7 FEB 2024

Sphere Media, a productive debut year in the kid's arena

Andrea Griffith, VP of Content and Development Kids and Family for Sphere Media, and Judith Beauchemin, VP of Production & Post, Kids & Family, review a prolific period for the company and describe their main content launches.

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Sphere Media Kids and Family is turning one year into the content industry. During this period, the company has developed live-action and animation content across all the kids and family genres. Its slate is diversified and includes a mix of original IP and existing properties. "We like to support both points of inception because even though there's a real hunger for book-based IP, we still believe in supporting ideas that come straight from the pillow," explained Andrea Griffith, VP of Content and Development Kids and Family for Sphere Media.

During this first year, Sphere Media Kids and Family completed and aired an animated series on TVOkids called 'Riley Rocket' that features a lead rockstar/superhero living with a disability. The company also completed production on an original STEM-based kid's factual series called 'Project Rube' for TVO. "It's a super fun concept with kids building Rube Goldberg machines to learn about science. Unscripted is that fast," described the executive. "Growing our scripted kids and family slate this year has been a real joy. We're working with an award-winning director/writer on a tween series that is the most unusual yet relatable concept I've encountered. We're currently developing an animated series that celebrates the Caribbean diaspora, and we just completed development on an animated series that features a blind bear. Our diversity mandate isn't solely conceptual; it's implemented and reflected in our development series. We also have the linguistic latitude of producing in both English and French (with Quebec-based IP), which strengthens our position in the international marketplace," Griffith anticipated.

PRODUCTION CHALLENGES
Sphere Media Kids and Family produces children's factual, scripted, and animation, and the ongoing and overarching challenge across each genre is how to reach kids when there is so much content and ways to consume it. For kids' factual, budgets are smaller, so the challenge is resourcing. "We have to figure out how to shoot the series efficiently while allowing the creative freedom and time for those unexpected magic moments that make the show. It's capturing lightning in a bottle for every genre, but I feel it is more scripted. Scripted is about what's happening worldwide and capturing cultural and social awareness in a specific but broadly appealing story. The other challenge in scripted is choosing the right demo. It's clearer in factual, but in scripted, live-action or animation, you can write a series up or down in age. Which one is the right one for that story? On the scripted/animation side, the hard bit is chasing the money. The budgets are bigger, so there is more money to chase after, and most of the time, we must involve multiple partners. It's akin to being a door-to-door salesman, knocking and hoping the next door will have the money. We have excellent relationships, so there's always interest, but there's not always money. You need deep patience and real comfy shoes to work in scripted," Griffith explained.

Regarding finding the right partner for its project, Judith Beauchemin, VP of Production & Post, Kids & Family at the company, asserted that working on coproductions can sometimes help get a project greenlit sooner. "When our international partners come to us with a project mostly financed, it is faster for us to close the gap and start production. The challenge with coproduction is that all countries must be aligned on the creative and funding within the same timeline. We feel fortunate to have coproduction partners producing high-quality animation with advantageous funding models. That said, we're always looking to expand on who we partner with. We haven't partnered with Latin America yet, and that's on our radar this year. Same with Japan," she said.

FUTURE PLANS
In 2024, Sphere Media Kids and Family will focus on producing its IPs' second and third seasons. "Developing new series is a thrilling ride, but building on the successful brands we've already established like 'Red Ketchup,' 'Riley Rocket,' and 'Project Rube' will always be our top goal. I also want to have a kids-scripted project in paid development this year. We're always looking to work with more creators from diverse communities. It's in the Sphere DNA to support and amplify voices from underrepresented communities and tell (and sell) those stories. Another goal is to ensure that our internal Sphere team feels recognized, supported, challenged, and included. That's how we stabilize, fortify, and energize a talented team that can compete in this rocky market," both executives concluded.

By Romina Rodríguez