Market Chat:Top TV Execs Discuss Ani Climate

The NATPE TV market is back in Las Vegas this week (January 18-20). The mart will be taking place at Sin City’s Sands Expo Center and the Venetian Hotel (www.natpeonline.com/2004). We surveyed some of the top movers and shakers in the TV toon business to get their takes on this year’s climate. Here’s a sampling of what they told us:

Brian O’Neal, Sr. VP of creative affairs, creative affairs, Sunwoo Entertainment, USA:

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

We are in the midst of a recovery and that’s a positive thing. Buyers are buying again, albeit with increasing creative scrutiny, and the climate is generally upbeat. Challenge still remain, further network-studio consolidation, flat pricing in terms of license fees, etc. but at least some dollars are starting to flow again, and after the post 9/11 doldrums there Is much to be optimistic about.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

There has been a huge demand for 3D of CG generated properties. While the idea is still ‘king’ … broadcasters are continually looking for a ‘look’ that will pop and stand out from the clutter. Our pre-school entry Wild Animal Baby, produced in partnership with The National Wildlife federation, and based on one of their award winning magazines, is such a property…we have combined 3D animation and live action to create a tantalizing animal adventure that will stimulate all the senses. This property along with our traditional 2D animated holiday special The Night B4 Christmas have really been received well in the marketplace and we hope to continue to do business at NATPE.

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

I’m a big fan of Teen Titans, it is one of the better action-adventure adaptations of a classic comic book series.

Why?

Great relatable characters and compelling story lines, the formula that almost always spells success.

Raquel Benitez, CEO, Comet Entertainment:

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

There’s an increased demand for 3D productions.  We’re responding to the market trend – our adventure series Tinguaro, the Sun Lizards produced this year is a 3D production; but we miss the classic animation style of the old days.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We have quite a few new properties, several co-production deals in the works, and this year created Vitamin Cartoons, a services division, and started a Toronto-based animation school.  It’s been busy!

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

Potatos & Dragons

Why?

They have an interesting concept and fun character designs.

Ralph Christians, chairman and executive producer, Magma:

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

The difference in the toon climate is that all the men in grey suits who promised the broadcasters endless volume deals for low prices to generate good news for their shareholders, are finally bankrupt and we are back in the animation world with a group of professional, creative film makers. This means that all the lawyers and accountants are again paid by the guys in jeans.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We are producing more feature films than we have in the last few years and with Ugly Duckling and Me, we are presenting our first 3D CGI feature film and series.

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

What has really impressed me, believe it or not, is a character on German channel Kindercanal called Bernd the Bread. This character is actually a walking, tallking loaf of bread and myself and my kids could laugh our heads off when we see him. This has inspired me to create a new series which has so far only be mentioned to my closest friends.

Jo Kavanagh-Payne, president, Foothill Entertainment:

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

As difficult as ever to find the money but there is definitely more optimism!

What is new and different about your slate this year?

More variety of animation styles.

What TV series or property has really impressed you in recent months? Why? Koala Brothers, due to their excellent marketing.

Bill Schultz, partner, producer, Mike Young Productions

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

The market is picking up.  There are real buyers with real budgets.

There are fewer sellers with marginal shows, so it is not as cluttered with developments that will never be made into shows.  

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We have a great crop of new and returning shows. The success of Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe  has further given us a calling card with Buyers looking for blue chip programs.  Now with episodes of Pet Alien coming through, we are primed to do even more great business. Also in production is ToddWorld, a quirky new 2D animated series created by award-winning kids’ author-illustrator Todd Parr, set to debut on TLC and the Discovery Kids Channel in the fourth quarter of 2004.

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

Besides our own new 3D series, Jakers!  The Adventures of Piggley Winks, I am amazed at how Jackie Chan has become such a reference point for broadcasters.  It’s like every broadcaster is saying “Do you have any shows like Jackie Chan” and “We want a show with action and comedy … ya know… like Jackie Chan”.

Robby London, exective VP of creative, DIC Entertainment:

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

Just as seems to be the case in society at large, there seems to be an ever-widening disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in terms of launching animated series. While there will always be a handful of small, original, “boutiquey” properties trying to sneak in under the radar, more and more launches seem restricted to huge “brand” events engineered by deep-pocketed, vertically integrated megacorps.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

So as to remain competitive, we have turned to “brands” in our development and production this year–projects either with a track record or with obvious potential to break out across a panoply of entertainment and licensing categories. Our slate this year includes Stan Lee’s Super 7, Knights of the Zodiac, Totally Sonic and Strawberry Shortcake. ‘Sonic’ and ‘Strawberry’ are already huge brands. Stan Lee is a not only a legendary creator, but a “huge brand” in and of himself, and ‘Knights’ has the potential to become a huge boys’ action brand. Plus, after a few years of “girl empowerment,” (Sabrina the Animated Series, Sailor Moon and Madeline) we think it might be time for the pendulum to swing back towards boys action. Of course, in answering this question, we always prefer to focus on that which we hope will remain the same every year in DIC’s output: strong characters, compelling stories and putting incredible value on the screen. That’s our bottom line.

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

I’m frankly more impressed with Pixar’s movies than with any TV properties I’ve seen in recent years. They truly seem to have bottled a magic formula for animation–not seen since the golden era of Disney –that crosses over just about every demographic. And that is not easy. 

Gen Fukunaga, president, FUNimation Productions Ltd.

What new properties are you bringing to NATPE?

Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan), Tenchi Muyo GXP, Kiddy Grade Spiral

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

Broadcast fees are stabilizing (at a low number). More broadcasters want anime. More competition for anime acquisitions. DVD’s emergence as an alternative to broadcast.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan) appeals to girls/women as much as males, so we finally have a cross general mass market title.

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

Full Metal Alchemist in Japan is shooting up in popularity and smells like the next action adventure hit from Japan.

Barry Ward, president, Bardel Entertainment:

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

The market for animation seems to have made a rebound after the last few years of decline in the amount of new productions and the reduction of revenues from national and international broadcast sales. Co productions have increased and now the major American studios are looking for international partners. Also for the first time in 30 years, TV series are again being produced and animated in North America. This is mainly due to new technologies for digitally assisted animation.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

This year Bardel’s service work has mainly focused on Flash for broadcast productions while our own production, Silverwing, has been developed as a hybrid of traditional and 3D animation. Now that the studio is equipped and capable of animating in all three techniques, it allows us to produce more of the animation in house and gives us greater control over the final product. Bardel is currently in production on our first 3D movie and will be developing it into a series for 2005. I believe we will see a lot more hybrid digital production techniques and 3D series being produced in 2004.

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

At the moment Samurai Jack is my favourite series. The art direction and writing on this show stands out from the clutter.

Frank Saperstein, exec producer, creative director, PASI

How is the toon climate different this year than previous years? The market seems to be picking up from the last few years and the general climate is more positive and hopeful.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

As in the last few years, our slate is still a balance of high quality service work and dynamic co-productions. Perhaps more of an emphasis on Flash Animation.

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

Silverwing because it offers the most dynamic animation on television.

Scott Dyer, exec VP of production and development, Nelvana

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

We see stability and improvement in the markets. There seems to be more interest in animation–from producers pitching series to broadcasters fielding pitches to industry pundits talking about the potential of various projects going forward. We’re seeing additional stability and potential signs of recovery in the markets that were hardest hit by the downturn. This is not to say that the market hasn’t fundamentally changed, but the darkest times seem to be behind us. One of the things I noticed at MIPCOM in October was that the quality of development appears to be up overall, and there are more good projects out there now.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Our slate (which includes My Dad the Rock Star, Jacob Two-Two, The

Backyardigans, The Mall, What’s Bugging Becky, Oscar’s Atlas, FunPak, Delta State and Miss Spider)is more internationally focused than it ever has been (evidenced by recent multi-show, multi-territory sales) and more diverse on multiple levels (demographic reach, merchandisability, style of animation, etc.) We’ve covered more of the bases, and the quality is very high. I feel that the process of creating and refining the slate was a great collaborative effort among all divisions of our business and highly reflective of the careful listening we’ve done with our buyers.

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

The Backyardigans. It’s one of the best preschool shows I’ve ever read as a script. I am also really impressed by the creative behind it, which is a testament to Nickelodeon and Janice Burgess in particular. We were extremely pleased that Nickelodeon chose us as a production and distribution partner on this project, which we believe has tremendous international potential.

Kate Horton, creative director, and Julie Stall, head of animation, Portfolio Entertainment

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

Advances in production technology are blurring the lines between ‘traditional’ and CGI shows.  Producers are now achieving a number of different looks through computer-driven techniques, which is allowing them to bring budget levels down without compromising creative innovation.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

We’re focusing on shows, like Carl Squared (26 X 30 min. animated series for ages 9-14) that feature ‘real kid’ experiences with a fantastical, aspirational twist.  In tween programming, we’re aiming to satisfy the demand for ‘gender neutral’ programming–character-rich narratives with a healthy dose of slapstick and visual eye-candy that will appeal to both girls and boys. In our prime-time programming such as Tracking the Hunters (MOW) we’re drawing on ripped from the headlines stories that are full of action and intrigue.  Building on these stories’ international appeal, we’re developing and packaging them as sustainable, dramatic franchises.

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

We’re excited to see some of the sophistication that’s emerging in 3D technology.  We’re also keeping an eye on the hybrid animation styles that blend the best of 2D and 3D.  It’s impressive to see that technologies like Flash, After Effects, and various proprietary software are creating “boutique” style visuals at “department store” prices.

Brian Yu Zheng, president, Playhut Entertainment:

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

This year we seeing a lot of Anime from Japan with properties like DragonBall Z, Initial D and Cardcaptor Sakura. DVD’s are being derived from the hottest selling video games and manga books. The market is flooded with product and contents coming out of Japan. Fans get bored and are always looking for something differnt and unusual. That’s were we come in with “Chinamation”– something new, fresh and not from Japan, but from China.

What is new and different about your slate this year?

Our slate is entirely new and different. First our content is from China. For the first time in history, the creative work of China’s top independent animators is being shared with U.S. consumers. China is an awakening giant, for years politics and the economy in China did not allow Chinese artists to express themselves freely. Times are changing and “Chinamation” is coming your way.

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

It’s not a TV series, but it is definately a property, actually the property of the moment. The Cat In The Hat. Everywhere I look or go I see some sort of promotion for The Cat In The Hat. Just the other day at the post office, there is an entire Priority Mail program centered around The Cat In The Hat.