Suzanne Kelly • Head of Children’s and Young People’s Content, RTÉ
“As a broadcaster, to be sited amidst all of this amazing talent is really a privilege”
- We chatted to the Irish executive about this year’s rich slate of national projects, the latest trends in terms of consumption and working practices, and RTÉ’s editorial strategy
On the occasion of the latest edition of Toulouse’s Cartoon Forum (20-23 September 2021), we caught up with Suzanne Kelly, head of Children’s and Young People’s Content for Irish pubcaster RTÉ. Our chat revolved around the type of content sought by the network, this year’s Irish slate of projects, and the latest trends in terms of consumption and working practices. Currently, the Irish animation sector in particular is flourishing, generating roughly half of the country’s entire production spend. Over the three days of the event, 11 new projects from the country were presented, making Ireland the biggest contingent attending the prestigious pitching and production forum, after France.
Cineuropa: What kinds of projects do you usually co-produce or acquire?
Suzanne Kelly: For RTÉ Kids, I commission and acquire content for all age brackets between zero and 12 years of age. Up until 2018, within RTÉ, there was a particular focus on content suitable for our pre-school audience. Since then, I have begun to commission and acquire older-skewing titles, which have proven really popular with an Irish audience. Titles that we have recently commissioned include Dorg Van Dango by Cartoon Saloon, Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese by Kavaleer Productions, Critters TV, Turnip & Duck and Urban Tails by Pink Kong, Ballybraddan by Geronimo Productions and Treehouse Republic, and Royals Next Door by Ink & Light. One only has to cast an eye across the titles listed to see the stand-out, unifying theme... Comedy! Also, the standard of writing and the quality of Irish animation are outstanding, and as a broadcaster, to be sited amidst all of this amazing talent is really a privilege. Since 2019, RTÉ Kids has also been commissioning themed collections of short-form animation. In 2019, we commissioned a series of shorts based on trailblazing Irish women, and for this year, we have seven amazing Halloween-themed stories.
How would you judge this year’s edition of Cartoon Forum?
Obviously, it was very disappointing not to be able to attend in person, as Cartoon Forum is one of my favourite events to visit. However, the virtual event was really smooth, and I hugely enjoyed checking out the pitches and projects via the online portal. As usual, there was a fantastic variety and array of projects to enjoy. I did miss sitting in the auditorium, watching and listening live, and also getting the chance to connect with my colleagues from across the world... I’m already looking forward to next year.
What’s your take on this year’s slate of projects?
The standard of this year’s Irish submissions is phenomenal. It is a beautifully diverse mix of projects, with wonderful storytelling and engaging, memorable characters at their core. The slate includes a number of titles, from Adam♥Adventure!, traversing the solar system [produced by Kavaleer], to the criminally talented Big Tuna [produced by Daily Madness]. Then we have Cryptix, an epic father-daughter comedy-adventure series [produced by Pink Kong]; Dick Has a Problem, a comedy-drama with a heart [produced by Wiggleywoo]; boy-detective tale Freddy Buttons Wacky Mysteries [produced by Treehouse Republic]; Ivory Towers [produced by Sixteen South], celebrating the preciousness of intergenerational relationships; Ivy’s Bookshop, exploring and learning about the world with Ivy, who has dyslexia [produced by Ink & Light]; and Meddlers, a slapstick comedy from JAM Media. The slate is rounded off by the gothic deliciousness of Tales of Terror from Dream Logic and, last but by no means least, The Scavengers, on a mission to discover whether humans can return to their home planet. What a selection!
What kind of shifts are you noticing in terms of content consumption?
First off, RTÉ Kids noticed significant platform viewing shifts that coincided with the large-scale lockdown from March 2020. We were using our linear channels to create an educational platform for Irish kids, and placed a variety of programmes (both animated and live-action) within and surrounding these blocks. The uptake was massive. As things get back to “normal”, our player and other digital services are once again experiencing a significant uplift. In terms of the type of content being consumed, animation remains a key priority for our pre-school viewers. We are also keen to increase our offering for the 7-12 age group and look forward to co-producing more titles in this space.
How do you think the pandemic is changing working practices?
Obviously, the pandemic has had a massive impact on every section of the audiovisual industry. I suppose the animation sector, more than most, was able to pivot and adapt in order to continue to deliver content and meet deadlines. Massive fallout occurred from the suspension of international travel and, as a direct result, the impact on markets. Meeting face to face is an integral part of our business and is particularly important for new animation companies when they want to get in front of broadcasters and also to secure finance. I am hoping that, as we move forward, we can perhaps take our learnings from the past two years and potentially adopt some sort of hybrid working models, but I’m still looking forward to getting back to markets.
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