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‘Why don’t you start your own production company?’

Kids entertainment veteran Christopher Skala writes about the reasons he has launched new digital platform-focused production company TaDaKids.

skala_0959For over 20 years, colleagues and friends have repeatedly asked me, ‘Why don’t you start your own company?’ And for 20 years my answer has always been the same: ‘Because I have no faith in a business model that relies on my ability to persuade broadcasters to let me do the kind of programming I want to do.’ My area of expertise is the global kids content business, and that sector has seen tremendous upheavals caused by online piracy, the proliferation of digital competitors and platforms (thereby slicing and dicing the ad spend), and misguided advertising regulations.

They say that for every action there’s a reaction; and so I find myself at the helm of a new kind of production company – TaDaKids – which I conceived with my cofounders and spent the past 17 months modeling before pitching to a range of potential investors.

We launched on September 1 with little or no fanfare, and with full and significant backing from [private investor] Sandbox Partners.

I couldn’t be happier. I feel as though the future looks brighter than it’s looked for ten years or more. How can this be?

As the traditional content-funding model imploded, the future, to those of us concerned with a plurality of buyers and a vibrant global creative community, looked bleak. I had no faith that any kind of government intervention could dig us out of the hole (though they could certainly dump us in one). I have kept watch, since 2007, for the tell-tale signs of an emerging, organically-emergent funding model. One began to become apparent around 2011, when at the same time YouTube suddenly announced that it was going to commission a limited number of content channels.

Interestingly, YouTube’s experiment to encourage traditional content creatives to engage with its increasingly successful platform may have sent those creatives off in the wrong direction. By that I mean that YouTube may have encouraged them to misunderstand the fundamental economic rules by which the platform operated. Much of the content commissioned and created didn’t stand a chance of recouping its costs.

For me and my partners, getting to grips with the economic realities of digital content also allowed us to see a new type of content creativity, which we found exciting precisely because no broadcaster would either understand it, or commission it. Creatives that we’re working with – schooled in traditional concepts of quality, character and story structure – were quick to understand the challenges and opportunities of this new model.

In content-production terms, one’s cost-per-minute for any type of production medium – be it CG-animation, stop-frame animation, live-action puppetry, live-action comedy or whatever – couldn’t be more than US$500 per minute. Some of TaDaKids content will cost no more than US$75 per minute.

Make no mistake: this is achievable not by eschewing so-called production values. It’s achievable by a radically different approach to creativity and what exactly constitutes ‘content’.

Successful YouTube children’s content is all about passion and intimacy, and there are some very good, creative and successful preschool channels already out there. They are ‘one-offs’. TaDaKids hopes to generalise from their successes and create a systematic process in order to prove a viable, alternative IP-creation-funding model that can reach an audience directly, without the traditional struggles associated with accommodating broadcasters, brand managers, toy companies and distributors.

In the end, and in a much more direct and transparent manner, the success or otherwise of any idea will be determined by the target demographic.

Should we prove successful, it should be good news for everyone involved in content, and not just in the kids space.

My fingers are very firmly crossed.

Prior to setting up TaDaKids, Christopher Skala held senior roles at Guiness World Records and Hit Entertainment. He has also been a producer at Tiger Aspect