News from NATPE: Words from the Wise

If it seems a bit quiet in your neck of the woods this week, it’s because many of the animation execs, buyers, sellers, producers and distributors are attending the NATPE confab in Las Vegas (Jan. 16-18). We asked many of the big industry movers and shakers to tell us about they’re bringing to the market, the state of the TV toon industry in 2007 and the trends that are making an impact in this field today. Here is what they told us!

Luca Bentivoglio

President and CEO of the international division

Educational Adventures

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

For us at EA International the climate is different, because we are launching EA International and we are focusing in the global market. We believe our main brand Danger Rangers has been very successful in the US (we launched in October 2006) and we’ll have great traction internationally. Also, kid’s programming with a strong and educational message is the trend and we are leading the way.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

This is our first year in both the US and in the international market with Danger Rangers. For us is the beginning of what we hope will be a long and successful road.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

I am actually very focused in the development of our new international strategy for EA and Danger Rangers, and I will catch up during NATPE. I am sure there are very good series out there and that’s what makes the business so competitive and interesting.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

I think NATPE still attracts the main US, Latin American and European broadcasters and it’s a good arena to exchange ideas with producers and creators alike.

Carlos Biern

Head of Co-productions & New Technologies

BRB Internacional/Screen 21

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

Difficulties in key territories in Europe due to advertising limits over TV.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Our new shows The Imp and Angus & Cheryl are fresher, cooler and stylish as ever!

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

I still think that Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends still has to succeed along Europe in the upcoming months. The series has great scripts, direction and design.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

It’s a perfect link between Europe talent and the animation entertainment in America. It is also a great place to link the Spanish American roots with Spanish producers.

Allen Bohbot

Chairman and CEO

BKN

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

It seems that each year, there are a few less participants on the production side. The industry appears to be consolidating creating more opportunity for established production/distribution companies.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Quite a bit. To begin with, we are taking out two new series this year rather than our traditional approach of introducing one new series with each new year. Zorro: Generation Z is targeted to more of a male audience while Dork Hunters From Outer Space comfortably crosses into both the male and female demographic and is our first entry in quite some time that would be considered a pure comedy.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

It probably will come as no surprise that I tend to be partial to our own series. I feel that both Zorro: Generation Z and Dork Hunters From Outer Space are both superb programs which have raised the bar on both the action and comedy genres.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

NATPE has always been an important gathering for sellers to meet with buyers from around the world. I believe that, under the skilled leadership of Rick Feldman and his team, the forum will continue to grow in importance.

Dong Chung

COO

GD Multimedia

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

The climate is getting better because of the continuing emergence of content providers over the Internet. The outlook for growth is very bright for the whole world on the Internet. However, the troubling climate exists in TV broadcasting as opportunities for indie producers to broadcast their shows on TV continue to narrow because of the different directions of the channels as well as the sale of children’s time blocks to outside companies.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We just launched GD Multimedia and NATPE will be our debut. We plan to increase our distribution pipeline of animated content significantly, thanks to our partnership with Tokyo Kids production house in Japan, as well as our partners in Europe, Australia, Korea, China, Singapore and Thailand.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

The Simpsons, because of the show’s continued relevancy and longevity. Of course, our own show, Patta, Potta, Monta (Going Wild) for trying to teach children about environmental conservation issue as well as entertaining them.

Amanda Curry

Marketing Director

Walsh Family Media

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

The novelty of CG has worn off, it’s now all about great story, great characters and great animation. Just like it should be.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We’re breaking out! This will be the year we’ve been waiting for… The Cool Beans will be on the scene!

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

We’re so focused on US, we haven’t had a chance to see anything else!

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

Where else can you get everyone you need to talk to in one place?

Scott Dyer

Executive Vice President, General Manager

Corus Kids (includes Nelvana Studios)

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

There is a strong interest in multi-platform. There is also an increasing niche focus, as you see some channels oriented more towards boys or girls programming. Global networks like Nick, Disney and Cartoon are stronger and are making more coordinated buys. Shelf space in the US is even tighter and new outlets like qubo and Sprout are gaining steam.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We have two 2D Digital shows, three 2D traditional shows and one 3D show. It’s a great mix and all the shows have a very strong brand orientation.

What TV series or property has impressed you in recent months?

I continue to be impressed by our own animation team with their work on our series Ruby Gloom. It has a very compelling visual design and is well worth a look. I also like Storm Hawks (from Nerd Corps Entertainment in Canada) for its great look and storyline.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

NATPE offers another important opportunity in the year to spend time with our international partners. We tend to focus on the South American and Asia Pacific markets during NATPE as these regions are always well represented there.

Peter Emerson

President

OASIS International

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Our animation slate for this year is fantastic. Following up on the success of our popular adult shows (The Wrong Coast and Hey Joel) we are now focusing on two 26x30min children’s series Iggy Arbuckle, produced by Blueprint for Teletoon, and Mischief City, produced by Shaftesbury SK for YTV. We are also re-launching two very popular retro anime series Rocket Kidz and Ninja Robots.

Kevin Gillis

Executive Producer

Breakthrough Films and Television

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

The proliferation and universal embracing of new platforms has created a plethora of opportunities for different length formats, styles, tones, subject matter, etc. There are opportunities to re-format existing content to meet the demand of broadband, mobisodes, YouTube, MySpace, etc., all in addition to the traditional broadcast platforms. However, the real opportunities lie with the producers who can create new content for this exciting new frontier. It’s a wild and wooly world out there ‘ Kinda makes you feel like a virtual explorer discovering a brand new world. And the possibilities are infinite!

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We are producing new content broadband and mobisodes destined multi-platform vignettes (MPVs) for all of our properties, Atomic Betty, Captain Flamingo and Miss BG. We are also rolling out our pilot for Jimmy 2 Shoes, as well as our adult oriented properties, The Orphanage, Femme Fatale and Buddy’s. Our new focus toward adult content is a direct result of the new platforms and changing audience tastes that are sweeping the television and new media content horizons.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

I am impressed by shows, like Skyland, that raise the quality standard for animation. It’s exciting to see broadcasters embrace and support high end content that take chances and push the audience boundaries for imaginative stories.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

As the first market of the year, we always have new creative to present. We find that there’s a clear-slate mentality from the buyers that encourages content providers with an excellent opportunity to discuss fresh concepts from the first sprout. With the new platforms growing in importance, we look to this market as an opportunity to partner up our new content with both traditional and new alternative carriers. It’s the first smell test for new ideas and their acceptability quotient with our partners. From here, we go forward or we revise ‘ or both.

Alan Gregg

Vice President, Production and Distribution Children’s Television

Alliance Atlantis

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

The trend towards more comedic properties continues although I think there are signs that more traditional boy’s action shows are making a comeback as evidenced by the success of shows like Ben 10. Although the comedic shows deliver fabulous ratings, they don’t necessarily drive a real merchandising and licensing business.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Our focus remains on pre-school and boy’s action animation. We are looking to follow-up the success of Lunar Jim with another strong, commercially viable pre-school property and we are well into development on a boys’ cel animated show. We are also continuing our commitment to live action titles and are taking on a brand new title for launch in 2007.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

I’m a huge fan of Mr Meaty, produced here in Toronto for CBC and Nickelodeon. It’s a puppet show rather than animation and really highlights that puppets aren’t just for little ones. It’s very funny and transports you to places that few kids’ shows dare to tread. I also enjoy Ben 10.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

Natpe is still a key international market hence a great platform for us to distribute our programming especially as it also attracts a lot of key Latin and U.S. buyers as well.

Brian Lacey

Executive VP International

4Kids Entertainment

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

We have seen a healthy increase in the animation market over the past several years, especially for top-tier programs. The expansion of broadcast outlets in markets like Germany, France, the U.K. and Spain, along with the growth of pay specialty channels and DTT are driving these prices upward for high quality entertainment.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We are bringing 52 new episodes of Viva Pinata, along with 40 new episodes of Chaotic and 52 new episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh GX. Certainly the most ambitious slate of new content for 4Kids Entertainment, Inc.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

NATPE provides a great venue for in depth discussions with broadcasters, new media reps and producers from around the world, especially the Latin American, Canadian and very select European markets like Germany, Spain and the U.K. It allows for a great exchange of ideas and business arrangements in an environment conducive to a free flow of information.

Rick Mischel

CEO

Mainframe

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

Buyers are more active, and focusing on applicability across alternate media streams.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Many more co-productions with great partners from around the world.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

Kappa Mikey comes to mind. I love the storyline and it’s very edgy

for a kids show on Nick.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

Always good for keeping up relationships!

Leslie Nelson

SVP, International Sales & Managing Director European Operations

DIC

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We have a property that was developed based on a popular web community, www.horseland.com which we have not previously done. The web site is very popular with over 149 million page views and 265K uniques! The 26 part animated series has elicited a lot of excitement throughout the world and currently plays on our CBS Saturday morning block, ‘KOL’s Secret Slumber Party.’ We also have the first CGI animated Strawberry Shortcake Sweet Dreams feature film that was released theatrically in the states in October and has out-performed EVERY KidToon matinee (run on Sat & Sun only) release they have EVER done. It out-performed the other highest performer by 20 percent, beating My Little Pony, Arthur, Shira, and Holly Hobby matinees!

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

Strawberry Shortcake! We relaunched the classic property in 2002 and in the US domestic market, her popularity never wanes! In the international markets, we have an extremely strong program in France and solid brand building in Italy, Germany, UK, Latin America and in the Nordic region. We’ve sold the Strawberry animated specials and the CGI feature film throughout Southeast Asia as well.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers,sellers and creators?

NATPE is still extremely important to DIC’s distribution business, especially in Latin America. Our international broadcast partners are constantly seeking quality animation to fuel their kid’s schedules and NATPE continues to be a viable market for DIC to introduce new animation. The race for the next biggest hit starts at NATPE!

Solomon Perry

President

Wild Child/Phantazm Group

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

It gets more and more competitive every year, yet fortunately we’ve seen more 2D work and it actually making a comeback. This kind of animation separates the men and women from the boys and girls. Typically a specialty of mine.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Its a consistent growing experience, my work is getting more realistic. I feel like I’m where I want to be yet. There is always room to grow.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

Family Guy / The Simpsons. For the same reason, animation will always be good with major networks but the writers really sell the show.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

I think it may be potential exposure for talented upcoming artist that may not have the outlets to meet the right people. This event will be a godsend.

Eric S. Rollman

Executive Vice President, Television/Animation

Marvel Studios

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

It seems that there is a concerted effort to raise the bar for overall quality of animation especially in the action/adventure genre. The direct to DVD business is hot with the Marvel Animated Features first out of the gate (Ultimate Avengers, Ultimate Avengers 2, The Invincible Iron Man (releases Jan. 23, 2007)). In TV series, Avatar & Skyland are successful in their modern approaches to the integration of CGI with toon shading and motion capture. The French animation community is stronger than ever and really challenging other producers both creatively and technically to advance our medium while working cooperatively in our present world of co-production mayhem. There seems to be a more open approach from broadcasters in the U.S. in their acceptance of productions from the International marketplace.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Marvel is working on three International co-productions in the television series arena (Fantastic Four Moonscoop/Marvel; Iron Man Method Films/Marvel; Wolverine & The X-Men First Serve Toonz/Marvel) as well as developing a number of other high profile properties. Marvel will continue to deliver new direct to DVD animated features including two for 2007 (The Invincible Iron Man (Jan. 23, 2007) and Doctor Strange (August 2007). Production is already underway on two additional features for 2008.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

I am generally impressed with the success of the French animation community with series like Moonscoop’s Fantastic Four and Method Film’s Skyland series.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

NATPE is still the only viable gathering of top executives in the television business in the U.S. It is unfortunately not focused enough for our business but at this point essential for anyone who wants to stay current and visible in the community.

Olga Romero

Sales Executive

Cookie Jar Ent.

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

It is always exciting when great new shows come into the marketplace every year because it gives buyers, sellers and creators a better opportunity to meet their programming, co-productions and brand building needs.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Just recently, we launched Johnny Test, an action/comedy series about a boy and his two super-genius sisters, which will be marketed under Cookie Jar’s action-adventure brand Coliseum. After achieving much success on the Kids! WB, Johnny Test has been picked up for a second season and is scheduled to air on the strong Saturday morning line up. Already on its second season, Spider Riders continues to go strong. Recently, the website, a state-of-the-art, online world based on the popular series (www.spiderriders.com) has won a W3 award, which recognizes outstanding websites, web marketing and web advertising worldwide. Currently, the website has over ONE MILLION REGISTERED USERS and counting. The site has an incredible ‘stickiness’ factor with most visitors who spend nearly 20 minutes engaged with the content.

Doodlebops fans can also count on more episodes from dynamic trio who are now crossing the US for their 80+ city live tour. After some well-deserved rest, these preschool rockers will kick off a new tour in Fall ’07.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

Doodlebops is already on its third season and continues to do well on the CBC and Playhouse Disney. In just 14 months, their success has grown to include a successful consumer products program and a popular website, featuring a fan club and an array of games, activities and music videos.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

NATPE helps Cookie Jar continue to connect with clients between the MIPTV and MIPCOM markets. It offers the chance to present the latest information about the success of our properties and gives us a great opportunity to meet with Latin American buyers who are actively seeking children’s programming.

Fred Schaefer

Senior Vice President & Producer

PorchLight Entertainment

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

There are much more practical discussions about multi-platform approaches to programming, such that some networks require online or mobile content to be developed simultaneously with both the creative and the production plan. This is excellent news for the industry, as these new forms of revenue and promotion will encourage more financing, create a larger presence in the marketplace, resulting in larger audiences, ratings, and, consequently, more production.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

The sheer diversity of concepts and animation styles/techniques is what sets off our slate this year. From a 3D animated series and theatrical feature, to a Flash-animated holiday special, and an action-packed 2D adventure series, our slate this year is wide-ranging and eclectic on every level. What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

Spain’s Zinkia Entertainment’s preschool series, Pocoyo continues to charm and impress with a wit that is in evidence in both the writing and the animation. It is really something to aspire to, and proves that some of the best programming is not always U.S.-centric. As for impressive, new properties, we’re ecstatic about Dave Skwarczek’s Freaky Frankenbike Patrol, which we nabbed for development. The series is about a group of kids who trick out their ho-hum bikes and speed pedal out of their boring suburb to a world of adventure. The response to this project has been phenomenal.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

NATPE has evolved beyond programming sales to a market that offers animation executives new development and co-production opportunities. Where else do you get to gamble with that new series you’re unveiling and your hard-earned cash at night!

Celia Schneiderman

Manager, International Television Distribution

Sesame Workshop

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

The industry has progressed through a fascinating transition, and kids’ animation now fully incorporates a wide variety of media including 2-D, stop motion, CGI, flash. The programs tell compelling stories and encompass rich character personalities. Even more, content has truly become ‘global,’ with programming produced in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States broadcasting throughout the world Creatively, there are so many new looks and styles, and the target viewing audience has expanded to begin as early as age 0!

What is new and different about Sesame Workshop’s slate this year?

For the first time, we are producing Sesame Street-branded animation through The Adventures of Bert and Ernie! In addition, we are currently in development with the Twiddlebugs’these are colorful little characters that live in Bert and Ernie’s plant box. The Twiddlebugs have a unique perspective on life and are able to solve problems in unconventional ways. Currently, the series is formatted at 3-minute episodes and we are looking for co-production partners.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months, and why? Although it is our show, Pinky Dinky Doo is truly one of the most impressive properties.

Jim Jinkins and the Cartoon Pizza team are so smart and creative, and managed to morph a 2-dimensional storybook into a multi-dimensional program. Pinky blends flash animation and photo collage backdrops with a storyline that’s whacky, unique AND educational, thanks to expertise of our Education and Research department! Kids love it, parents trust it, and we are having so much fun telling everyone about it!

I also love Little Einsteins. The series is mission-oriented, storylines engaging, and the music really captures kids’ attention. It’s catchy on so many levels.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

Over the last few years, the market has become increasingly important to the Latin buyers. It’s a great venue to find out what their needs are and discuss how can create content specifically for their audience. It is also still a key market for U.S. broadcasters and producers to convene and present their content to colleagues and buyers worldwide.

Sander Schwartz

President

Warner Bros. Animation

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

We’re in the midst of an amazing revolution in media distribution, providing the consumer with new choices and more convenience in how they receive our shows. It’s important to be at the forefront of digital distribution – and to whole-heartedly embrace it — so we can provide the most flexible distribution auspices possible and accommodate our audience’s ever-changing viewing habits.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Audiences will find we’ve focused on putting new twists on familiar themes and characters. From Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo to Superman and Tom & Jerry, we’ve found great success in re-casting characters from the revered animation libraries of Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics in new and exciting directions.

In addition to our domestic television slate, Warner Bros. Animation will introduce an exciting new line of feature-length productions for male teens and ‘tweens in 2007 with the debut of our DC Universe direct-to-video releases.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

NATPE is integral to our business in two notable ways. First, NATPE provides a solid forum for us to meet with international buyers — particularly from Latin America – and present our new slate of shows. NATPE also affords us an opportunity to see new shows from other domestic and international producers

Beth Stevenson

Executive Vice-President, Production and Development

DECODE Entertainment

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

Animation studios in Asia have stepped up in the 2D digital realm.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We have brand new action/comedy series for 8-12 year olds.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

Pocoyo. Beautiful use of 3D technology.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

Attending Natpe is important for DECODE because some of our US buyers only attend this market.

Monica Veiga

Director of Sales Asia & Latin America

CCI Entertainment

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years?

There is a new focus on programs (animation and live action) that are no longer just targeted to kids but also families. The importance of co-viewing seems to be on the mind of many broadcasters and producers

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We’ve added great new comedies to our slate, such as the CGI animated series Erky Perky and the tween series Weird Years.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why?

Nick Jr’s Wonder Pets. I absolutely love the look and I think the elements of teamwork and singing that are in the series, are a great way to get the messages across to kids.

Why do you think attending NATPE is still important for animation buyers, sellers and creators?

As NATPE is about 3 months from MIPCOM and from MIPTV, I think it is a great opportunity to follow up on any activity started and it’s also a great market to close. There are many key buyers attending so it is a great opportunity to see them face-to-face.