Interview with Da Vinci Media GmbH

While unveiling the hidden life of the TV business, let’s take more precise look at the backstage of television and find out the tasks and the challenges TV channels face today. Being asked about their secret tips and general approaches, the channels tried to explain how they find proper solutions for different issues, handle daily problems, plan their work, design channels feed, choose the audience and the prime-time content, make decisions concerning the content purchasing. Una Šuput the manager of program acquisitions & scheduling in Da Vinci channel agreed to answer our questions about TV business from her experience.

What is the secret of the effectiveness of your channel feed today?

Over the years we’ve established Da Vinci Learning as the go-to place for educational content for families. We are very selective in both our acquisitions and productions, because we don’t just want to make sure kids learn great new things from all possible areas of life, but also that they do so in a safe and stimulating environment. Parents trust us and we have to constantly make sure to justify this. We really want family viewing to lead to engagement with the content – whether it’s building a volcano or going to the backyard to dig up some fossils. That’s why a lot of our shows emphasize creation, experimentation and exploration.

How do you choose the content for the prime time? What criteria do you use? How much more expensive, in percentage, is the content that you show from 19:00 to 23:00 than the content broadcasting the rest of the time?

Our channel is somewhat unique insofar as during the day our primary audience are children, while access primetime is reserved for joint family viewing and from 8 PM (or 9 PM in certain regions) onwards we present documentary content for adults. Because we offer a wide range of educational content for all ages, we have different primetimes for different audiences. But there is no significant difference in cost between prime-time and the rest of the day, as the content rotates.

What programs give you the highest rankings now and why? What do you think about it?

First and foremost, every one of our programs must be educational, be it teaching kids about ancient history or showing them how to make pancakes, or be it presenting adults with the latest developments in science and technology. The “learning” from our name occurs through every child’s and grownup’s natural curiosity, we don’t want to lecture our viewers. So the programs should also have a good plot, or fun narration or an entertaining presenter to engage the audience. Da Vinci Learning emphasizes that learning is fun.

In children’s programing arts & crafts and other DIY topics and experiments are generally a safe bet. Kids love seeing things in action and being able to reproduce them. In the adult prime-time slots our documentary specials do very well, with topics like physics, space, the natural world, inventions or famous scientists. We also have popular “In Focus” weekend specials where we dedicate an entire weekend to a particular topic. For example for April we’ve selected our best programs and new premieres for an In Focus: Space weekend.

When planning your program feed, do you think about the content source country? How important is it?

For us it’s more important to have a program that will work all around the world, irrespective of the source country. We do prefer the program to have English as its original language or at least an already existing English language version, but the countries we acquire content from range from Canada and Argentina, over France and Germany, to Taiwan and Australia.

How do you make decisions about the content before purchasing? How do you determine what would be relevant and in demand and what wouldn’t? What is the deciding factor for your choice? What is the average cost of one hour of content valid for TV channels in your region now: during prime time, during the usual time?

Our acquisitions committee evaluates the content based on educational and production value, creativity, storyline, target audience and so on, but also how it complements the current channel offering in terms of genre, target audience or format. We also pay close attention to the needs of different markets – what may work really well in Singapore, won’t necessarily work in Russia or Romania. So we rely on feedback from our regional teams in all these countries and of course feedback from operators and above all viewers, which is the most precious.

Once all these factors come together, we decide on a program for Da Vinci Learning. We won’t buy in bulk just because it’s easier or it may bring down the acquisitions cost, because a big part of having the best educational programming is hand-picking each show. And once picked, the prices vary significantly depending on the region for which we acquire, whether the show is animation or live action, or for example whether it’s an observational documentary about animals or a lavish re-enacted docudrama.

What percentage of your program feed is taken by your own products and why? What is the content?

So far, the majority of our feed is still reliant on third party content, though we are launching more original productions in 2016. Where we feel that certain topics are underrepresented in the marketplace, we decide to commission or produce the content ourselves. We’ve had the case with mathematics for kids, which was high in demand from our audience but hard to find for acquisition, so we decided to produce our own short-form series. We also wish to become more local in certain markets and introduce more diversity. This is why we are producing our own 26-episode children’s series on famous scientists which doesn’t cover the usual known Western European celebrities like Newton or Einstein, but also women which have so far been marginalized, as well as scientists and inventors from Asia, India or the Middle East.

What do you plan to bet on for the second half of 2016? How do the expectations of your audience influence your choice?

Our audience is quite discerning and it knows to expect high-quality factual content when tuning into Da Vinci Learning. We plan to premiere brand new science documentaries for adults in the coming months, while for kids we have new seasons of some of our most popular animated shows but also new live-action series to engage kids to get active and experiment. Concurrent with the Olympics we are introducing new programs on sports – but of course with a strong scientific angle!

What changes have occurred in the channel program feed principles in the past few years in your country?

Da Vinci Learning started 9 years ago with one feed broadcast in CEE and meanwhile we program seven different feeds, operating in dozens of territories on three continents. So we must be aware not only of local audiences and viewing patterns, but also of local regulations, for example in terms of advertising and compliance. What has changed since the beginning is also our focus on 6-12 year olds. With all other children’s broadcasters also catering to a pre-school audience, especially in the early morning hours, we’ve meanwhile clearly positioned ourselves as the destination for school-age kids and their parents.

What percentage of the content cost is really paid back by the advertisement today?

Apart from a few countries, we haven’t relied heavily on on-air advertising so far. Where possible, we want to be able to offer a safe environment for kids, which to a lot of parents also means an ad-free environment.

In your opinion, what content is lacking now, and producers would benefit from producing it?

In general, educational content for 6+ audience isn’t easy to come by, with most producers still focusing on pre-school, especially when it comes to animation. We would love to see strong math programs for older kids, shows about different careers/ professions but also programs about health and fitness that parents can watch together with their kids. There is no limitation in terms of genre or format for us – so long as it’s entertaining, educational and has that certain something to stand out, we’re happy to have it for Da Vinci Learning.

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