youth cable and satellite channels could lose up to 8.8 per cent of their revenue, while dedicated children's channels could lose up to 15 per cent of their total revenue. These are pretty accurate estimates. Fortunately, increased business in categories such as gaming and entertainment are softening this blow.

- Do you expect more restrictions on advertising to children?

It has recently been announced that food advertising restrictions will be extended to the under-16s. As you would expect, we continue to be in regular dialogue with Ofcom and other industry groups regarding such matters.

- Are you doing anything to prevent further restrictions?

Ofcom is looking until the end of 2008 for children's dedicated channels to phase in changes relating to food advertising. We are preparing in line with this.

- What do you think of the overall standard and quality of children's programming?

Children's programming is improving all the time. Children have so much choice, with programming ranging from passive to aspirational, involving and challenging.

- What sorts of innovative programming do you have coming up in 2007?

We have ground-breaking programming planned including CGI and British comedy. Projects in the pipeline include a brilliant co-production with Aardman for a show called Chop Socky Chooks; the rest ... you'll just have to wait and see!

- Do you initiate your own programming?

Yes, we produce all Cartoon Network originals. Earlier this year, we opened a UK studio, where we create original content. Some shows we commission on seeing a bible and show synopsis, and we are in constant discussions with producers about the types of programmes we are on the lookout for.

- How do you integrate TV programming with online?

Children's use of new media is seamless; in focus groups, they demonstrate time and again an effortless flow between devices. The distribution of our content across various platforms aims for the same fluidity. Cartoons can now be watched on-air, online on supercartoonnetwork.co.uk and on a mobile as part of a stream. Our on-air often drives to other platforms where relevant new content forms have emerged. Consistency in quality of content across platforms is key.

- Are children's viewing habits changing?

Children are no longer just passive viewers, they love to multitask and interact with the shows (especially via the red button). That said, they still value programmes that make them laugh, that have characters they can identify with and aspire to, and situations they can relate to.

- What is your favourite children's TV show?

I'll give you a clue: my eldest daughter, Louise, answers to the name of Scoob!