Cyma Zarghami knows what it takes to create a bona fide hit in the kids TV business. It’s not measured by Nielsen ratings or unique users or page views, but something far more elusive: Playground cred.
“It’s something basically that kids want to wear on their backpacks,” Zarghami tells Variety‘s weekly podcast “Strictly Business.” TV shows are no longer standalone properties, but part of larger narratives involving social media, video games and dedicated fan communities.
“In order to become a franchise in the kids world, you almost have to be everywhere all at once, immediately,” she says.
The longtime leader of Nickelodeon has set up her own production banner, MiMo Studios, which launched its first project in June, “@HippoPark,” a series of animated shorts that debuted on YouTube.
Zarghami spent 33 years at Nickelodeon, the last 12 of them as president, before she stepped down in 2018. She knows as well as anyone how challenging it is to bring young viewers to traditional TV content at a time when their attention is pulled in so many direction by so many platforms. But as she looked around at her options after exiting what was then Viacom, Zarghami didn’t have many doubts about her next move.
“I still have kids in my veins,” she says. “I’m staying in the kids business because I want to see what the next version of the kids eco-system is going to look like.”
Zarghami details the steps that MiMo has taken as an independent to get up and running and how she is conceiving “@Hippo Park” as one building block for a metaverse of properties and characters that are woven together. She notes that, in the emerging world of Web3 entertainment, creatives are going to have to get used to dealing with direct feedback from fans at a granular level in terms of what they want to see next for their heroes and villains.
“Everybody has to go into this next generation of content with an open mind,” Zarghami says. “It’s going to require people to work very different ways than they are comfortable working.”
MiMo is getting up and running just as the largest streamers are starting to tap the brakes a bit on children’s programming. And the Big Three of the linear era — Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network — are clearly in a period of reinvention as their audience moves away from TV to TikTok and other social platforms.
For Zarghami, it’s a big moment of transition for an industry she knows well, which makes it an exciting time to plant her own flag as a producer.
“Throwing a lot of stuff at an audience to see what sticks is an early days strategy,” Zarghami says. “Now what’s going to happen is people are going to spend a little bit more time making sure that they’re making the right choices. And that’s part of the maturation of the streaming business as well.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.