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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

Jetpack Distribution

Programming Profile

Jetpack plays for laughs

29-03-2021

Jetpack Distribution’s slate reflects industry trends ranging from smart comedy to fresh content mined from publishing brands. Here, the UK-based company’s CEO Dominic Gardiner talks through his C21 Digital Screenings playlist.

 

In the seven years since it was founded, UK-based Jetpack Distribution has acquired a library of content designed to uplift and inspire kids and their families. The need to raise spirits, according to the boutique distributor’s CEO Dominic Gardiner, has never been more important after the world was upended by the coronavirus pandemic last year.

 

It’s for this reason that Jetpack’s current slate leans heavily on comedy, although Gardiner says no genre is off limits for the company, with a diverse and broad set of shows that appeal to children and their parents being the main aim of the playlist.

 

One trend Gardiner has noticed emerging is an appetite for “smart comedy” among children aged over six. “With younger ages, you can get away with the classic pie-in-the-face slapstick comedy. But older children expect intelligent comedy with smart and well-paced dialogue,” he explains.

 

Gardiner
Dominic Gardiner,
Jetpack Distribution

In this space, Jetpack has recently acquired Welcome to Cardboard City from Auckland’s Vinewood Animation Studios. The series, which Gardiner describes as a “spoof of disaster films,” follows the members of a fire department as they struggle with disasters including fires, alien invasions and giant robot attacks, in a city made from cardboard.

 

“We’ve had a great response to it because it stands out, looks different and has a great sense of humour. Its humour has a lot in common with spoof films, although it has a sophisticated tone like Parks & Recreation or The Office, but for kids,” Gardiner says.

 

Aside from laughs, Welcome to Cardboard City boasts an all-star cast of voiceover talent such as New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who plays the mayor of Cardboard City, and rock star Ian Brown from The Stone Roses.

 

Welcome to Cardboard City
Welcome to Cardboard City

“Jacinda Ardern’s involvement reveals her sense of fun, even though she’s a very important politician. It shows that she will do something that’s fun and for kids and to make people laugh,” Gardiner says.

 

Jetpack pays special attention to voiceovers because they “engage audiences and bring what is effectively a drawing to life,” Gardiner says. “If you play the character voice and viewers instantly know who it is, that’s a sign you’ve really got something – that dates back to Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob SquarePants.”

 

This is particularly true of animated series Kitty is Not a Cat from Australia’s BES Animation, which follows the adventures of a young girl called Kitty determined to live life as a cat, and a motley crew of felines who attempt to convince her otherwise. “In the show, Kitty only says one word: ‘meow.’ When the producers auditioned for the role, they saw hundreds of the best actors in Australia to hear them just say that one word. But it was Rosalind Oades that had the greatest range of tone and expression,” Gardiner notes.

 

Kitty is Not a Cat
Kitty is Not a Cat

Another show distributed by Jetpack that has a remarkable calibre of voices is animation The Misadventures of Master Moley. Featuring the voices of A-list actors such as Julie Walters, Charles Dance, Richard E Grant and Gemma Arterton, the Nottage Productions series follows an adventurous mole who lives deep in a burrow in the bustling city of MoleTown.

 

As well as growing demand for smart comedy, desire for rebooted IP has also boomed in recent years thanks to the growing number of new platforms around the world, according to Gardiner. “As more platforms have come into the market, any content that has a classic character or that has a built-in brand has been snapped up. It removes a lot of risk for buyers and producers,” he says.

 

To fulfil that need, Jetpack’s line-up includes Clangers and Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed. Coproduced by CBeebies, Coolabi Group and Smallfilms, Clangers is a modernised version of the series that made its debut on BBC Television in 1969. The show, which is voiced by Michael Palin, is about a family of pink mouse-like creatures who live in space.

 

Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed
Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed

Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed, meanwhile, is a CGI animation from Beano Studios based on the comic strips that first appeared in the 1950s. “In this version, Dennis is a much better role model than he used to be but still has his original appeal. The series is more about teamwork, friendship and diversity. That’s the secret of a good reboot: retaining the original DNA but bringing it up to speed with modern life and values,” Gardiner says.

 

Adding to the CGI animation series on the playlist is Chuggington, which follows three trains as they learn to ride the rails. Produced by Herschend Entertainment Studios, the show has already aired on top broadcasters across the globe, including Disney Junior in the US, CBeebies in the UK and Super RTL in Germany.

 

Other animated series on the line-up include Becca’s Bunch, a preschool show from Jam Media following Becca and her bunch of friends, who see an opportunity for adventure in every situation. Daisy & Ollie, developed by CHF Entertainment, encourages young children to be curious and question the world around them, with two of the characters voiced by British comedian Jason Manford.

 

Becca’s Bunch
Becca’s Bunch

The two shows join 2D animation series Wolf, produced by Samka Productions and MoviMenti Production based on the bestselling French books published by Auzou. The series is about an adventurous wolf who tries his hand at anything and everything, such as becoming an artist and being the first wolf to canoe down a river.

 

For Gardiner, the show exemplifies the growing importance of books as a source of ideas. “When Netflix and other new platforms entered the market, they looked to publishing to find original ideas, which could then be enhanced and developed. It is a trend right now, as it gives you a head start in the marketplace because you’ve picked up an idea that has already demonstrated its capability,” he says.

 

Based on another popular French book series is The Sisters, which follows the daily lives of two sisters who both have strong and radically different personalities. The 2D animated series is coproduced by Samka Productions and Bamboo Productions.

 

The Sisters
The Sisters

From Indian prodco Green Gold Animation, preschool show Mighty Little Bheem is the final animation featured in the line-up. The series follows a creative and curious toddler as he crawls into mischief and adventure in his small Indian town. The show was India’s first Netflix original animated series and was released in 190 countries in 2019.

 

“It is one of the biggest shows on Netflix right now,” Gardiner says. “Even though it is set in rural India, the comedy is universal and translates across borders. It could be set on the moon and still work, as it’s all about the interplay between the characters.”

 

Rounding off the line-up is Jetpack’s only live-action pick for the playlist, factual entertainment series A Week to Beat the World, from Rumpus Media. Presented by Karim Zeroual and comedian Camille Ucan, the show involves six young sports stars travelling around the world to see if they can compete in some of the toughest and most unusual sports on the planet.

 

A Week to Beat the World
A Week to Beat the World

“For example, the children will participate in bareback horse riding in Mongolia or play fire football in Guatemala,” Gardiner explains. “It’s a visually stunning challenge show, and we do pitch it as eye candy for kids, who right now aren’t going on holiday or haven’t left their own postcode in the past year, let alone gone somewhere exotic.”

 

Despite the pandemic, Gardiner says Jetpack has had a prosperous year. “Touch wood, we’re about to have our best ever year in terms of the volume and value of the deals we have done,” he says.

 

Gardiner credits this success to the company’s shrewd eye for content, as reflected on its C21 Digital Screenings playlist. “A lot of how well we have done is down to our emphasis on quality, our emphasis on comedy and our emphasis on the diversity of content,” he adds.



More programming profiles

  • 22-09-2021

    Dominic Gardiner, CEO of Jetpack Distribution, reveals the UK-based kids’ distributor’s new slate of content and discusses the challenges and opportunities of utilising IP to capitalise on engaged audiences.

     

    For Dominic Gardiner, who has 20 years’ industry experience including stints as director of acquisitions at The Walt Disney Company and channel manager of Cartoon Network, established IP in the kids’ TV market has never been more popular.

     

    “Most buyers we talk to, particularly the newer platforms, want successful brands. Publishing is a rich source of content for us,” he says.

     

    Gardiner, now CEO of UK-based Jetpack Distribution, has seen how adapting IP has changed since the emergence of global streaming platforms. “Years ago, I met with a publisher who literally emptied a box of 40 bestselling books on to my desk. I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do with all that?’” he says.
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  • 22-01-2021

    Dominic Gardiner, CEO of Jetpack Distribution, is surfing increased demand for animation and talks us through the new properties on the company’s C21 Digital Screenings playlist.

     

    UK-based Jetpack Distribution was launched in 2014 by CEO Dominic Gardiner as a boutique children’s content distributor. With a library of over 1,400 half-hours, the company works with 33 producers to curate a catalogue of high-quality kids’ programmes with international potential.

     

    The majority of Jetpack’s international distribution catalogue comprises animation, because, according to Gardiner, these shows travel really well.

     

    “In terms of global distribution of children’s content, animation is brilliant for crossing borders, whereas live-action is usually distinctly local. We have great quality shows from both genres in our catalogue but it’s fair to say that animation is definitely having a moment right now.”

     

    In light of that, Jetpack’s playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings consists of 10 animated/puppet series and one live-action show.
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