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engaging the global children’s entertainment industry

Entertainment llc MAY/JUNE 2021

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engaging the global children’s entertainment industry

INCLUSION REPORT: Diversity progress and where change is needed next


Lockdown demographic swings have toycos targeting new markets


KIDSCREEN | May/June 2021

CONTENTS May/June 2021

8 13 19 25 27 17


The List—Everything on our radar this month, from Australia’s content comeback to the Clubhouse app. screen

As Nelvana turns 50, the prodco examines what it will take to launch another hit brand. consumer products

Toymakers are rolling the dice on new strategies to capitalize on shifting demographics. kid insight

Not enough kids see themselves as heroes, according to new research from Nickelodeon and OK Play. tech

Show them the money! A raft of new apps are taking advantage of kids’ growing interest in finances.

Explore standout episodes from this year’s crop of submissions for the Annecy Inernational Animated Film Festival TV category.



These new shows in development are putting representation first.



Diversity executives from across the industry discuss their work so far.



Breaking down broadcasters’ new inclusion requirements.

our sold cover is an ad for Elemon from Pocket.watch, while our editorial cover features an image from Sea Sorceress, a new Lion Forge Animation/41 Entertainment co-pro.

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KIDSCREEN | May/June 2021

On allyship hat does it mean to be an ally? It’s a question I’ve asked on a personal and professional level this past year. In 2020, we introduced a Best Inclusivity category to the Kidscreen Awards, and invited the inaugural jury to help us shape the judging criteria. They came up with a nine-point matrix for assessing entries, and it’s a great starting point for conversations about being an ally. 1. Does the entry push the culture forward? 2. Is it innovative? Have we seen this before? 3. Can every kid see themselves on screen? 4. Is there equal representation both on screen and behind the scenes? 5. Is there authenticity in the content? Are characters multi-dimensional or tokenistic? 6. Who does the program honor and acknowledge? 7. Is there an expansion of diversity? Are the identities of the characters intersectional? 8. Does it foster empathy and forge a better understanding of the characters? 9. Does the program welcome everyone? I encourage all content creators to think about their work through this lens of allyship. And the last point, in particular, really resonates with me. Does everyone feel welcome? It’s our job at Kidscreen to cover the industry’s news, and to do so objectively. But it’s also important to remember that what we cover and how we cover it shapes the news. If we don’t interview Black creators, we perpetuate the misconception that there aren’t any in the kids space. When Indigenous, Middle Eastern or Asian projects aren’t

included in our Cool New Shows feature, we deny producers a platform for finding partners. Last year, we announced that as part of a broader diversity and inclusion effort we would aim to include more diverse voices, with the goal of ensuring that 42% of all of our speakers and interviewees be Black, Indigenous or people of color by 2023. In our first year, we wanted to get to 22%, effectively doubling the number of BIPOC speakers/interviewees. We were mostly successful—20% of people we interviewed and 28% of speakers at Kidscreen Summit were BIPOC—so we achieved our goal at 24% overall. But we know we need to improve. For one thing, we struggled with how to count inclusivity. It’s murky territory to make assumptions about ethnicity or race, and we’re working to address that for 2021/2022. The words we use will continue to evolve. As an acronym, BIPOC is still used, but it was rightly pointed out that everyone has a very different lived experience and faces unique issues in their communities. We can’t lump everyone into “white” and “other,” so we’re going to endeavor to be specific whenever possible. We also found it difficult to find diverse voices in some sectors of the industry (looking at you, distributors!), and there was occasionally some pushback when we said no to white speakers in favor of their BIPOC peers. And we were challenged by our mandate to not relegate speakers and interviewees to only covering topics of inclusion and diversity. It was a double-edged sword—we increased our coverage of the issues and inevitably reached out to more BIPOC folks to talk about them. But we need to find a better balance. For next year, we want you to ask yourself what it means to be an ally. Inclusive shows are great and diversifying your top ranks is fantastic, but now let’s take things even further. It may mean declining a panel discussion invitation to make way for one of your BIPOC peers, or recommending them when they might not have made the shortlist. Maybe it means reserving a percentage of your pitch meetings for new producers of color. It definitely means committing real time and effort to delivering on the promises you’ve made. All kids deserve to feel welcome, and that starts with all of us. We have a role to play in making the kids entertainment industry an inclusive ecosystem. It’s time to be an ally.

—Megan Haynes

MAY/JUNE 2021 • VOLUME 25 • ISSUE 2 VP & PUBLISHER Jocelyn Christie jchristie@brunico.com

EDITORIAL EDITOR & CONTENT DIRECTOR Megan Haynes mhaynes@brunico.com FEATURES & SPECIAL PROJECTS EDITOR Jeremy Dickson jdickson@brunico.com COPY CHIEF & SPECIAL REPORTS EDITOR Elizabeth Foster efoster@brunico.com NEWS & SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR Alexandra Whyte awhyte@brunico.com ONLINE WRITER Ryan Tuchow rtuchow@brunico.com WRITERS & CONTRIBUTORS Makeda Mays Green (New York), Colleen Russo Johnson (Toronto), Andrea Strauss (New York)

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MOVES | May/June 2021

Another merger to discover The dust was still settling from the 2018 AT&T/Time Warner merger that created WarnerMedia, and now Discovery will join the fray in a US$43-billion merger deal that’s expected to close in 2022. The result will be a new standalone organization led by Discovery’s president and CEO David Zaslav. And for now, the plan is for SVODs HBO Max and discovery+ to keep operating as separate entities. Execs are promising to spend more money moving forward on original content, with a focus on creating opportunities for historically excluded storytellers and indie creators. But buried in the announcement was news of US$3 billion in cost-cutting to eliminate overlap. What this means for Tom Ascheim’s recently created Kids, Young Adults and Classics division is anyone’s guess.



Ten things on our radar this month

Recipe for success

Mental health matters

Baking was an integral part of the pandemic for many families, and kidcos took notice. Alice’s Wonderland Bakery is in the oven for Disney Junior, and The Jim Henson Company has Duff’s Happy Fun Bake Time in the works for discovery+. But will the baking trend still be fresh by the time these shows hit screens?

Lots of kids reported a deterioration in their mental health last year, which is why content producers—including pubcaster TVOKids, media platform GoNoodle and studio Mr. Bray—are doubling down on projects that help kids process feelings of anxiety, sadness, loneliness and anger.

May/June 2021 | MOVES

AAPI appreciation

Racially motivated attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have skyrocketed, leading broadcasters and SVODs to put an increased focus on May’s AAPI Heritage Month with new content hubs (Netflix) and special series (Cartoon Network). Hopefully, the same companies that paid lip service in May will work more AAPI characters and stories into their shows year-round.

Big-screen dreams

It’s not just starving artists looking to make it in Hollywood these days—studios that previously focused exclusively on TV series or digital shorts are stepping into the cinematic spotlight. Mercury Filmworks is working on its first-ever feature film; toyco MGA is wrapping up its first flick for Netflix; and Nelvana is giving feature films another try (more on pg. 13).

Roblox on the rise

Following its public offering, social gaming platform Roblox saw its revenue jump to US$387 million—a 140% increase over last year. Now, prodcos like Pocket.watch, Surge Licensing and MGA Entertainment are flocking to the platform to create their own in-game experiences for kids. Roblox’s ability to connect kids with the brands they like could position it for big-time growth.

Revenue rollercoaster

This time last year, toymakers struggled against closures, lockdowns and delays. The result was a first quarter filled with double-digit declines. But toycos are reporting significant growth for Q1 2021, with Mattel’s net sales increasing 47% and Spin Master’s revenue jumping 39%. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this positive momentum will hold up over the rest of the year.

Content kick-start

Next up

Game on

After scrapping kids content quotas for local broadcasters earlier this year, the Australian government is making amends with a number of new funding announcements, including a US$9.2-million offer to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, and a 40% tax offset for producers of kids feature films.

Even your mom is on TikTok...which, of course, means kids are about to move on to the next cool thing. There’s plenty of buzz around audio-only Clubhouse and Facebook’s “Instagram for kids,” but only time will tell if either of these offerings become the new must-have app.

There’s an Epic battle brewing with Apple as the gamemaker prepares to take the tech giant to court over restrictions on in-app purchases. Epic dropped the gauntlet when it put its own payment processing system in Fortnite, and a win could mean more control over how kidcos monetize their games on iOS.



MOVES | May/June 2021

Kidscreen checks in on the content needs of international broadcasters. For more of this type of intel, check out our Global Pitch Guide at kidscreen.com.

Spacetoon (MENA) Kamel Weiss Director of strategic business development Looking for: Value-based stories for kids and families with themes including friendship, creativity and STEM; animated edutainment preschool series; and live-action science and sports programming for young adults. Style: 2D and 3D animation and live action Demographic: Preschool, upper preschool, kids, young adults and families Format: 11 or 22 minutes for TV. Open to almost all formats for VOD in terms of

episode volume and length, as well as movies and seasonal specials. Buying strategy: For original series commissions, we’re working with partners from

countries like Denmark and Canada. We’re acquiring content for VOD through global partners, and for AVOD deals we’re aiming to expand our portfolio. Recently acquired series: CoComelon, My Little Pony: Pony Life, Hetty Feather

DeAKids, DeAJunior (Italy) Massimo Bruno Director of kids TV channels

WarnerMedia Kids (Latin America) Jessica Bishop Acquisitions director Jaime Jiménez Rión Head of original production Looking for: Kids and family content with an emphasis on modern preschool shows that tap into Cartoonito’s “human-centric learning” model, which is focused on diversity, uniqueness, entertainment and empathy. We’re looking for girl-skewing animated and live-action content, and projects with family co-viewing potential. In terms of genres, preschool animated comedy, girls animated fantasy and liveaction musicals are of particular interest. Style: All types of animation and live action

Looking for: Animation and live action for preschoolers to

tweens/teens. Our priorities for 2021 are live-action sitcoms and teen drama series. In terms of animation, we’re mostly seeking comedies for six- to 10-yearolds, but are open to preschool animation. Style: Live action, all types of 2D and 3D animation Demographic: DeAJunior targets preschoolers with a focus on family co-viewing, while DeAKids is geared towards six- to nine-year-olds. Format: 52 x five, seven or 11 minutes for preschool animation; 52 x 11 minutes or

half hours for animation for six-to-nines; and 26 x 15 minutes or 13 x half hours for live action.

Demographic: Mainly preschool, upper preschool and tweens Format: Preference for 13-, 26- or 52-episode

orders, while episode lengths are mostly five, seven, 11 and 22 minutes. Also looking for seasonal or stand-alone specials. Buying strategy: Usually straight acquisitions

or pre-buys for international projects. For Latin American projects, we do work directly with creators, receiving pitches for productions or co-productions in early stages. Currently, we are looking for both pay-TV and SVOD rights, exclusive and non-exclusive depending on the project.

Buying strategy: We are interested in fresh kids and family IPs that we can grow in Italy from a 360-degree perspective. We’re open to co-developing and co-producing original projects, as well as acquisitions. We prefer to work on projects where at least all pay-TV rights (linear and non-linear) are available.

Recently acquired series: Pocoyo, Thomas &

Recently acquired series: Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese, Brave Bunnies

Friends, Almost Never

Tencent Kids Originals

May/June 2021 | SCREEN

Franklin has been one of Nelvana’s biggest hits since its debut in 1997, leading to the US$4-million acquisition of Kids Can Press

Nelvana’s North Star strategy Known for evergreen preschool brands like Magic School Bus, Franklin and Max & Ruby, Nelvana is heading into its 50th anniversary without any recent global hits. But what’s old is new again as the Canadian prodco turns to gameplans from the past to score future points. BY: ALEXANDRA WHYTE hat will the legacy of 50-year-old Nelvana be? Co-founder Michael Hirsh believes it’s the Toronto-based prodco’s impact on the Canadian film and television industry. “When we started Nelvana, not only was there no animation industry in Canada, there was no film or television industry, either,” he says. In 1971, just two Canadian broadcasters were on air—CBC and CTV—and most of their content was made by in-house teams.

Many independent production companies in operation at the time were focused exclusively on documentaries. In fact, Nelvana was among the first indie studios to get into children’s content. Today, Canada has a thriving film and TV industry that generated around US$1.6 billion in revenue in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. And Hirsh credits Nelvana for helping to pave the way. The company’s other two co-founders, Patrick Loubert and Clive Smith, believe

Nelvana’s real legacy is the many influential people who have passed through its doors— like 9 Story CEO Vince Commisso, Fresh TV CEO Tom McGillis and Jocelyn Hamilton, president of eOne TV. And for kids in the 1990s and 2000s, Nelvana’s legacy is all about the shows that shaped their generation. There was a time when you couldn’t turn on a TV anywhere in the world without seeing Nelvana’s content. Franklin, Babar, The Magic School Bus, Tintin, Clifford, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Pippi Longstocking—the Canadian prodco had its hand in some of the most iconic kids hits at the turn of the century. But it wasn’t a fast trip to success. When Nelvana first started out, the founders had $10 between them, Hirsh says, with Loubert adding that he paid for everything on an ill-advised ChargeX credit card. Their first office was an old apartment with a bathtub in the middle of the room, which employees occasionally used when they worked late. But the prodco focused its resources on building up a large library of original IPs, and the bet paid off. According to the founders, when Corus bought Nelvana in 2001 (for US$127 million, as reported by Variety), what



SCREEN | May/June 2021

the broadcaster really wanted was access to its extensive back catalogue of 1,450 half hours of content. Corus has made good use of that library over the years, but Nelvana hasn’t had many hits since the founders left (Loubert and Smith in 2001, and Hirsh in 2002). As it looks ahead to the next 50 years, the company hopes to recreate some of that early magic. From live action to animation, TV series to feature films, and preschool to tweens—Nelvana is chasing a hit by any means necessary. The first plan of action is to invest heavily in creating new IPs. Nelvana is in the midst of tripling its spend on development, with plans to invest US$10 million between 2019 and 2022, says Colin Bohm, Corus Entertainment’s EVP of content and corporate strategy. The goal is to have a well-financed pipeline with a little bit of everything in the works— including live action and animation (storydriven and character-driven) for TV and movies, targeting every demo from preschool and bridge to six to 11s—says Pam Westman, Nelvana’s current president. “You just don’t know what your customers are going to turn around and say they [need],” she explains. For every five shows that get a greenlight, Westman thinks at least one or two could become the next big thing, though she admits it hasn’t happened since she joined the company in 2016. “You need a lot of at-bats to get a home run.” Nelvana plans to lean on several popular existing brands to increase its odds at scoring a hit. For example, when the studio branched out into slightly older-skewing live action, it tapped the well-known Hardy Boys IP. And Westman is eyeing Max & Ruby for the big screen next. Book brands like Hardy Boys, Max & Ruby, Magic School Bus and Little Bear have long been part of the prodco’s success strategy. According to Variety, when Nelvana acquired Kids Can Press (KCP) in 1998 for roughly US$4 million, its marquee series Franklin had sold 16 million books worldwide and was in its second year of TV production. The purpose of the KCP acquisition in the ’90s was to own even more of Franklin’s touchpoints, says Hirsh, figuring the success of one would feed into the other and bolster the company’s bottom line. It’s a strategy Westman hopes to repeat with a new approach to Nelvana’s distribution.

Nelvana’s office space at Corus headquarters has several slides, but sadly no bathtubs anymore

Owned by Canadian broadcaster Corus, Nelvana has been able to experiment with more platforms. And it has found that hits on YouTube drive viewers back to the linear preschool channel Treehouse (and vice versa). The more often kids interact with a property, the more they buy into it, says Westman. The biggest challenge now, she adds, is getting other broadcasters on board. Even though preschoolers will watch the same episode over and over on multiple platforms, “it always comes down to a fight over rights. [But] you don’t need to be as precious with them as perhaps you need to be in the grown-up drama space.” While books are familiar ground for the Nelvana team, it’s hoping to break through in a category that has traditionally been a struggle: feature films. When Corus bought Nelvana in 2001, a goal was to make it big in theaters, says Loubert. Timing and budgets never seemed to align, but 20 years later, Nelvana is chasing its cinematic dream again. However, roadblocks have continued to hinder progress. When Westman turned her

attention to features, there was a booming box office for family fare. Now, thanks to the pandemic, that’s all but disappeared, and Nelvana has had to switch gears and look to pay-VOD and at-home event-based releases on streaming platforms instead. Today, the company is focused on higher-quality, higher-budget features with longer running times because that’s what a lot of buyers want right now, says Westman. While Nelvana hopes to create a film inhouse soon, Westman is aware that features are a different beast than TV. That’s why the prodco recently partnered with Duncan Studio (founded by former Nelvana alum Ken Duncan) for a slate of original films. Striking the right balance between Nelvana-led and partnered projects is a bit of a tightrope walk. The ideal strategy is to create a preschool IP, get it greenlit without any co-producers, and then self-distribute and manage merchandising in-house. It would be the cherry on top if the IP was also based on a hit book published by Kids Can Press. “When you own multiple touchpoints on a brand, you’re able to improve the


SCREEN | May/June 2021

A photo of Nelvana’s studio in 1993, featuring a child dressed as Babar

redknot’s Super Wish stems from Nelvana’s JV with Discovery Kids LatAm

Nelvana is considering adapting Max & Ruby as an animated film

economics of your investment and TV series,” says Bohm. But going it alone isn’t a straightforward strategy, which brings Nelvana to the final piece of its hit-making puzzle: partnerships. Ideally, partnerships would make up onethird of Nelvana’s slate (balanced against one-third original in-house productions and one-third season renewals). But recently, the shows Nelvana has created with partner prodcos have been very successful, throwing its production slate balance out of whack. Nelvana’s last hits were Bakugan (released in 2007) and Beyblade (which premiered in 2001, but has had many iterations, most recently in 2014). The two anime series were co-produced with toyco Spin Master and Japanese studio d-rights, respectively. And despite plenty of toy sales and wide global audiences for both series, because Nelvana didn’t own the IPs, its ROI was limited. Since anime has been a winning formula in the past, Nelvana is keen to keep going in the genre The company is actively talking to a number of Japanese studios to try and replicate the success of its Discovery Kids LatAm partnership, which led to the launch of redknot. The JV has since greenlit Agent Binky: Pets of the Universe, The Dog & Pony Show and Super Wish. With both partners backed by broadcasters, redknot has access to a much bigger warchest for content. And as a result, Nelvana has been able to get a number of shows to air through the partnership.

But it’s not just the bigger budget that makes this JV work—Westman says the talent base, expertise and knowledge-sharing with Discovery Kids LatAm has been a real boon. redknot forces Nelvana to think even more globally on projects, pushing the team to consider how kids in different corners of the world live their lives, which Westman says is always beneficial. Nelvana’s partnerships with Mattel for two new seasons of Netflix’s Thomas & Friends, and with Sesame Workshop on HBO Max’s Esme & Roy have been successful, and Westman hopes they both continue in the future. She’s now casting her eye further afield and actively looking for a European broadcaster to partner with. “The rules around European content are becoming as stringent as the rules around Canadian content,” she says, and teaming up with a broadcaster would be a way into that continent. This is where much of the current Nelvana strategy diverges from its history—partnerships with producers from every corner of the world weren’t something that Smith, Loubert and Hirsh imagined when they first got started. At the time, all they really wanted was a meeting with a buyer in Canada— and maybe one day a meeting with a big US buyer. Let that be an inspiration to all who dare to start a company with only $10 in their pockets and a bathtub in the middle of the office.

© Dupuis Edition & Audiovisuel / Piwi + / Belvision / Dargaud Media / Ketnet - 2020

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May/June 2021 | SCREEN


Mush-Mush and the Mushables

Annecy: Road to submission BY: ALEXANDRA WHYTE

Episode: “The Guardian of the Forest” Demo: Preschool Produced by: La Cabane Productions (France), Thuristar (Belgium) Episode plot: In this episode of the 52 x 11-minute comedy series about gifted mushrooms guarding a forest, lead character Mush-Mush must exercise patience when his attempts to show off his own talents don’t work out as planned. What makes this episode special: Working with a double-episode format, the writers had an opportunity to play around with the story structure and theme. They had explored the idea that the mushrooms each have unique magical gifts in other episodes, but they used the longer run time of this one to really dig into Mush-Mush’s journey in tackling the issue of boasting.

Saddle up for a wild ride !

Next up: The episode is being released theatrically this fall as part of a program for young audiences and schools. Mush-Mush has sold well worldwide and is rolling out in 150 territories on WarnerMedia channels; it started in the UK this February. The priority now is to get a second season greenlit, and several partners (including Canal+) have already come on board.

© 2018 – Dargaud Media / Belvision / Ellipsanime Productions

hile films often get all the glory on the festival circuit, the annual Annecy International Animation Film Festival carves out a space to honor television projects. More than 160 shorts and TV episodes were submitted to this year’s event, running from June 14 to 19. Just 26 “Official Selections” (Annecy terminology for nominees) will compete for a variety of prizes, including the Cristal Award for a TV Production and the Jury Award for a TV Series. For some producers, the Official Selection is a prelude to Emmy consideration, while for others it’s a chance to reach a global audience and attract future partners. And though the only criteria for submission is that the work in question must have been produced or copyrighted in 2020/2021, entering a single episode takes some thought—how do you pick just one to represent an entire series? Here are several standout choices that manage to capture unique moments and still stay true to the canon.

Why submit to Annecy: The team was really pleased with this story—it’s one of their favorites, according to director and co-writer Joeri Christiaen—and they were all convinced it could win at Annecy.


SCREEN | May/June 2021

Kenda Episode: “Le Candidat Idéal” Demo: Preschool Produced by: IMOTION (Ivory Coast), Trace Studios (France) Episode plot: Young Kenda moves through life and school with the help of a magical book that guides her through tough situations. In this episode, Kenda uses the book to help her classmates understand the democratic process for a class election. What makes this episode special: IMOTION and Trace Studios wanted to educate kids from an early age on the principles of democracy, so the prodcos worked with Open Society Initiative for West Africa to weave serious subjects like free elections into the storyline. Why submit to Annecy: The goal with the festival submission is to bring to light what Africa has to offer creatively, while supporting productions and talent from the region, says Betty Sulty Johnson, Trace Studios’ VP of content distribution. Next up: TV5Monde and Gulli Africa have come on board to air the 15 x six-minute series, and the producers are looking for more international channel partners to reach a wider audience.

Konigiri-Kun Episode: “Concert” Demo: Preschool Produced by: NHK Enterprises and Izumi Nakazawa (Japan) Episode plot: Focusing on a group of sentient bento box foods traveling in space, this episode (pictured, above) sees the titular rice ball trying to fix a broken chair using materials from the spaceship. What makes this episode special: Sustainability is very important to Konigiri-Kun’s writer/director Mari Miyazawa, but she wanted to break the concept down as an easily digestible story for younger kids. For this episode, Miyazawa introduces the idea that everything is a finite resource, and you can’t always buy new things to fix old problems. Why submit to Annecy: Miyazawa hopes to go global with the message that we have to take care of all things on the planet. Next up: Konigiri-Kun currently focuses on bento box characters to subtly spark children’s interest in Japanese food. The producers would eventually like to explore cuisines from other countries.

Labuntina Episode: “Halloween”


Demo: Preschool

Episode: “The Impossible Dream”

Produced by: Labuntina and Sky Kids (UK)

Demo: Preschool

Episode plot: As the sun sets on October 31, three kids prepare for Halloween in this three-minute musical short (pictured, above). To better understand the holiday, they go on a magical adventure to meet silly monsters—who are actually just children in disguise.

Produced by: Gaumont, Scholastic Entertainment and Apple TV+ (US)

What makes this episode special: The short aims to give kids an iconic song to sing on Halloween, and features a spooky tune that creator and director Valentina Ventimiglia has had stuck in her head for some time. Why submit to Annecy: “Halloween” is Ventimiglia’s favorite episode of the series, and she hopes to build on her previous Annecy success—her graduation film was recognized by the 2006 festival—as she continues her 15-year career in the industry. Next up: The Labuntina shorts, which revolve around three children who dress up like animals and sing original songs, currently air on Sky Kids in the UK. Ventimiglia says the natural next step is to expand into longer six- or seven-minute episodes and tell bigger stories. She also hopes to turn the characters into toys.

Episode plot: A precocious five-year-old dreams of building a spaceship, but his siblings aren’t convinced he can pull it off. With the help of a meditative panda living next door, Karl learns that nothing is impossible when you spend time talking about your emotions. What makes this episode special: It delivers on the show’s central theme of mindfulness, and explores the idea that emotions don’t necessarily need to be solved, but should be examined and understood. Why submit to Annecy: After seeing the beautifully artistic CG water and rain elements created by Polygon Pictures in Japan and Folivari’s Fost Studio in Paris, Gaumont felt the episode would stand out aesthetically from its competitors. Next up: Stillwater is available exclusively on Apple TV+, and Gaumont hopes to grow the show’s reach as the platform expands. The producers are also chasing an Emmy, and will be shopping Stillwater around during awards season.


Shift happens

Changing consumer habits during the pandemic have resulted in massive demographic shifts for several categories, leading toymakers like Ravensburger and Funko Games to roll the dice on new target strategies. BY: ELIZABETH FOSTER

lot can change in a year. This time 12 months ago, major events were moving online, and toymakers were adapting after global manufacturing and shipping procedures screeched to a halt. But perhaps no change was as drastic as the shift in consumer habits caused by COVID-19, and companies are pouncing on the opportunity to reach the new buyers that have emerged as a result. Puzzles were a massive trend during lockdown. According to The NPD Group’s retail tracking service, US sales for the category between April 2020 and March 2021 totaled US$405 million—a 31% increase compared to the year before. And the market research firm found that more than 24 million consumers who didn’t buy a game or puzzle in 2019 did purchase one in 2020. As a result, the average age of Ravensburger North America’s puzzle customer dropped drastically from 50 to 30-35

over the course of several weeks early on in the pandemic. “It has since normalized, but there are so many more kids and young people into puzzling now,” says Filip Francke, CEO of the Seattle-based company. To take advantage of these new consumers, Ravensburger needed to adjust. When the puzzle-maker caters to older customers, it increases the level of difficulty with higher piece counts or prints that are all one color. But Ravensburger’s research showed that younger customers are more likely to view puzzling as a social activity, so for them it focused on launching puzzles with smaller piece counts that could be completed during a visit with friends (virtual or otherwise). And to reach that younger demo, the marketing team expanded Ravensburger’s presence on social media and other digital platforms. In late 2020, for example, the

company started hosting puzzle hangouts on live-streaming service Twitch to help build a community around the activity. A significant part of this new targeting strategy, Francke says, is putting more of an emphasis on pop culture and current trends when it comes to puzzle themes and images. The team is researching brands with strong fan bases in an effort to develop puzzles that will appeal to their obsessions, he says. Ravensburger is also working to launch new puzzles more frequently and time those launches to content rollouts whenever possible. Ravensburger has strong relationships with a number of major brand owners already through board game collaborations like Villainous (Disney and Marvel), Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons (Warner Bros.) and Treasure X: Quest for Gold (Moose Toys). The team is now leveraging those connections to increase the number of licensed puzzles in its product lines, says Francke. He adds that the team feels confident rolling out new marketing strategies because while the pandemic brought about huge sales increases and demographic shifts, it also followed several years of steady growth. “If this had just been the 2020 effect, we would be worried. But because that foundation exists, we feel confident in planning for the business into 2021 and beyond [with this




new audience in mind],” he says. “We believe that the people who discovered puzzles and board games during the pandemic are now fans and will continue to make purchases.” It makes sense for toycos to shift their strategies to keep capitalizing on the demographic shifts caused by the pandemic, says Juli Lennett, VP and industry advisor for toys at NPD. “In a normal year, sales bumps really depend on the types of products that launch. From time to time, the right product can lead to a big shift, but I’ve never seen anything like this before. These huge swings are absolutely unique to the pandemic,” she says. “And while we are going to see some pullback, I think we’re also going to see real staying power. For many of the families that have started to do puzzles recently, they’ve established new traditions around that.” When it comes to board games, meanwhile, Francke says the biggest demographic shift was the introduction of much younger children than in years past. “Something else that we saw happen during the pandemic is that even games that are considered more complicated or ‘grownup’ are being played with younger kids,” he explains. “These are games parents really enjoy, and it makes the children feel like they’re part of something.” According to NPD, US sales for the games category (which includes strategic card games) between April 2020 and March 2021 grew by 27% to US$2.66 billion. Funko Games certainly experienced an influx of young board game players during the pandemic. And to cater to this emerging demographic, the Washington-based company

Ravensburger is capitalizing on licensing relationships from its games division to focus on fanfavorite brands for new puzzles

started developing several preschool games in early 2020, and is now rolling out a number of family-friendly games that feature what it calls “play parity.” The goal of play parity is to introduce rules or gameplay elements that level the playing field between older and younger participants. “We know anecdotally that younger kids are now playing [these games], and older siblings who used to be off at, say, baseball practice are now at home [playing as well],” says Deirdre Cross, VP of sales, marketing and business development at Funko. “We’ve found that it’s more important than ever to make sure parents don’t have to lose on purpose when playing with their younger kids, and also [to create games] that older children can’t run away with it.” In the Disney-themed game You Can Fly!, for example, players throw gliders to various locations. The game includes advantages that the lead player gives out to those who don’t have as many points to help them in the next round. Games featuring play parity still have winners, but they are designed to help bridge age gaps (and ability levels) that might have previously prevented younger kids from participating in older-skewing games. Funko is also introducing the “Babysitter Seal of Approval,” which is included on games that are simple enough for babysitters (or older siblings) to teach to younger kids and then play without adult supervision. These offerings will open up board games to even the youngest players, Cross says. Moving forward, Funko is also focusing on various levels of gameplay in their instruction manuals. “When we’re developing games for younger children, we’ll build something in beyond the

Funko Games includes various levels of gameplay in its instructions to make it easier for young kids to take part

basic rules to create a more complicated game [that will age up with the kids],” Cross explains. “For older-skewing games, we can also include instructions for softer, simpler gameplay.” And while NPD’s Lennett believes many of these new young players will stick around, she cautions toymakers to build room in their strategies for sales declines moving forward. “Even when we reach herd immunity, there will still be some people who are homebodies and continue that behavior,” Lennett says. Those categories that support being home, like games and puzzles, will benefit as a result. But she doesn’t believe the industry will maintain the level of growth it has seen in recent months. “Either your sales were huge in 2020 or your declines were in the double digits, depending on the needs of the consumer,” she says. “And everyone will have to be extra-cautious about building out their inventories moving forward because you don’t want to plan for the same thing to happen this year as happened in 2020. You almost have to go back to prior years and look at those trends, and then plan to make adjustments along the way.”



Nothin’ but net Moose Toys is planning for success beyond Space Jam: A New Legacy through its partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products. BY: ELIZABETH FOSTER he combination of LeBron James and Looney Tunes is a slam dunk, as far as Moose Toys is concerned. The Australian toymaker is launching a consumer products program inspired by the feature film Space Jam: A New Legacy globally this month, after its first SKUs hit shelves in the US in April. The range includes action figures, playsets, plush and collectibles. While collectibles are a specialty for Moose, given the success of its Shopkins franchise, the focus for this line was on action figures and playsets in an effort to allow kids to recreate the storylines they’ll see on screen. The movie features NBA superstar James playing a version of himself who teams up with the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to win a basketball game and save his son. Because the film focuses so much on the world of basketball, it broadens the consumer base for the CP program and creates new opportunities to go heavier on sports, says Moose Toys’ chief marketing officer Ronnie Frankowski.

The Space Jam: A New Legacy Super Shoot figurine sees LeBron James launch towards the hoop, and even hang on the rim

The original Space Jam movie, starring Michael Jordan, was released in 1996 and went on to become a pop-culture sensation. This sequel was first announced in 2014, production began in 2019, and Moose and Warner Bros. Consumer Products started working on merchandise shortly thereafter. Developing a toy line for a family-friendly blockbuster in the middle of a pandemic was no small task, Frankowski says. But starting the process early meant the partners were able to monitor consumer trends as they developed during lockdown. In particular, the new line will benefit greatly from the movie’s sports theme as more families are focused on getting outside and being active right now. Outdoor and sports toys had a huge sales bump last year, with market research firm The NPD Group putting US sales for the category at US$5.7 billion between April 2020 and March 2021—a 35% increase compared to the previous year. The long lead time also allowed the Moose team to plan for every possible outcome, including a delay in release. This was especially important after a number of tentpole premieres were pushed back due to lockdowns. While Moose was preparing a Plan B that would provide more flexibility, Frankowski says WB’s development of a dual release strategy— which saw movies launch in theaters where possible and on its streaming platform in other regions—meant the team was able to move forward with its initial retail rollout with support from e-commerce. Having that premiere date set in stone meant the company could begin shipping merchandise and preparing for in-store displays, rather than relying more heavily on digital sales in an effort to be as nimble as possible should calendars shift last-minute. As Moose continues to expand its licensing

The toyco is creating products based not just on Space Jam: A New Legacy, but on Looney Tunes as a whole

business—2019 also saw the toyco sign on as global master toy partner for animated preschool series Bluey—Frankowski says longterm investments are increasingly important to the company. The toymaker’s agreement with WB not only included products in support of the Space Jam movie, but also the Looney Tunes franchise as a whole. There may be more growth in these multi-property deals moving forward, says Frankowski, to ensure that the success of a partnership doesn’t solely rely on a single film or series—a crucial safety net in such uncertain times. Moose and WB initially settled on this long-term focus because the Looney Tunes universe offers up so many possibilities, he says. Now, more than a year into the pandemic, the decision could prove to be a blueprint for future deals. “There’s a dynamic world within Looney Tunes that’s a rich environment for new toys, content and innovation,” says Frankowski. “This is a property that will be bigger than just one theatrical release.” This means that even as it rolls out the initial consumer products program, Moose is currently working on offerings for the franchise beyond Space Jam: A New Legacy. “Sometimes the ball just bounces your way,” adds Frankowski.




F O R M O R E I N F O , C O N T A C T T H A N D A B E L K E R A T T H A N D A . B E L K E R @ P O C K E T .W A T C H



Product trends on the road to retail

Food for thought Chris Byrne, president of Byrne Communications, digs into consumer products programs inspired by food and beverage brands to see which companies jumped on the bandwagon, and whether or not it will leave a good taste in customers’ mouths.

TACO BELL WARHEADS SOUR It’s not uncommon to see popular characters from kids content appear on food packaging like granola bars or juice boxes, but a new trend is seeing food and beverage companies launch toy lines inspired by their edible brands. Earlier this year, Wisconsin-based Impact Confections partnered with Pennsylvania’s Kangaru to launch scented stationery inspired by the sour candy brand Warheads. The range of stationery and art materials is designed to invoke the candy’s colors and flavors, through a licensing deal brokered by Alita’s Brand Bar and Lisa Marks Associates. SWEET “Roleplaying ‘grocery store’ or ‘restaurant’ is a classic play pattern for kids,” says Byrne. “But looking at food itself as the inspiration for toys is a really fun way to approach a consumer products program. That means you’re looking at the property more like a lifestyle brand, rather than a food brand.”

SPICY And while most toy ranges rely

on classic play patterns or storylines from TV series or films to inspire items, offerings based on food brands need to think outside the box when it comes to design. “What kinds of categories you pursue really depends on the essence of the brand,” Byrne says. “With a brand like Skittles, for example, it’s obvious that you would focus on colors and play off of the ‘Taste the rainbow’ tagline.” SALTY Ravensburger’s Taco Bell Party Pack Card Game plays on the restaurant’s mix-and-match meal offerings. Available for US$16.99 starting this month, the card game is designed for two to six people ages eight and up, and it challenges players to collect Taco Bell food items to feed their “crew.” Once players have satisfied their crew’s specific cravings, they receive a point in the form of a “crave” chip. Once all the chips have been collected, the player with the most points wins.

HARIBO CHEWY In 2020, Jakks Pacific inked a

global multi-year licensing deal to launch toys inspired by Haribo Group’s candy products. Jakks will manufacture, market and distribute these collectibles and activities across North America and EMEA. Its range includes items based on the German confectioner’s Goldbears, Twin Snakes and Happy-Cola brands. The first products are set to hit shelves in August, and additional extensions, including figures and plush, are in the works. CRUNCHY “The power of a brand is in its ability to engage with people. This trend means kids will be engaging with these food brands outside of mealtime,” Byrne says. As more and more kids literally play with their food, it’s an opportunity for these companies to expand their reach from the dinner table to the toy box. But not every food item is created equally, he says—so don’t expect brussels sprouts to lead the next big toy line.

May/June 2021 | KID INSIGHT

Casting call When asked who they’d put in the lead role, kids often default to stereotypes along race, ethnicity and gender lines. That’s a problem. BY: MAKEDA MAYS GREEN, ANDREA STRAUSS & COLLEEN RUSSO JOHNSON edia content has the power to shape children’s perceptions of themselves and others. But if it acts as both a mirror and window, then what exactly are kids seeing reflected in the shows they watch? One way to find out what they’re internalizing is to ask them. In Nickelodeon’s “Shades of Us” study that was conducted between 2019 and 2020, kids ages nine to 12 were asked to reflect on the shows they watch and identify the roles they think characters of various gender and racial/ethnic groups are most likely to play.

Credit: RichVintage

In other words, if you hired a kid to cast your next show based on what they’re used to seeing, what would you get? The results are a reality check on the pervasiveness of character tropes based on race, ethnicity, and gender that children have been indirectly taught over the years. When it comes to casting the “hero,” the clear choice is the white boy (selected by 52% of all kids), compared to just 19% who cast a Black boy in the role. Hispanic and Asian boys fared worse, with just 12% of kids picking them as the hero. Girls are likely

to land roles as the dancer, the crush or the cheerleader, but very clearly not the hero. Just 34% of kids cast girls in that role. Black children are more than twice as likely to be cast as poor compared to white kids. Meanwhile, white children are significantly more likely to be viewed as smart (59%, compared to 38% of Black kids) and nearly twice as likely to be cast as a crush/love interest (64%, compared to 33% of Black children). Asian youth are strongly typecast as the smart kid or the nerd, with those roles coming in as the top two archetypes for both Asian



KID INSIGHT | May/June 2021

How kids would cast themselves GIRLS


Smart kid

Smart kid





Rich kid

Rich kid BLACK


Poor kid



Poor kid


Smart kid

Bully/Villain HISPANIC


Poor kid

Poor kid




Don’t know

Don’t know WHITE


Rich kid



Rich kid




At Nickelodeon, MAKEDA MAYS GREEN is VP of digital consumer insights, and ANDREA STRAUSS is VP of brand and consumer insights. COLLEEN RUSSO JOHNSON, PhD, is chief scientist and co-founder at interactive storytelling app maker OK Play. Insights were supported by MICHAEL LEVINE, PhD, SVP of learning and impact at Noggin, and RON GERACI, EVP, Nickelodeon Research.

girls and boys. Overall, Asian children are least likely to be cast as the crush/love interest (23% of Asian children, compared to 64% of white kids), and Asian boys are almost never cast as the jock (6%, compared to 59% of white boys). The only group that received an “I don’t know” as one of the top four responses for how they would be cast is Hispanic kids, indicating a severe underrepresentation of Hispanic/Latinx characters on screen. Hispanic kids are also the least likely to be cast as the smart character. When it came to casting their own race, ethnicity and gender, the same tropes appeared. For instance, just 16% of Black kids cast Black boys as the hero, and 8% of Black kids cast Black girls as the hero. In Nickelodeon/OK Play’s qualitative racial justice project (an extension of the “Shades of Us” study), a five-year-old Black girl explained that she thought—based on what she had seen on TV—all robbers were Black, and white people never committed robberies. Her perspective represents the detrimental impact of stereotypes perpetuated by media. But kids want and need to see themselves represented in media content. According to “Shades of Us,” about half of Hispanic and Asian kids and nearly three-quarters of Black kids think it’s important to see their own race/ethnicity on screen. (Just onethird of white children feel it is important.) Additionally, kids of color do not feel they are well portrayed—40% of Asian kids, 45% of Hispanic kids and 55% of Black kids disagree with how they’re shown on screen (compared to 30% of white kids). So, let’s evaluate what it truly means to be “seen.” Within each race/ethnicity group, there are nuances in treatment and discrimination based on physical appearance. The color of your skin, your hairstyle and your “look” all have a unique place in race discrimination and privilege. Light-skin privilege is particularly evident in media—where even culturally diverse shows and movies tend to cast light-skinned actors. To truly reflect underserved audiences, it is imperative to authentically depict diverse characters. Representation is not simply defined by casting a specific race/ethnicity and “checking the box.” True representation comes from a diverse range of skin tones, hair textures, body types, interests, family

structures and genders across and within racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, the integration of those characters must be accompanied by culturally fluent storylines. The most common place other than school where kids learn about stereotypes is in movies and on TV, indicating the responsibility the media bears. But the current portrayals that do exist of children of color too often reinforce stereotypes that kids then internalize about themselves and others. So, what’s next? Media companies have launched a wide range of initiatives and programming to drive positive change in racial and gender representation, including Nickelodeon’s Town Hall—Kids, Race and Unity: A Nick News Special. This type of programming underscores the importance of conversations that involve kids from diverse backgrounds. To accelerate this progress, however, we recommend the following additional steps: First, every media company should establish a DEI strategy to focus on three areas— content, talent and audience. If the creators do not represent the children they aim to serve, the content will not promote healthy social identity—especially among girls and people of color. Every media creator must embrace the imperative to expand their audiences to reach the growing minority of kids who will, in actuality, soon be the majority audience in the near future. Second, truly placing kids in the casting chair begins with dialogue with the kids themselves! At Nick and OK Play, we are redoubling our efforts to do formative research and mentoring programs that engage the real voices of the next generation of leaders. We need their voices in the room. Third, our team will meet with academics and others to turn research into programming that fosters broader racial and gender representation. We hope to catalyze current actions into a sustainable movement towards broader racial and gender representation work within media firms—large and small. We encourage other media companies to do the same. It is time to look with fresh eyes outside our windows. There is a beautiful tapestry of diverse young people who deserve a simple promise—tell all of their stories, their truth, with authenticity and care so that they know they can be the hero of their own stories, too.

May/June 2021 | TECH

WALO gamifies financial literacy to make it engaging for children

Money matters

Kids are more interested in finances than ever before, but often lack formal education or support from their families. As a result, companies are jumping on the chance to create apps that teach financial literacy in a way they understand. BY: RYAN TUCHOW

wenty-one-year-old TikTok creator Faares Quadri (or faaresq) likes to offer financial advice in an accessible, funny way. In one video, he explains investing in the S&P 500 to his risk-averse “dad” (who’s really just Quadri on the other side of the table), addressing concerns about market volatility or earning potential if he starts early. The video has been viewed more than two million times, and Quadri has 1.8 million followers. He’s not alone in the financial-themed social feed space; the investing hashtag has more than 2.2 billion followers on TikTok. In 2021—with COVID-19’s huge impact on family finances, and viral news about GameStop taking over the social sphere—it’s clear that conversations about money aren’t really happening at home or in school. While kids continue to use platforms like TikTok and Reddit to connect with friends and share funny videos, a new trend is emerging as more social media users jump on the financial bandwagon. Kids are talking money online, and fintech companies are taking notice. WALO, bankaroo and Learn & Earn are entering the market with new features to fill the gap for content that doesn’t just teach kids about money, but makes sometimes complicated topics (like investing and saving) fun to learn about, too.

Financial education in schools is rare, and as a result, children all around the world often struggle with the basics when it comes to money. According to 2018 data (the most recent available) from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which surveyed 20 countries globally, one in four kids was unable to make even simple decisions about everyday spending, such as understanding a bank statement or choosing a phone plan. But three out of four 12- to 17-year-olds want to learn more about money so they don’t mismanage or waste it, according to a 2017 study from the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education. More than half of Canadian kids surveyed (63%) said they wanted to learn how to save money, and 55% were interested in learning how to invest. Many kids don’t feel comfortable making transfers, paying bills or filling in forms at the bank, says Michael Massoud, a principal at the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, which teaches kids about financial literacy. But there’s an opportunity for kidcos looking to chime in. The kids fintech sector, in particular, is experiencing a growth spurt as families and schools seek educational resources, Massoud explains.

But even with the increase in interest in financial literacy, saving isn’t always top of mind for families, particularly with the rise in frictionless e-commerce, says Rim Charkani, CEO of WALO. To change that, the Quebec-based startup, which has backing from Canadian bank Desjardins, wants to get families thinking about finance through fun and games.



TECH | May/June 2021

Originally envisioned as a bank for kids that would also offer educational content, WALO pivoted to become an app for eight to 16s that links to existing accounts and includes an educational layer focused on teaching kids about saving and earning. It gamifies learning by rewarding kids when they complete quizzes, Charkani says. Parents can add money to their kids’ accounts, and also set options like transferring an allowance to children when they complete chores. Following its launch in Canada on iOS and Android devices, WALO plans to expand internationally through the rest of the year. It will also launch pre-paid cards to help kids manage their own money The pandemic has opened up opportunities for the kids fintech sector because families are more conscious of how important it is that children understand saving and how money works, says Charkani. “Financial literacy is something that people want to teach their kids, similar to telling them to eat their vegetables. But many just don’t or can’t do it,” she says. “If we can help teach kids today to start saving early, and not get into bad debt, it can have a huge impact.” Giving families practical tools that make thinking about money easy is the key to getting kids, and their parents, interested in financial literacy, says bankaroo co-founder Etay Gafni. The LA-based app-maker has been teaching kids ages five to 12 the basics of savings and finance for the past 10 years. Parents use virtual money to reward kids for tasks, and children can set their own goals to work toward. While it’s not real money flowing through the app, bankaroo acts as a tool to get kids thinking about saving, interest and setting

financial milestones with their parents, says Gafni. Its goal is to help empower children to think about earning and being accountable for their financial decisions. The app has reached around 250,000 global users since it launched, and in recent months there’s been an uptick in schools seeking online resources that offer practical ways to teach kids about money. Teachers have been using bankaroo to reward their young students with virtual coins if they’re good, and take them away when kids don’t follow instructions. At the end of a week, children can trade in what they’ve earned for a longer recess or a toy, which gets them thinking about transacting with their saving, Gafni says. bankaroo is also resonating with family members who want to be a part of kids’ financial decisions, but don’t know how to start the conversation. Getting parents—who might not know much more about finance than their kids—involved in money talk can be a hurdle for the fintech sector. But the app has seen success in notifying parents and kids when goals are met or when new ones are set, and then encouraging them to talk about it. High schools are now reaching out because they want to teach kids about money, and Gafni sees an untapped opportunity to partner with banks and help kids start thinking about saving as soon as they open their first account. “There are many companies that want to reach kids and make the payment process frictionless, but we need to teach kids and parents to communicate about making and saving money [first],” says Gafni. Teaching kids the basics of saving is the starting point, but there are many unexplored topics when it comes to financial literacy. That’s where Learn & Earn sees a space for itself, says CEO Michael Gleason. This app for 13- to 18-year-olds launched in November 2020 and is focused on tackling more complicated concepts like investing, the stock market, and even cryptocurrency. Its pilot phase is wrapping up at the end of the school year, and the next step is to launch internationally in the fall. California-based gaming company Blast developed Learn & Earn with Junior Achievement USA, a non-profit org that is focused on prepping kids for financial success. Through the app, kids can complete short courses in literacy, career readiness and entrepreneurship—complete with quizzes and

The bankaroo app uses virtual money to teach kids the basics of savings and finance

hints—to earn real dollars that are invested in stock market portfolios for them. Learn & Earn’s goal is to provide kids with an average of US$500 in savings that they can put towards school or starting a business. It’s off to a strong start—some of the high school students in the pilot phase earned more than US$80 in their first week, says Gleason. The money comes from parents who want to reward their kids’ learning, as well as content creators and companies that also build and sponsor courses. Learn & Earn has already partnered with coding organization Kode With Klossy and cryptocurrency exchange Gemini to teach kids about jobs in the tech sector and cryptocurrency, respectively. The app is creating its own content, and there are opportunities for kidcos to provide and sponsor lessons, says Gleason. The kids fintech market is having a bit of a moment right now as more parents and schools seek resources that don’t treat education about money as an afterthought. “When we talk about financial literacy, what we’re really teaching is financial capability,” says Gleason. “The goal is to get kids investing and interested in saving and the stock market, but also to help make money part of the conversations kids are having with their friends and families.”

May/June 2021 | FEATURE

The inclusion industry BY: ELIZABETH FOSTER

he past year has seen many industries reckon with their shortcomings when it comes to addressing race and racism. In the months following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, millions of people around the world took to the streets to protest against systemic racism. Continued demands for justice—and for better representation in all aspects of culture, including entertainment—has galvanized many kids media companies to examine their inadequacies and invest real time and effort into creating lasting change. Broadcasters, producers and toymakers have worked over the last 12 months to make improvements to their diversity and inclusion efforts on screen, behind the scenes and on shelves in order to more effectively serve all families. But exactly how much progress has been made, and what policies are being put into place to ensure these efforts have a sustained impact? Some companies have hired or promoted executives into roles with a specific focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Others have worked to improve on-screen diversity with characters and storylines that provide representation for historically excluded communities. Efforts have also been made off camera, with broadcasters implementing requirements that make diversity in staffing mandatory for commissions. Join us as we talk with experts from across the industry to revisit and celebrate the progress made by the kids business this year, assess what’s still needed, and examine the strategies that will shape diversity and inclusion planning in 2021 and beyond.



FEATURE | May/June 2021

Coming soon A roundup of promising new development projects that put representation front and center. BY: RYAN TUCHOW

Kids & Family

My Dad the Bounty Hunter Producer: Netflix Animation Style: CG animation Format: 10 x 22 minutes Status: In production, premiering August 14 This action-comedy is about a Black family that seems totally ordinary, until the kids find out their dad is really the toughest bounty hunter in the galaxy.

Why it’s hot: “This Netflix project comes from the talented duo of Everett Downing (Hair Love) and Patrick Harpin (Hotel Transylvania). From Flash Gordon to Blade Runner, I'm a huge fan of sci-fi actionadventure. But as an African American—with a few notable exceptions—it’s been rare to see animated projects in this genre with characters who look like me. So it’s exciting to know a show like this is getting made, [not just with] people who look like me on screen, but also behind the microphone and at the drafting board.” Musa Brooker, creative director at Six Point Harness

May/June 2021 | FEATURE

Sea Sorceress

12 & up

Producers: Lion Forge Animation, 41 Entertainment Style: 3D animation Format: 13 x half hours Status: In development, seeking broadcast and streaming partners Delivery: Q1 2023 Two merfolk sisters are sent away to hone their powers at boarding school, where they uncover the secret magic they need to protect their oceans. Why it’s hot: “There has been a conversation developing online and through fan communities about the lack of BIPOC representation in fantasy and sci-fi storytelling—genres without the baggage of being tied to historical oppression, over-policing or the racism that the Black community faces. There are far too few diverse stories that allow for pure escapism, taking the viewer away from those unfortunate realities for a short time. What’s important about this story is that it’s the first glimpse of a new Black mermaid world with its own lore—built on tales that can be found throughout Africa, the Caribbean and the American South— while also offering an escape to an underwater world through fun, high-stakes adventure.” Carl Reed, president of Lion Forge Animation

Star Trek: Prodigy Producers: CBS Eye Animation Productions, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, Secret Hideout, Roddenberry Entertainment Style: CG animation Format: 10 x 20 minutes Status: In production, premiering on Paramount+ this fall The first Star Trek series aimed at younger audiences, this interstellar adventure features a crew of young aliens who have to figure out how to work together while exploring the galaxy.

6 to 9

Judge Jodhi Producer: Big Bad Boo Studios Style: 2D animation

Why it’s hot: “Star Trek is a property that’s always thematically in line with inclusivity. Star Trek: Prodigy includes many different characters from different planets. The series underscores a key element of Nickelodeon’s content strategy—to build and expand the worlds of enormously popular franchises, and to give audiences more of what they love. We are not only invested in telling great stories that have inclusive themes, [but also in making sure] the artists on the show are equally diverse.” Ramsey Naito, president of Nickelodeon Animation

Format: 20 x 11 minutes Status: In pre-production, with Ravi Steve (Kim’s Convenience) attached as a writer and story editor Delivery: Q1 2022 A young judge-in-spirit takes the bench in her backyard, setting up a mock courtroom to help her neighbors solve their problems. Why it’s hot: “With this show, we hope to introduce kids to some things they have never seen before in a children’s series—the legal system, for starters. And also a strong female character from an Indian background who happens to be dyslexic, but doesn’t let that stop her from being the best judge she can be for her friends and neighbors.” Shabnam Rezaei, president of Big Bad Boo Studios

6 to 11



FEATURE | May/June 2021

Role call Diversity and inclusion execs from all areas of the industry discuss their current efforts and long-term goals. BY: ELIZABETH FOSTER

Verna Myers Company: Netflix Title: VP of inclusion strategy Since: August 2018

Wincie Knight Company: ViacomCBS Networks International Title: VP of global inclusion strategy Since: October 2020

Wanda Witherspoon Company: Sesame Workshop Title: SVP and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer Since: January 2021 Witherspoon started in her newly created role at Sesame Workshop with a full review of current business practices—including vendor selection, hiring and staff development—with an eye to making them more inclusive and equitable. “My immediate focus was to engage in a listening tour, both internally and externally, to explicitly identify the work that we need to do when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.” These ongoing efforts build on the research Witherspoon led as part of a task force that was formed in June 2020 in response to the death of George Floyd and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. Witherspoon, who first joined Sesame Workshop in 1997, is also working to implement internal programs that will establish a diverse pipeline of talent across all areas of business. To do this, buy-in from leadership is crucial, she says. “We’re not in a sprint. We’re looking at this as a marathon and a journey to continually evolve and refine. It’s about patience and perseverance to ensure that’s sustainable.”

“It’s really about making sure diversity, inclusion and belonging are embedded in our business and part of our core company culture,” says Knight about her role. She first joined Viacom in 1999 and was upped from senior director to VP of global inclusion strategy in 2020. The promotion came shortly after ViacomCBS UK announced a “no diversity, no commission” policy for all of its UK partners, which has since been expanded globally. The media giant is also putting money behind new programming from historically excluded communities. In Latin America, 25% of ViacomCBS International Studios’ budget will be allocated to the development of projects from diverse creators, while VCNI’s Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia division has committed to dedicating 30% of its 2021 budget to producing stories focused on or related to underrepresented groups and issues. Knight’s responsibilities include everything from bringing in external consultants, to providing guidance, insight and research to senior leadership. “We’re all over the world, so it’s important for us as an organization to understand that one size doesn’t fit all,” she says.

“My job is to help our leaders think about how they will own inclusion [within their own teams],” says Myers. She works with Netflix higher-ups to set internal and external inclusivity strategies for both talent management and on-screen content, and sees this work happening in stages. The streamer is currently in the foundational phase as it develops an understanding of and conversation around issues like unconscious bias, privilege and cultural competency. The next phase will see Netflix implement a US$100-million creative equity fund to transform its content and creative teams by increasing representation among casts and crews, and then examine how authentic that content is to the lived experiences of different communities. “One misstep is to say more than you do,” says Myers. “You get people making statements and launching a program here or a celebration there, but they’re not thinking holistically and comprehensively. We’re focused on acknowledging what’s working, and also being willing to identify where the barriers are and drill down on them. We have just scratched the surface, and who knows what’s possible when people see themselves reflected [in entertainment].”

Show me the money

May/June 2021 | FEATURE

Bryony Bouyer Company: Hasbro Title: SVP of diversity, inclusion and multicultural strategy Since: November 2018 Bouyer is focused on ensuring that diversity and inclusion are integrated into the company as a business priority at every level—not only as a force for good, but also a “force for growth.” She’s been with the toyco since 1995, and took on the diversity and inclusion mantle in 2018. Her responsibilities were recently expanded to include Entertainment One. Today, Hasbro is working towards a goal of growing its ethnically and racially diverse employee representation in the US to 25% by 2025. Longer-term plans include accelerating unconscious bias training and implementing an inclusion leadership workshop for managers. According to Bouyer, the kids space still has a lack of understanding around historically excluded consumer groups. “Who are they? How do they see themselves, and how do we speak to them in an authentically inclusive way?” she asks. “The entire industry has the opportunity and responsibility to develop this level of insight at the brand, content and marketing level.”

Cecilia Weckstrom

Company: The LEGO Group Title: Senior director, global head of diversity and inclusion Since: December 2018 The Danish brickmaker’s diversity efforts feature two global priorities—valuing differences and improving representation. Weckstrom is focusing the program on inclusion because she believes it is crucial in order for diversity efforts to be successful and result in significant change. “Without inclusion, companies struggle to attract, develop and retain diverse talent and, crucially, will not achieve the true power that diverse prospects bring,” Weckstrom says. One of LEGO’s goals is to become genderbalanced at all levels by 2032. Weckstrom says the company is engaging with current employees to develop better insights, and using that data to implement improved hiring processes. LEGO also continues to focus on developing products for the disability community following the launch of its Braille Bricks line. “Stereotypes and the lack of meaningful role models from all backgrounds can limit children’s perceptions of their own potential and opportunity in life, depriving the future workforce of important talent,” she says.

Amy Thompson Company: Mattel Title: EVP and chief people officer Since: October 2017 Thompson’s responsibilities at Mattel include employee culture and engagement, leadership development, internal talent management, and diversity and inclusion. She joined the toymaker in 2017 and has been working on initiatives to achieve pay equity, with a focus on pay disparities based on gender and ethnicity. Mattel has reached pay parity in the US, and is now striving to implement that globally. “We are focused on empowering the next generation,” Thompson says. “Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce is a critical component to us accomplishing this goal.” Mattel is currently focused on education in an effort to maintain that diverse workplace, and has introduced a diversity and inclusion speaker series for all employees, in addition to providing conscious inclusion training to all of its global people managers.

ABC and Screen Australia

BBC Children’s

ABC Children’s Content and government organization Screen Australia partnered late last year to launch the Kaleidoscope Project fund, which provides up to US$292,000 (AUD$400,000) for productions from culturally or linguistically diverse creators. The fund supports standalone short films for eight- to 12-year-olds that explore what it’s like to be a marginalized young person in Australia. The program also sees participants receive mentorship from experienced producers. The Kaleidoscope Project requires that the writer, producer and/ or director behind each project is a person who is culturally or linguistically diverse in order for it to qualify.

An updated diversity fund from BBC Children’s is committing US$415,000 (GBP£300,000) each year to develop diverse off-screen talent through several different initiatives. This program will focus specifically on supporting creators from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK. Prodcos can apply to the fund once content has been commissioned, and the program will support everything from mentoring opportunities to creating shadowing positions for young creators. Applications should not exceed US$13,800 (GBP£10,000). The fund cannot be used for improving on-screen diversity or efforts that can be covered within existing production budgets.

Guidelines are available online at abc.net.au/events/ thekaleidoscopeproject/project-guidelines/12888196.

Guidelines are available online at downloads.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/site/ bc-education-diversity-inclusion-commissioning-guidelines.pdf.



FEATURE | May/June 2021

New rules

Palacios and Gardezi are calling for guidelines that go beyond entry-level positions

Sesame Workshop’s Rosemary Palacios and Break the Room’s Sameer Gardezi explore the new diversity and inclusion requirements broadcasters are rolling out for production partners’ creative teams. BY: ELIZABETH FOSTER

lack of diverse job candidates has long been touted as one of the biggest obstacles to creating a more inclusive industry. But that excuse has worn thin. “To say that the talent doesn’t exist is absolute insanity,” says Sameer Gardezi, CEO of writers room development company Break the Room. There is a disconnect, he says, between talent pipelines and certain historically excluded communities. “We have to really think about where the industry can make effective leaps to reach out to the talent that historically hasn’t had the same opportunities or access.” In an effort to address this problem, a number of broadcasters have implemented new diversity and inclusion requirements for their production partners. ABC Australia, for one, released guidelines that require productions to include historically excluded groups (such as Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community) both on and off screen. This means at least one person representing a historically excluded community needs to be part of the project’s core creative team, and at least half of the key creative team and crew must be female or gender-diverse. Disney’s ABC network announced a set of standards in September 2020 that require inclusion both on screen and behind the scenes. Among other requirements, this means that 50% or more of regular and recurring written characters, episodic directors and overall crew or project staff must come from underrepresented groups. ABC is providing training and resources in an effort to support these goals. In the UK, BBC Studios Production introduced an inclusion rider at the end of 2020 requiring that diverse talent make up at least 20% of onscreen talent and the production team for every new series. At least one senior role on scripted and unscripted production teams also needs to be held by someone who either comes from a Black, Asian or minority

ethnic background; has a lived experience with disability; or comes from a low-income background. But these guidelines, policies and riders will have to evolve in order to be effective, Gardezi says. “When we talk about incubating these outreach and diversity programs, what is the end [goal]?” he asks. “What tends to happen is that there are plenty of entry-level positions, but there are no upstream opportunities. And that really comes into play when we talk about how this underrepresented talent is struggling to climb the ladder.” Rosemary Palacios, Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, agrees that companies need to address their own internal policies, as well as set out new guidelines for production partners. “Hiring a token minority just so you can check a box and fulfill that requirement isn’t going to really help if you’re not giving them what they need for success,” she says. “I’m just hoping to see more people take the time to make sure it’s sustainable.” Moving forward, Palacios hopes to see broadcasters and producers commit time and money to ensuring that all new talent has the necessary training, and that diverse talent have opportunities to network and develop industry relationships. Palacios also hopes broadcasters and producers will continue to expand their definition of diverse. “Even when those programs are put in place, they don’t always take into consideration just how wide that spectrum of experience can be,” she says. “We need to consider diversity beyond what we can see. It’s really about the different lived experiences and perspectives that people are coming to the table with. Whether that’s racial diversity, physical disability, neurodiversity or socio-economic background—it all counts towards this broader scope of stories that we have not been able to tell [when those communities were excluded].”

The Canada Media Fund The Canada Media Fund (CMF) will invest US$290 million (CAD$364 million) in Canada’s television and digital media industries annually. The CMF introduced several new measures in its 2021-2022 program budget that focus on improving diversity and inclusion on screen. One measure rewards broadcasters that invest in content from production companies that are owned/controlled by Indigenous peoples, Black people and people of color. Additionally, CMF’s new pilot program for racialized communities has earmarked US$8.4 million (CAD$10.5 million) to support production companies that are owned/ controlled by Black people and people of color.

YouTube has committed US$100 million in funding for content that centers around Black voices. The #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund will focus on acquiring and producing content for the YouTube Originals slate. The #YouTubeBlack Voices “Class of 2021” includes creators from the US, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. The financial support came with a promise to better protect Black creators, artists and users on the platform. This includes terminating more accounts that repeatedly post racist or discriminatory comments.

Guidelines are available online at cmf-fmc.ca/document/summary-of-changes.

Guidelines are available online at blog.youtube/news-and-events/youtubespaces-update.


May/June 2021 | KIDSCREEN


Statement Strategies’ Matthew Celestial takes a break from publicity to learn the first rule of...

FIGHT CLUB! atthew Celestial, executive director at communications and PR firm Statement Strategies, knows how important it is to roll with the punches. He started boxing six years ago after walking past a class that he was initially too intimidated to join. But having worked with powerhouses like Disney and DreamWorks, Celestial knows that to land a hit, you have to take a swing. And his first training session sparked a passion for the sport that quickly led him on a journey deeper into the world of boxing. “I love boxing because, more than anything, it really is a testament to your mental capacity,” he says. As physically demanding as the sport can be, he found that training developed his sense of discipline more than anything else. “That translates across the board and affects different parts of your life, including your career.” Before the pandemic hit, Celestial spent months training for his first official match. Lockdowns kyboshed the fight, but he continued to work out with friends through online classes, pushing himself to learn new techniques and master more complicated combinations on his own. Celestial misses his old training community, but says keeping up with his

boxing routine helped him maintain his mental health during the pandemic. “It’s absolutely stress management,” he says. “I used to be so tense and a real control freak—especially about work— but boxing has allowed me to get out of my own head. You have to be in the moment, and you can’t control what’s going to happen [in the ring]. It’s helped me find a sense of balance and feel more confident in dealing with different situations.” The delay has also given him additional time to develop his fighting style—literally. The professionals might stick with bland colors and basic athletic wear, but when it comes to wardrobe, Celestial takes pride in skipping the traditional uniform in favor of something much more vibrant. “I like to wear bright colors—lots of pink—and prints,” he says. “In the beginning, I was so worried about wearing the wrong thing and people staring. But as I kept boxing and developed confidence, I realized it didn’t matter—it was going to be soaked in sweat anyway. Now it’s a way to stand out, express myself and have fun with it. We need to break down the boundaries of what the typical, mainstream approach to sports is, and just do it on our own terms.” —Elizabeth Foster




Profile for Brunico Communications

Kidscreen May/June 2021  

Kidscreen May/June 2021  

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