If Discovery Channel had a younger sibling, what would it look like? The answer was revealed on April 2 when Discovery Kids officially rolled out in India, The Philippines and Indonesia. Since then, the network has added Singapore to its growing distribution road map (launched on StarHub TV on September 14); offering Hindi, Tamil and Bahasa Indonesia full dubs in addition to English; and surpassing the 13 million subscriber mark.
Despite recent news of The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia launching new boys-focused channel Disney XD in Malaysia, and Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific rolling out two more kids channels, Toonami and Cartoonito, Discovery Kids maintains there is room for more children’s channels.
Kevin Dickie, Senior Vice President, Content Group, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific (DNAP), explains that the broadcaster decided to launch a new kids channel because firstly, there was a gap in DNAP’s portfolio (none of its channels cater to the younger demographic) and secondly, there was an untapped gap in the Asian kids pay-TV market. Dickie rationalised that there are currently no channels in the sector for edutainment programming targeting older school-going kids aged 6 to 12. He posits that most kids channels targets either older children with entertainment content as the main driver, or the youngerskewed pre-school genre.
“We also factored in the extent of how far each network extends into the space where Discovery Kids is,” explains Dickie, concluding that there are no natural competitors. Discovery Kids is thus positioned to occupy this vacant quadrant, serving older children with educational content. Mark Hollinger, President and Chief Executive Officer, Discovery Networks International, announced in March that, “Discovery Kids will offer children the ideal combination of learning and entertainment. A unique network in the kids’ genre, Discovery Kids will offer children a fun and entertaining way to satisfy their natural curiosity. The network will ignite viewers’ imagination through its compelling and differentiated content.”
The channel also hopes to facilitate more effective learning by bringing families together through the experience of “co-viewing”.
Research conducted with Patricia Koh from renowned preschool chain Pat’s Schoolhouse in Singapore, according to Dickie, showed there is an appetite among BOTH kids and parents for a channel that is fun yet enriching. “Kids are not that much different from adults in the sense that they create a shortlist of channels that they go to. The parents will then filter that ‘list’. If they find something objectionable they will say ‘you are not allowed to watch this.’ So the adult is creating that framework. We want to make sure that parents will be actively encouraging kids to have our channel in their shortlist,” says Dickie.
Dickie says programmes like Wild Kratts, Bindi’s Bootcamp and Head Rush exemplify the type of content that represents the channel’s core values – “programming that can truly be transformative”.
Unlike the flagship Discovery Channel, however, personality-driven programming will not be at the top of Discovery Kids’ list of priorities.
“Dick ‘N’ Dom is personality-led but frankly, even though they are in the title, it’s actually more about the kids involved and what the kids are doing in the show rather than Dick and Dom themselves. So talent is important but not as much as a TLC or a Discovery Channel,” explains Dickie. “Will talent and personalities still play a role on the network? Absolutely. Do we hope to develop some local talent that’s part of local productions and development piece? Yes. But there will be titles – a lot of titles – where the emphasis and the focus is on the content rather than the talent.”
Dickie also shares that programming on Discovery Kids has been categorised into six zones: Lab, Playground, Treehouse, Theatre, Camp and Portal, with key differences for each zone. For example, Treehouse consists of natural world content while Camp teaches young viewers endurance and survival skills.
While some content will be acquired, the network does have plans to roll out 130 hours of original programming in 2013. “In terms of other milestones, we want to have developed and greenlit two projects from a local production point of view. Right now, we’re very close to achieving that – we’re finalising the deals for them,” says Dickie.
As of press time, these two projects have since gone into production, although no premiere dates have yet been announced. The first, Kids vs Film, is a series that gives children the opportunity to be a director or star of their own documentary show, with direction and guidance from professional producers and onair talent. Another title, Zooventure, is a wildlife adventure that puts the physical abilities of kids to the test, and challenges their knowledge of the wild as they get up close and personal with nature.
For most kids channels, cross platform potential like merchandising and licensing definitely factor into the broadcaster’s business model, but Dickie says it’s not time to have that conversation yet.
“It doesn’t concern us in the sense that it’s not part of the plan at this stage. The plan is not built on the basis that we need licensing and merchandising because we are conscious of the fact that we won’t have it. It’s one of the reasons why we want to develop local franchises is that over time, as we build franchises and talent, we’ll be able to be a more meaningful player in the license space,” says Dickie. “Even just the launch of the Discovery Kids brand, without the franchises, can be quite powerful. And we’re already speaking to partners and what we can do with the Discovery Kids mark even without titles. Merchandising and licensing will become more important as the channel rolls out. It is important that we tap into it, but the channel’s success is by no means dependent on it.”
The network also made a conscious decision not to enter the social media space because it’s very hard to police, says Dickie. However, feedback from parents which found that an online companion to linear programming is very much necessary, prompted the network to set up a dedicated Asian website.
For now, the channel has other goals and Dickie says he is very happy with the progress so far. “We’re at the stage of development where our number one goal is to get distribution for the channel. At the end of the day, as a pay-TV broadcaster, the key to success for us is securing broad distribution. The people – the parents, are going to influence whether we get distributed. Parents are ultimately going to be the ones that demand for Discovery Kids. As the channel gains more traction, then we can talk directly to children.”