Universal Music U.K. is targeting the pre-school audience in a bid to take a lucrative slice of the children's TV market and its accompanying merchandise opportunities.

The music major's U.K. arm has signed a broadcast deal with CBeebies, the children's network operated by national broadcaster BBC.

As part of the deal, the pre-school channel will broadcast the new animated series, entitled "Uki," which has been developed by a division of Universal Music Belgium. Terms were not disclosed.

A run of 52 five-minute episodes will begin broadcasting in the United Kingdom this September. U.K. licensing of merchandise is being handled by Neil Jennings, director of business development at Universal Music U.K. Universal Music Belgium is looking after international licensing.

The show, which follows the daily adventures of a small yellow character called Uki, is already airing in Belgium on children's channels Ketnet and Club RTL and has been sold to a number of international markets, including Australia, Portugal, Finland, Norway, Poland, Israel, South Africa, Taiwan, the Middle East and South East Asia.

"We felt we needed to make such a move given the decline of record sales," Patrick Busschots, managing director of Universal Music Belgium, tells Billboard.biz.

Busschots was appointed Universal Music Belgium managing director in 2007 when his Belgian record company ARS Entertainment was acquired by the music major. Alongside its record label and music businesses, ARS Entertainment also included a DVD and book business, which has developed "Uki" and has other pre-school shows in development.

A merch range comprising books, DVDs, greeting cards and toys from the "Uki" series will go on sale in Belgium this October with plans in place to roll out the merch line internationally.

"From a U.K. licensing perspective we think 'Uki' is a key prospect for retail in 2011," said Jennings in a statement. "The show is a breath of fresh air in the often noisy and chaotic world of children's television and we have a great broadcast partner in CBeebies. Parents will embrace Uki and his friends and the gentle safe adventures they share with toddlers and we are putting together a tight, well managed licensing program to reflect the demand for product we anticipate."

Salim Mukaddam, head of audio and music programming at BBC Worldwide added: "We're delighted to be working with Universal Music to take Uki to the international market. The initial reception has been phenomenal and we're expecting big things from the little man."

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