I used to be a one-trick-pony and my trick was creating preschool shows. Somewhere along the line I learned a second trick: How to make kids co-pros with Chinese partners, the biggest feathers in my China cap being Super Wings! (Alpha/Sprout) and P. King Duckling (CCTV/Disney).


So, how does one co-produce kids’ content with China without losing one’s money or one’s mind?

It’s actually not so difficult but it does require a discomfiting pivot away from our transactional Western mindset (go to MIPJUNIOR, pitch, get offers, make deals, produce shows) and into a Chinese relationship mindset (visit often, eat a lot of good food, drink Moutai, send cute emojis on WeChat, use the phrase “win-win”, stamp an unusual legal document, produce shows.)

Having spent a lifetime with the old Western kids’ content model, I actually find the Chinese model quite refreshing. I enjoy going to China so I don’t mind the fact that 90% of my new prospects there go nowhere and turn out to be market research for our Chinese friends who want to know as much as possible about “the international market” before deciding to skip it altogether and just stay put in China. (After all there are almost 300 million children in China, which is about as many people as there are in all of the United States, grown-ups included.)

The 10% of our kids’ projects that do come through are significant enough to make all the other mishigas worthwhile so I’m quite happy being as patient as a 100-year egg in China. And during all that waiting – the late-night calls, the daily misunderstandings, the slow wire transfers – something important is developing: Trust, or as the Chinese say, xiangxin, which carries far more influence than anything on paper.

The most valuable piece of China advice I’ve ever received came from my translator on my very first trip to Shanghai back in the 90s. I was working on Zhima Jie, the Chinese Sesame Street co-pro, and he said to me, “In China, yes means maybe and maybe means no.” (Which explains, by the way, why everyone who first visits China believes they’re about to sign 12 new deals.)

The other big lesson has been that kids’ co-pros must begin very early, at the concept stage, otherwise the IP is likely to be too Chinese for the Western market or too Western for the Chinese market. On all of my Chinese co-pros, we were partners long before there was a bible.

I find what stymies most “foreign” kids and family companies in China is good old-fashioned industry hubris. “We’re so successful!” people say. “Can’t we just stick with our usual approach in China?”



About Author

Josh Selig is the Founder and President of China Bridge Content, a company committed to building strong creative and business ties between China and the world in the media sector. He is the former CEO of Little Airplane Productions, a New York-based company that he founded in 1999 which was acquired by Studio 100 in 2017. He is the Emmy-winning creator of many popular children’s shows including Wonder Pets, Small Potatoes and P. King Duckling.

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