Sebastian Debertin

Sebastian Debertin helped create and establish KiKA, the joint public kids’ channel of ARD and ZDF/Germany in autumn 1996. He is now Head of International Content Acquisitions & Co-Productions, part of the Programmgeschaeftsfuehrung, which is responsible for KiKA’s management and programming.

In this role, Sebastian is responsible for finding and identifying new projects and programs, and heads up all international fiction acquisitions and co-productions. In addition, since the beginning of 2020, he also fulfils this role for non-fiction and pre-school programs. He oversees KiKA’s international business affairs, contract negotiations with national and international program partners, and the management of KiKA’s contacts throughout the international media landscape. Previously, he spent 23 years as Head of Fiction, Acquisitions & Co-Productions at the public broadcaster, creating, producing and acquiring numerous hit children’s shows and successful brands, such as Yakari, Chloe’s Closet, Animanimals, Care Bears, Mouk, Fireman Sam, The Cat in the Hat, Blinky Bill, Guess How Much I Love You, Masha and the Bear, Insectibles, Lily’s Driftwood Bay, Super Wings, and Esme & Roy. As Executive Producer, Sebastian is currently co-producing the new Smurfs series in conjunction with TF1, IMPS-Peyo, RTBF and Dupuis.

In addition, Sebastian is a teacher and speaker at several media institutions and universities in Germany and across the world. He actively supports various film and television juries, both nationally and internationally and is a proud and firm supporter of the German Academy for Children’s Media (Akademie für Kindermedien). Among the national and international awards he has garnered, Sebastian is a Primetime Emmy Award winner.

The Interview

TV France International: Could you tell us a little about the KiKA channel?

Sebastian Debertin: KiKA is a children’s channel operated jointly by ARD and ZDF in Germany.  KiKA covers Germany and German-speaking Europe by cable, satellite and terrestrial channels. Dedicated to children, KIKA currently broadcasts 15 hours a day from 6 in the morning to 9 at night. One of KiKA’s many assets is the fact that it has absolutely no commercials. KiKA’s goal is to reach children with target group-oriented programs that reflect the world they live in, with entertaining, informative and educational animation and live-action content in a wide variety of genres for both the linear channel and its various online offers.

Since its inception, KiKA’s market share among 3 to 13 year olds has grown continuously. In 2020, the channel was once again the market leader in German-speaking territories, ahead of all competitor channels in terms of GFK ratings. The channel started broadcasting on January 1, 1997, and has since evolved into a full digital kids-content provider. It will celebrate its 25th birthday in January 2022.

TV France International: What is KiKA’s acquisitions strategy?

Sebastian Debertin: KiKA’s programming ranges from preschoolers to children from 6 to 9 and preteens. It is no wonder the channel and its shareholders, the nine ARD affiliates and close partner ZDF, are all looking for high quality content, in Germany, Europe and worldwide, to add to KiKA’s entertaining and educational program portfolio. Below is our current “shopping list”; it is important to note that KiKA looks for premieres, not for old series that have been already been broadcast in Germany. The list below details KiKA’s search for content and does not necessarily reflect the needs of partners ARD and ZDF.

Fiction:

  • Animated feature films are high on the list, for all kids target groups, from 5 years up; family/co-viewing is a bonus.
  • Live action feature films,  both for kids and for a family audience, depending on the story and characters; target ages start at 5+ to 8 years old, 6 to 10, and go up to 13 years old.
  • Animated specials of up to 30 minutes for bank holidays, Christmas, etc.
  • Animated series for the 6-9+ demographic, and interesting live-action series for boys and girls of 10-13 years old.
  • Live action series for pre-schoolers and the so-called bridge audience of 4-7+; live-action series for the 6-9 demographic; plus interesting live-action series for 10-13 year olds.
  • While KiKA’s pre-school offering and its branded Kikaninchen slot are already very strong in terms of animated series for pre-schoolers  and the bridge audience of 4-7+, KiKA is always on the lookout for unmissable new shows for our youngest viewers.

Non-Fiction:

Since 2020, KiKA has intensified its interest in non-fiction programs for kids and teenagers. Documentaries and factual programs about issues that affect children’s lives are of interest. Programs of this kind must be relevant for our different kids target groups and encourage a positive world view, offering them direction and displaying strongly positive values.  

Origins: Shows can come from anywhere in the world but must be accessible to kids in Europe. It is important that these non-fiction programs are a true addition to KiKA’s extremely strong non-fiction offer, produced both by KiKA and ARD’s affiliated channels and partner ZDF. It would be helpful for producers and distributors to visit KiKA.de.

Sebastian Debertin: “I always recommend taking a close look at www.kika.de and at KiKA’s main websites, like Kikaninchen.de, which is dedicated to our pre-school web offering. Although these sites are in German, the illustrations provide a good overview of KiKA’s program portfolio, giving an idea of the look and feel of KiKA’s world and its programs for different kids target groups, including non-fiction.”

TV France International: Did your strategy evolve or change with the Covid pandemic?

Sebastian Debertin: Children of all ages found themselves at home, being home-schooled for many months, so we quickly adapted parts of our programming in order to meet the changing needs of our various kids’ audiences. KiKA also immediately created appropriate campaigns to let kids know that “we all are pulling together in the crisis”.

KiKA, along with ARD and ZDF, has acquired and co-produced with France a lot in the last few years. Here is a selection of our co-productions:

The Wolf / SAMKA-Jetpack

Super Caribou / France tv Distribution

Stinky Dog / Dandelooo

Pirates Next Door / Cyber Group Studios

Find me in Paris / Federation Entertainment

Super Caribou / France tv Distribution,

Mirette Investigates / Cyber Group Studios

The Fox-Badger Family / Mediatoon Distribution,

Charley / Les Armateurs

Non-Non / Autour de Minuit – MIAM! animation

Belle et Sebastian / Gaumont

Molang / Millimages

Bill et Boule / Mediatoon Distribution

Miss Moon / PGS Entertainment

The Sisters / SAMKA – Jetpack

Boris / Les Films de l’Arlequin – France tv Distribution

Ollie & Moon Show / Cottonwood – Kaibou – Federation Entertainment

Petit Nick / Method Animation, DQ-E, Luxanimation – SND-Groupe M6, …

Super Caribou (2020, 48×11’ & 2×22’ or 1×44’ – Autour de Minuit) / France tv Distribution
The Pirates Next Door (2018, 52×11’ – Cyber Group Studio & / Blue Spirit Studio) / Cyber Group Studios
Stinky Dog (2019, 52×13’ – Dandelooo / Folivari / Panique) / Dandelooo

TV France International: What an impressive list! How did this content meet your needs? What is your general assessment of French production?

Sebastian Debertin: I think the sheer number of titles listed demonstrates why France has been so successful in the last few years in terms of program creation and production! France has an exceptional landscape with strong funding and state support and, in the last 20 years, it has built an excellent international reputation for animation. A lot of the programs listed were co-productions with national and international partners, including some from Germany. Many great shows also made their way from France as acquisitions by KiKA, ARD and ZDF and have become firm favorites with German kids!

TV France International: Which were most successful and popular?

Sebastian Debertin: The all-time champion, number 1 kids show on German TV in terms of ratings is still YAKARI, closely followed by Method’s Robin Hood. Arthur from Blue Spirit, is also very popular, as are Mouk and Molang from Millimages and Pirates Next Door, produced by Cyber Group! New to KiKA are France’s hit shows, Wolf from SAMKA and Jetpack and Super Caribou, distributed by France tv Distribution. Cyber Group Studios’ Droners and Tom Sawyer are also premiering soon.

Yakari (2005-2012, 156×13’ – 2 Minutes / Belvision / Storimages) / Mediatoon Distribution
Robin Hood: Mischief in Sherwood (2013-2018, 104×11’ – Method Animation / DQ Entertainment) / PGS Entertainment
Arthur and the Children of the Round Table (2018-2022, 52×11’ – Blue Spirit Productions) / Newen Connect & Blue Spirit
Molang (2016-2019, 156×3’ & 9×7’ & 52×5’ – Millimages) / Milimages

TV France International: What recent and ongoing co-production projects do you have with French partners?

Sebastian Debertin: I am delighted to be KiKA’s Executive Producer for The Smurfs, a co-production with Dupuis in Paris, Peyo Productions and IMPS in Genval/Belgium, and TF1 in France. The Smurfs is a great example of yet another excellent collaboration with France! It is a fantastic brand, and we co-developed the new concept together with the international team from France, Belgium and Germany so that it perfectly suits today’s needs. As a result, it looks wonderful, and the writing and storytelling is superb! The new Smurfs will premiere in Germany in 2022, just in time to celebrate KiKA’s 25th birthday.

Other recent co-productions are Dog Loves Books with Komixx Entertainment, the BBC and ABC, and Odo, the Owl with Sixteen South, Letko from Poland and RTE, S4C, SVT and Milkshake from the UK. Odo promises to be a really lovely – and successful – show for younger KiKA viewers.

Both ARD and ZDF have a long tradition of co-producing with France, which is really fantastic. That is how hit shows like Robin Hood, Tom Sawyer and Find me in Paris were brought to life!

I am thankful and proud to have helped create so many long-term partnerships worldwide over my many years with KiKA, especially with French production and distribution partners. We have created hit shows with various partners from France, Germany and elsewhere, making them a success with kids in Germany, France and the world over.

TV France International: Do you have any comments you would like to share with us about TV France International,  Le Rendez-Vous or Screenopsis?

France has always been a major partner for Germany when it comes to kids’ and family entertainment due to its clever media policies and the national and regional funding schemes that have been developed over the last few decades. These assets, along with the country’s strong media showcases like MIPTV, MIPCOM, MIFA, Cartoon Forum, Cartoon Movie and Le Rendez-Vous, have established France as the leading venue in Europe for the kids’ media industry. 

And, while there were no in-person festivals or program markets once lockdown began, offerings like Screenopsis and the virtual editions of Reed MIDEM’s markets and MIFA helped keep our industry alive. Like many companies across the globe, KiKA had a huge number of video and telephone conferences, for example at virtual MIPCOM, to ensure meetings stayed personal, even if they were remote. As a result, we received 879 new projects and finished programs for evaluation between February and the middle of December 2020, many of which were from France! These numbers clearly indicate that production and distribution companies in France were – and still are – more focused than ever on pitching, producing and selling, despite the pandemic context.