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Top Kidvid Distributor Celebrates Five Years

20 May, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Debbie Ries

Debbie Ries, who has more than two decades of experience in home entertainment, remembers a time when there weren’t many television programs parents felt comfortable allowing their children to watch.

As a founding member of The Lyons Group, which created Barney the Dinosaur, she helped build the brand into a household name for preschoolers. Ries, who previously headed HIT Entertainment, has played a significant role in bringing to the masses programs that children love and that parents endorse.

“What I loved about Barney was that … it taught kids how to play together,” said Ries, a former schoolteacher. “They played out what they saw on TV. That gave me a real understanding of what TV could do for you as a parent and do for your children.”

Now as NCircle Entertainment — the kidvid distribution company Ries formed in June 2006 — celebrates its fifth anniversary, SVP and GM Ries reflects on how the company, and kidvid as a whole, has evolved.

“[We’re] really working on children’s properties and building them into franchises,” Ries said. “When you look at some of the big ones of the last 20 years, I’ve touched a number of them,” such as “VeggieTales,” “The Wiggles,” “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Bob the Builder,” among others.

NCircle distributes more than 300 titles from 27 animated and live-action programs, including the popular “Dive Olly Dive,” “Mighty Machines” and “Sid the Science Kid” franchises.

The first property NCircle acquired was DiC Entertainment’s catalog, which features “Heathcliff,” “Super Mario,” “Sonic” and “WordWorld.” Since then, NCircle has formed partnerships with The Jim Henson Co., Moon Scoop and Cookie Jar Entertainment.

Ries considers the company’s biggest accomplishment to date its programs on PBS: “WordWorld” “Sid the Science Kid” and “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!”

“Those three are a really big feather in our cap because they have a great broadcast partner, they have great producers and they have a great educational component,” she explained.

The same applies for “Pocoyo,” which airs on Nick Jr. and teaches kids about friendship and learning through laughter, Ries said.

“[NCircle is] uniquely positioned in the marketplace,” she said. “We only have one focus, and that’s on children’s entertainment. As such, we can really represent products in a different way from, perhaps, the bigger studios. I think it’s proving in our upward movement in market share.”

According to Nielsen VideoScan, NCircle’s market share has tripled from this time last year.

While VideoScan reports that kidvid is up 6% over last year, the category overall is down 15%, Ries said.

“There’s definitely a move to video-on-demand and digital delivery, but I think the kids category will lag significantly behind, especially for the younger children,” she said. “They like to have something to touch, and the portability of DVD is important.”

Ries acknowledges the shifting climate of home entertainment, with a diminishing focus on physical discs, but remains cautious about how NCircle will adapt.

“Certainly things are changing, and you do have to be available digitally,” she said. “As an industry, we have to be careful that we don’t give away what we’ve spent millions of dollars producing. … If you give away free video-on-demand and a lot of streaming opportunities, then it’s hard to monetize your catalog.”

Still, the future seems promising for NCircle, as it recently acquired the rights to distribute 2011 Academy Award-nominated animated short “The Gruffalo” and the popular Australian series “The Fairies.”

This summer, NCircle’s “Dance, Pocoyo, Dance!” DVD will be promoted with a major national tie-in with Langers Juice, whereby consumers who purchase 10 specially labeled bottles of juice between Aug. 1 and 31 will receive a free copy of the DVD through a mail-in offer.

Starting next month, Dallas-based NCircle will introduce its “entertainment that educates” tagline, which will appear on the company’s advertising, packaging and materials.

“The TV is inevitable with your children,” Ries said. “We’re just saying, ‘Let’s take away the guilt factor, moms. Your children can watch this and learn something and be excited about having learned that new thing, and also be fully entertained.’ This is the nutritious programming.”

According to the DVD and Blu-ray Release Report, NCircle has released more non-theatrical kidvid titles within the past year than any other independent or major studio, making it the industry leader for this product category.

NCircle has thrived because of its expertise in being a “strategic partner” in working with other licensees, broadcasters and retailers, as well as being a brand parents can trust, Ries said.

“I believe we’re successful because we’re super focused,” she said. “Everything that we do is for a mom of preschooler. We have shown, by shipping millions of pieces into those households, that we stand for quality. Your child can watch a show that is educational and have every bit as much fun, and then come out better for it.”

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