RTÉjr gets animated about new support schemes

The broadcaster wants to collaborate with a new generation of animation start-ups

A still from the forthcoming 26-part ‘Zig and Zag’ animation, which will be on RTÉjr and CBBC next year

A still from the forthcoming 26-part ‘Zig and Zag’ animation, which will be on RTÉjr and CBBC next year

 

RTÉjr is two and a half years old. And like a toddler, it is trying to make its voice heard in a room packed with people a lot bigger than it.

It isn’t an easy business. In the world of children’s television, the big commercial players resemble steamrollers with the power to flatten, cartoon-style, the public service broadcasters in their path.

“I’ve never been attracted by the branded pyjamas,” says RTÉjr channel controller Sheila de Courcy of the global kids’ TV industry. “We’re just not at that scale.”

But there are things that RTÉjr is in the position to do, and one of them is to give support to the Irish animation sector. Under one of its new initiatives, a pot of €50,000 will be made available each year for the next three years to help start-up animation companies make two-minute shorts that they might later use as calling cards for series ideas.

RTÉjr is also making a separate call-out for an animation project that will be developed with an international co-producer. This scheme, which will have funding of €100,000 per annum for the next three years, is a chance for small companies to learn more about how co-production works, according to de Courcy.

RTÉ’s “baseline commitment” on animation funding will increase from €450,000 to €550,000 a year. “We’re trying to develop new companies with new ideas,” she says. “They have got to start somewhere.”

Remarkable

Brown Bag Films

The aim of RTÉjr’s support schemes is to collaborate with a new generation of start-ups – the companies that would love to be Brown Bag when they grow up .

RTÉjr’s new schedule includes Havananimal, an Igloo Films-produced series of animated story-songs written by Shay Healy, arranged and performed by Duke Special among others, and animated by Kealan O’Rourke.

2016, meanwhile, will see the arrival of the new 26-part Zig and Zag cartoon series on RTÉjr and CBBC screens. The series is coproduced by Double Z Enterprises, Flickerpix and JAM Media and has support from the Irish Film Board, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen.

The funding deals behind the return of the alien brothers took several years to finalise, says de Courcy, but this is typical in a business characterised by co-productions. “When something comes together within a year, it’s quite remarkable.”

The series will run in an early evening “co-viewing slot”. The expectation is that many adults will watch along with their kids, in part because the Irish children who grew up with Zig and Zag in puppet form are now parents themselves.

Zig and Zag is attracting “great interest” from international buyers, de Courcy says, while Geronimo Productions’ Nelly and Nora and Pablo, a show about a five-year-old boy on the autism spectrum made by Indee Productions (which is rebranding as Paper Owl Films), have also won a positive reaction.

Beyond animation, new additions to the RTÉjr schedule include Magical Sites, an OPW-supported heritage series; Makers, a show about crafts for the under-sevens; and I Want a Pet, a pet care show fronted by new presenter Yvette Poufong.

These titles might sound educational, but they were not commissioned to tick any “education” box.

“We believe in education by stealth. We want children to be able to explore the world in which they are growing up. We don’t make educational television – I would argue that everything is educational for children of that age,” de Courcy says. Nevertheless, a publicly funded channel with a broad schedule such as RTÉjr or Britain’s CBBC clearly offers a different flavour of programming to the big commercial players that win brand loyalty through planet-sized budgets.

Only last week, Netflix issued a press release detailing the commission of seven new kids’ series, bringing its line-up of original children’s shows to 35. This one announcement would seem to encapsulate the challenge for small national broadcasters – RTÉ’s €8.2 million young people’s budget is likely to be dwarved by Netflix’s spend. Then there’s a sense that a company like Amazon Prime is only warming up.

“The competitors we’re up against are very much people who would let children watch Peppa Pig all day,” says de Courcy. “I don’t believe we can compete in that way, and it has forced me to define what it is we need to do.”

It all comes back to commissioning local content that reflects the lives of children in Ireland and then making it available, advertisement-free, across multiple platforms. (This includes mobile, and the RTÉjr app has now reached Android devices as well as iOS.)

The global giants in kids’ television are ultimately guided by commercial concerns, she concludes. “Their imperative is money, and ours isn’t.”

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