Toon Time in Vegas

As TV execs and animation producers convene in Vegas this month to attend the NATPE Confab at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Hall (Jan. 24-26), we thought it would be a good idea to hear what some of our favorite toon players had to say about the state of the business. Here’s a brief compendium of their thoughts.

Anne Armogida, director of marketing, ADV Films:

‘Anime DVD sales are growing at a rate that surpasses most genres in retail today. Their sales are up 7% in 2005, year-to-date, which is higher than DVD sales as a whole. ADV films released the envelope-pushing action show Samurai Gun and the PG-rated award-winning feature The Place Promised in Our Early Days created by Makoto Shinkai. The film was awarded the Best Animated Film at the 59th Annual Mainichi Film Concourse.’

Keith O’Connell, VP programming, film and series services VOOM, HD Networks.

‘When we first launched Animania in 2003, there was very little animation out there in true high-def, and we had only a small handful of producing partners willing to work with us. Now that landscape has truly changed. It seems the marketplace is beginning to understand the value of creating programming from the outset in HD. Our slate this year is showing a dramatic increase in the amount of original high-def animation done exclusively for Animania, and it comes from partnerships with producers from all over the world’from the U.S., Brazil, Australia, Japan and everywhere in between. We even have a stunning new series from Africa called Jungle Beat, which will premiere in January.’

Alan Gregg, VP, production and distribution, children’s TV, Alliance Atlantis

‘The trend I see in the business is comedy. I don’t think it’s necessarily a new trend, but one that’s continuing. Comedic shows are faring better on network schedules so the programmers are demanding more comedy. Even if it’s an action show, the emphasis needs to be on strong characters who can make the audience laugh. We’re still low-volume and high-quality, and we’re still going after pre-school (Lunar Jim) and boys’ action (Dragon Booster), but we’ll be upping the ante on comedy.’

Anne Magnol, senior sales rep, Alphanim:

‘We’ve noticed a clean revival of the demand for pre-school shows this year. This allowed us to sell our series Woofy (65×5) in no less than eight new territories. It’s become now common practice for broadcasters to request comedies that appeal both to young six to nine year-olds and cross over to eight-12 year-olds. It may sound presumptuous but our Robotboy is starting to prove to our international partners that the French can be very good at producing proper cartoons. We remain convinced the series has the potential to become a classic.’

Jeff ‘Swampy’ Marsh, director of production, BKN:

‘From our perspective, the industry is continuing to become more facile and comfortable with complex international co-production deals. Coupling this with the wider accessibility and access to time, labor and money-saving technology has increased the total quantity of production as well as the variety of animation methods and styles available.

This year will find us working with some of the highest-quality talent on four different continents. We’ll be in production on traditional 2D Dork Hunters from Outer Space (26×30), and on new episodes of Legend of the Dragon (39×24) as well as CG animation on our second feature-length Kong film, KONG II: Return to the Jungle.’

Kevin Gillis, exec producer, Breakthrough Entertainment:

‘We’re seeing the effects of age compression on our traditional audience demographic.We talked of producing a series aimed at six-11 year-olds only two years ago, we’re now finding that the same series is more likely appealing to five-eight year-olds or at best, five-nine year-olds. Other kids in this age bracket have already turned to alternative entertainment genres: Internet games, and dare I say it, live action!

We have two new series that we’re now developing, Miss BG and Captain Flamingo. This is in addition to the second season of Atomic Betty which is in the midst of delivery right now. We’re always looking for fresh ideas and styles because we want to pioneer the market with new programs, not copy it.’

Jim Samples, EVP and GM, Cartoon Network

‘What’s truly impressed me lately is the outstanding quality of Japanese animation and the industry’s growing ability to adapt it successfully across international audiences. The Japanese animation industry has demonstrated a keen ability to understand the nuances of various international markets and they now are building this into their development processes. What I believe is most significant for Cartoon Network this year is that we’ve consistently increased our volume of original new shows year by year–from both our own Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank and from multiple independent studios we contract. Our recent properties include Camp Lazlo, My Gym Partner is a Monkey and Squirrel Boy. Another real milestone for 2005 and ’06 is that we’re introducing our first two original action-adventure series (BEN 10 and IGPX) that we’re making available for international syndication through Warner Bros. International Television Distribution.’

Arnie Zipurksy, CEO and president, CCI Entertainment:

‘Several broadcasters are more interested in getting involved earlier in productions. The standard ‘Let’s wait to see an episode’ response is being replaced by an interest to co-produce as a broadcast partner to have input in the production and the creative and brand development. Our development slate has broadened significantly with new properties Daisy Jane and BottleFly (preschool), Frankenstein’s Cat (six-nine), Erky Perky (tween), Joe Spleck Dead Detective (teen) and Foolish Girl (teen-plus-adult).’

Sam Ewing, senior VP sales and distribution, Cookie Jar Entertainment:

‘The number of channels within the toon climate is consistently increasing, particularly in the digital environment’and with these additional channels come a tremendous demand for content, especially children’s programming. Cookie Jar’s extensive library of more than 100 titles successfully meets this demand with a variety of classics such as Paddington Bear and Richard Scarry, as well as with new programming including The Doodlebops, Gerald McBoing Boing and the International Emmy- and Gemini-winning Dark Oracle. Since its launch, Gerald McBoing Boing has delivered more viewers than any other program in Cartoon Network’s Tickle U block.’

Adam Shaheen, president, Cuppa Coffee Studios:

‘Fortunately, our work continues to be warmly received, so the toon climate is sunny with zero chance of rain. Bruno and the Banana Bunch has captured merchandising and licensing people’s attention because of the fantastic response to the interstitial series airing on Nickelodeon worldwide. It will prove to be another interesting branch of the Cuppa Coffee business model. Tigga and Togga is exciting due to the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve had from broadcasters all over the world who have embraced the idea of a show based on the universal language of music.’

Peter Keefe, CEO, Earthworks Entertainment:

‘It’s all about getting your creative vision to as many happy replicator kid eyeballs as possible, especially in the new era where perspicacious, traditional analog TV network aggregators have begun to spy a diminishing audience and are in a bit of quandary as to what to do! Captivating minds and imaginations is still very doable due to all the new media platforms (digital, PSP, mobile TV, etc) that support the newly evolving kids portable play pattern reality.’

Gregory Payne, chairman, Foothill Entertainment:

‘The market for anime and anime-style programming is softening. There seems to be a return to the more classical style of character design. We have a lot more completed shows on our slate this year. Among the shows we’re bringing to the market: Wish-A-Roo Park is a 13×25 show about a magical world of puppets who encourage kids to use their imagifunation. My Little Fox (26×25) is a 2D animated series about an angel who has been banished to Earth. The 76-minute feature, Toy Warrior (produced by Seoul Movie) centers on a young boy who becomes a Toy Warrior after he’s magically transported to the Land of Toys.’

Andrew Berman, exec VP of sales, IDT Entertainment:

‘The toon climate this year is more competitive than ever. However, we are very fortunate to have very strong brand-driven properties which has enabled us to be quite successful in placing our titles. Our slate includes our Christmas special, The Happy Elf, which recently ran on NBC in primetime; our live-action/CGI kids series Zixx which will be on Cartoon Network, and our preschool animated show, Wow Wow Wubbzy, which will premiere on Nick Jr. in the fall of 2006.’

Thierry Rivard, managing director, Kayenta Productions:

‘After a couple of difficult years, the market is re-opening with new possibilities, new business and financing models and more combinations of techniques and styles. We are moving forward with three different series, one mostly financed out of France (Tiny Tyrant), one a major co-production between France and the U.K. (Frankenstein’s Cat with McKinnon & Saunders and the BBC), and yet another one (Corrida Ketchup), a series of shorts to be financed outside the usual TV circle. Every single project is difficult and needs a special strategy. We have to adapt constantly.’

Rick Mischel, CEO, Mainframe Entertainment:

‘Everything seems more upbeat and broadcast interest in new shows seems higher. The market seems rejuvenated. We worked on our first live-action/CG animation show this year, Zixx, which has been very well received by broadcasters. Also, we came up with some great CG looks for properties as diverse as Stuart Little 3 and Tony Hawk.’

Fernando Szew, COO, managing director, MarVista Entertainment:

‘The climate for toons continues to improve for right holders as new methods of delivery have increased the revenue potential. Technologically driven distribution channels which have been discussed for many years are now real and economic models for them are being figured out’thus creating viable businesses. We continue to lead the way with animated specials with wonderful new additions like Romeo & Juliet’Sealed with a Kiss and A Fairy Tale Christmas. Also exciting is the success of Ribert & Robert’s WonderWorld in the U.S. market, airing on PBS.’

Andrew Fitzpatrick, chairman, Monster Distributes:

‘The animation market seems to have picked up. MIPCOM and MIPCOM Junior were booming. I was impressed with Twisted Tales, the next project from Jam Media, which was launched at Cartoon Forum. The show’s interactivity enables broadcasters to engage their audience in a way which has never been experienced before and to build community through participation via their website etc.’

Christophe di Sabatino, co-president, MoonScoop:

‘Animation producers will need to think about developing their properties in multi-media formats, but it’s a challenge the industry is perfectly positioned to meet. VOD, online, mobile and video gaming are all very much suited to animation above other genres and increased outlets for product present a fantastic opportunity for both established companies looking to build brands and new talent looking to showcase their skills.

‘Our slate this year includes new programming alongside returning shows such as Code Lyoko. With 45 more episodes of the series currently in production and key licensing partnerships in place, it’s our most successful property to date, and we’ll be looking to apply a similar strategy to our other shows.’

Tatiana Rodriguez, VP of programming and creative strategy, Nickelodeon Latin America:

‘The animation climate on Nick Latin America this year will consist of a ‘visual revolution’ encompassing a variety of animation each one with its own style and totally different from the next, whether they’re traditional, anime or Flash. Among the shows we have in 2006: Dougie in Disguise, Wonder Pets, Skyland, Kappa Mikey, Lola & Virginia, Catscratch and The X’s.’

Andrei Pozolotin, VP of Production, Nikitova

‘Everybody seems to be much more interested in cross-media

opportunities, including IPTV, Mobile TV, Games. We can see a lot of toon companies looking for ways to port their properties as Mobile Games with some kind of back-end portal tie-ins to drive people to their toons as well.’

Hugo Rose, CEO, Televix:

‘We have seen an increasing interest in the Japanese Anime format in the recent months. This type of animation works really well in Latin America and Europe because the audience tunes in with the stories, which in many cases have continuity. For this reason, the anime makes a more attractive product in the territory. Additionally, the anime series have a great merchandising potential making it more attractive to broadcasters.’

Atul N. Rao, VP, creative affairs, Toonz Animation, India:

‘There’s been a definite improvement in all fronts of the animation field. Traditional 2D is still active, but the demand for 3D, Flash and stop-motion is increasing. Our development and production slate includes licensed properties as well as original: Highlights include Maharaja Cowboy, Frog Skool and Paddy’s Pages.’

David Wollos, partner, business development, TripleTake Media:

‘In a world of VOD and various forms of downloadable content available from new sources everyday, the market is more challenging as well as promising. Content and the quality of that content continue to drive the market. Our slate of properties include Crazy Pets, Winners Never Quit! and Going Topsy-Turvy. I’m continuously impressed from properties that come from production houses such as Decode and Cartoon Network. The creative teams that work on shows such as Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends have their minds and hearts in what works for their varied audience.’

Jerry Diaz, exec VP, TV-Loonland:

‘There seems to be a return to more traditional animation styles. But edgy is still the buzz word, along with good humor. We are very fortunate that we have such a vast catalog that our slate is always changing and evolving. This market we have a series of animated films and a new series (Rudi & Trudi) that will be ready for delivery in the fall. We’ll continue to make a splash throughout the year with some of our new productions.’

John Siciliano, director of animation, Vee Pee Cartoons:

‘It seems like there should be more opportunity than there actually is. With the growth of all the new delivery platforms, there seems to be a lack of demand for original content or more of a lack of funding to make it possible. I’d have to imagine that as those platforms prove to be profitable over the funding for original content will be there to create it. If I had to say what impressed me most in 2005, I’d say the phenomenal growth of the American Chopper franchise. Last year, the brand really took off and each time I saw it, it made me feel good for the guys on the show.’