Game-Shakers Russell Hicks & Dan Schneider Battle the Elements to Launch New Schneider Smash Game Shakers at MIPJR 2015

by Jennifer Needham, VIMN UK

Russell Hicks, Nickelodeon’s president of content development and production, along with globally renowned live-action hit-maker Dan Schneider (the mastermind behind some of Nickelodeon’s most popular TV shows, including iCarlySam & Cat, Victorious, Drake & Josh & Zoey 101) – have just returned from MIPJR & MIPCOM 2015, the world’s largest international dual-TV market in Cannes, France. There, they provided their invaluable expert insight into what makes a kids TV hit in today’s hyper-competitive market.  As part of their visit, the pair also unveiled Nickelodeon’s development slate, which includes Schneider’s latest smash, Game Shakers.

Despite the devastating storms that hit the French Riviera on the first night of the event, Hicks and Schneider proceeded, keeping spirits high as they hosted the Sunday morning session, where they addressed a room of more than 150 TV buyers, producers and media.

With a career spanning 21 years at Nickelodeon, Hicks – who oversees all live action and animation development for all of the Network’s content platforms – explained to moderator Kristin Brzoznowski (WorldScreen Managing Editor) “Kids gravitate towards great characters, characters they can relate to, who tell stories true to them.”  

“Kids don’t watch shows and think afterwards ‘That was an incredibly well written episode,’” Schneider explained.  “They think ‘that character’s super cool,’ and naturally want to watch more” – so it’s all about the characters and the situations we put those great characters in.”

“Kids want to see their own backyard, situations they’re familiar with – but also situations they’re not familiar with that are surprising,” Hicks said.

Referring to his new Nickelodeon series, Game Shakers, Schneider added, “There’s certainly a little similarity in the DNA of iCarly, in that you have four kids who create a videogame that takes off… that’s so much more fun than a show about a kid that plays videogames. It’s empowering.”  Hicks and Schneider identified the progressive nature of the show, with the games at the core of the series’ storylines simultaneously available to fans in real life via the App Store.

Addressing the variety of content now available to the first generation of so-called digital natives, Hicks added “There are so many distractions for kids and so many places they can get their shows. I find myself working harder than I ever did before to make the scripts and characters as entertaining as they can be.”  Hicks described opportunities created through launching short-form content through the Nick app and the potential to develop the most popular clips into a long-form series. “You can start it out small as a Web series and then say, ‘hey this is working’ and take it further.” 

Renowned for keeping ahead of the trend, Schneider – who was one of the first kids’ creators to incorporate social TV into smash hit shows, The Amanda Show and iCarly in 2007 – detailed the challenges of holding kids’ attention in an ever-expansive world of platforms and screens.  Speaking about the threat of the Web to content production, Schneider recalled, “I remember in the late 90s, producers would say the Web was going to take away from TV. I never saw it that way. I felt like it was a great thing. We don’t just have to put content on TV, we can put it online. I just see it as the more screens kids have, the more they need stuff to watch on those screens.”

When asked if linear TV is still the most important screen for kids, Schneider responded “I don’t think it matters – the more screens the better.”

“TV is not going away,” Hicks added. “We have a measurement issue, but as soon as they fix that problem, it will be even more apparent that kids love content everywhere.”

Following this session, the pair appeared as special guests at the official 2015 MIPJR Opening luncheon – sponsored by Nickelodeon – as well as an exclusive cocktail event hosted on Monday evening in the designated Viacom International Media Networks area.  Caroline Beaton, senior vice president of international programme sales, invited partners and media friends to meet with Schneider and Hicks to raise a glass to the fantastic new  portfolio of titles now available for the international market (from Harvey Beaks, and Shimmer & Shine, to 100 Things to Do Before High School, Game Shakers and many more).

Schneider and Hicks weren’t the only Nickelodeon representatives at MIPJR and MIPCOM. Jules Borkent, Nick’s senior vice president of content and acquisitions, took part in the popular What Do Buyers Want? session, along with fellow content execs from Disney, Turner and Lagardere, France and KiKa Germany.

Nickelodeon Senior Vice President of Content & Acquisitions Jules Borkent participates in the What Do Buyers Want? session at MIPJR 2015.

Nickelodeon Senior Vice President of Content & Acquisitions Jules Borkent participates in the What Do Buyers Want? session.

Caroline Beaton took part in a (bright and early!) OTT Show & Tell session spotlighting Viacom’s latest suite of apps, Viacom Playplex.

Senior Vice President of International Programme Sales Caroline Beaton shows off Viacom's latest suite of apps, Viacom Playplex, at MIPJR 2015.

Senior Vice President of International Programme Sales Caroline Beaton shows off Viacom’s latest suite of apps, Viacom Playplex.

Katie Keenan, head of acquisitions, VIMN UK and Channel 5, participated in the MIP finale Acquisitions Superpanel.

VIMN UK and Channel Five Head of Acquisitions Katie Keenan participated in the Acquisitions Superpanel at MPJR 2015.

VIMN UK and Channel Five Head of Acquisitions Katie Keenan participated in the Acquisitions Superpanel.

Viacom closed the event with two awards, as Borkent and Keenan received Content Trendsetter Awards from WorldScreen.


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