Over the hills and far away, Teletubbies is coming back to play, with 60 new episodes in the works to reboot the television series that has hypnotized millions of toddlers.
Thirteen years after the final new episode of the popular kids' show aired, Halifax-based DHX Media Ltd. has teamed with British production company Darrall Macqueen Ltd. to revive the show with a modern feel and a wide-screen format.
The new episodes will air first in Britain on CBeebies, the BBC's channel aimed at preschool children. But the episodes are also expected to provide a one-two revenue punch, licensed to conventional television stations around the world for their first life and then shifting to digital platforms such as YouTube and Netflix as an enduring draw.
"There's a whole new world of distribution platforms that have evolved since the original Teletubbies production stopped in 2001," said Steven DeNure, president and chief operating officer of DHX.
"The iPad, or even the notion of what you want to watch when you want to watch it, wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eye at that point."
As Mr. DeNure notes, DHX has been "on an acquisition track" for years now, and has secured one of the world's largest libraries of children's programming. Last fall, the company bought Ragdoll Worldwide Ltd. for $28.4-million, landing the rights to Teletubbies and 11 other shows.
The colourful, cooing live-action Teletubbies still mesmerize young children; in May alone, existing episodes attracted some 40 million views on YouTube, and the show has reached more than a billion children since launching in 1997. Its consistent audience strength hints at the opportunity in refreshing Teletubbies for a new, high-definition generation.
"There are great television shows, and then there are some shows that transcend that and truly do become brands," Mr. DeNure said.
DHX is scouring its own library, looking for other titles that could merit a remake. New Teletubbies episodes will stick closely to the original feel, but another of its ongoing reclamation projects involves a substantial refresh of the popular 1980s cartoon Inspector Gadget, which will air on Teletoon in Canada and the Cartoon Network in the U.S. Other titles could soon get their own facelifts as well.
For Teletubbies, the first ports of call will be conventional broadcasters, and DHX is already on the road selling the new episodes. Last year, it pulled off a coup in becoming one of the first content distributors partnered with YouTube to offer paid subscription channels. Snippets of new Teletubbies material could land on YouTube early on, but most will be held back so as not to cannibalize viewers from conventional networks that are buying the rights.
After that initial rollout, the episodes will be made available to DHX's paid YouTube subscribers, and will likely also appear on at least one streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu.
"Outside of conventional broadcasters, there's great interest and demand around the world on those over-the-top, or on-demand, platforms," Mr. DeNure said.
It is unclear where Teletubbies will land in Canada. DHX is looking to close a $170-million deal to buy the Family Channel and three Disney Channels from Bell Media, which is awaiting a go-ahead from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
Mr. DeNure said it is too soon to say whether the Family Channel might air Teletubbies, adding: "We know there'll be a home for it in Canada one way or the other."