Tom Ascheim oversees production, programming and marketing for all of Nickelodeon’s television networks. In February, he was promoted to Nickelodeon Television executive vice president and general manager from executive vice president of Nick Digital Television. Prior to that, he served as general manager for Noggin/The N. He recently spoke with Multichannel News contributor Luis Clemens about the success of shows such as Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go!, as well as the upcoming El Tigre, a new show slated to launch early next year. An edited transcript follows:
MCN: Has Nickelodeon considered creating a show or network completely in Spanish? Or seeking carriage for some of the Nickelodeon Latin America channels in the U.S.?
TOM ASCHEIM: We’ve explored it off and on over the years without ever successfully resolving it.
Our research suggests in general that parents of Hispanic children wish their kids, for the most part, to watch children’s shows in English. They want them to learn English, and television is a great tool to do that.
They love seeing the amount of Spanish that is in Dora [the Explorer]. But they also view her as an ambassador to their kids. 'Come here and know that Spanish is part of your heritage and, by the way, if you learn some English by watching television that is great.’
So it has been hard for us to be sure whether there is a market that really wants a full Spanish Nickelodeon. But that is something we continue to explore and, if we find demand, we’ll try to follow it.
MCN: How important an audience are Hispanic children?
TA: For a long time, our goal has been to be inclusive of all kids. Sometimes that means talking to them indirectly, sometimes that means talking to them directly. And Latino families have become an increasing focus for us over the past ten years, based in part on demographics. They are just an increasing percentage of our country and as we have done programming that focused on Hispanic characters we’ve had increasing success, so it is a very nice self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dora has been such an unbelievable cultural phenomenon both in Hispanic America and just in America. It is remarkable to watch to this little funny girl with big eyes loved by all and cherished differently by different communities but particularly embraced by the Hispanic population.
MCN: Do you have a sense of the impact on Hispanic youth culture of Dora and Go, Diego, Go!?
TA: When we see ourselves represented in the media, it is good for our self-esteem. That is something that we have attempted to do in a variety of ways here for a long time, whether it is putting girls in positions of power in an adventure story or making sure that we had stories that featured African-American kids prominently and not just as the best friend, or really having Hispanic families as the focus of a number of our different shows. People like seeing themselves on camera. I feel that with my own kids. I think we all do.
MCN: Your focus is on being inclusive. Do you worry about alienating some families with the use of Spanish in programming?
TA: Yeah, we get the occasional odd letter [but] America has embraced Dora and Diego as the No. 1 and No. 2 shows [among kids 2 to 5] relatively consistently.
Language acquisition is what you do as a preschooler. The idea that you can know some words that your parents may not know if you’re not in a Hispanic family I think is incredibly empowering, very exciting. The idea of knowing language is only positive.
MCN: With Hispanics being 20% of all children under 5 years old, do you feel pressure to come up with Hispanic shows for older kids as well in order to hold onto that same audience as they grow up? Is that part of the motivation for launching El Tigre next year?
TA: I think it is important that we represent our audience so they can find themselves. I think it is also important that we not follow a formula because I think then we’ll be in trouble. I think it is more organic than what you are suggesting but I think it is something we are excited to nurture and we’ll see definitely more of it on our air.
I think seeing shows like Dora, [El Tigre creators] Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua feel like, 'Yes, this is a network that actually wants to tell my story and is not going to make me tell it differently.’ That is what we hoped would happen. The hallmark of our most successful shows is having a really strong creator point of view in the middle of it. We add value here and there, but really it is making sure we find the right people and letting them go crazy.
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