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What’s the biggest challenge facing TV animation producers?

This week, TV executives, animation producers and buyers are attending the MIPCOM-Jr and MIPCOM markets in Cannes, France ( We thought it would be a good idea to talk to some of these movers and shakers and have them discuss the current TV animation scene, trends and the global toon climate in 2005. Here’s how some of them responded to today’s big question:

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing TV animation producers today?

The biggest challenge that we see occurring is the fine line between creating a property which serves to entertain and creating a property that exists solely to spawn merchandise. We feel that ultimately a balance has to be struck between the two without sacrificing the elements that make a show great entertainment all while nurturing the fantastic opportunities afforded by a strong merchandising initiative.

– Rupinder Malhotra, executive producer, R.M. Productions

The importance of matching target group’s interest with the broadcast interests. We have to produce shows that are able to generate additional revenue for all parties involved: i.e the broadcaster and the producer.

– Patrick Keller, managing director, Peppermint Asia

Declining license fees by the major networks make it tough to cobble a budget together that will allow us to produce the kind of quality, outstanding series kids deserve.

– Donna Friedman Meir, president, programming and production, National Geographic Television & Film

To gather enough financing to produce high-budget shows for which animation, scripts, design artists and talents are substantially more expensive than for a regular animated series.

– David Michel, VP of Marathon Animation

The biggest challenge is the dwindling demand for independently produced animated programs. The pressure is on to make an outstanding program, which raises the development costs without any guarantees of success.

– Fernando Szew, COO/managing director, MarVista Entertainment

It’s still financing. With license fees still low, producers have to figure out creative ways to finance their shows. Being in Canada helps, but finding the right broadcast partners early is key.

– Rick Mischel, CEO, Mainframe Entertainment

The biggest challenge is that broadcasters no longer pay enough to cover the production budget, even with four or five in the mix. This leaves producers to find the difference in whatever way they can, often from their own pockets. This is fine if the show is a big merchandising and licensing success but not so great for series which are less commercial.

– Camilla Deakin, co-founder, Lupus Films

The biggest problem facing animation producers today are increasing budgets and limited venues to sell series in the U.S. The market has consolidated greatly in the last several years and the economics have vastly changed as well. Unless you have a series with tremendous merchandising potential, it is quite difficult to recoup your costs.

– Andrew Berman, executive VP, sales, IDT Entertainment

Cobbling together the financing for a series has always been difficult, but producers around the world are increasingly feeling the squeeze. The trick is to find that unique and appealing concept that audiences will respond to, and then attaching just the right people to it.

– Tom McGillis, writer-producer and co-founder, Fresh Animation Ltd

Rising costs and falling revenue makes the return on investment much longer than in previous years.

– Gregory B Payne, chairman, Foothill Entertainment

Well, for us in Europe, the biggest challenge is to make a good TV series with a low budget and get even this budget financed. On the other hand, the low budgets have one huge advantage–we stay hungry. To produce 3D without being compared to the expensive oversea animations is another big challenge.

– Artur Kubiczek, managing director, Fish Blowing Bubbles

Same as ever–getting your creative vision to as many happy replicator kids eyeballs as possible. Captivating minds and imaginations however is still very doable due to all the new media platforms. As some traditional windows close (a la Kids’ WB! vacating their Monday through Friday schedule) many new media passageways are opened (i.e. mobile TV). For 10 years, kid-vid Chicken Littles have been saying "The sky is falling!!" vis-à-vis consolidation, etc. We ascribe to what the Red Queen said in Through the Looking Glass: "To stay in place you have to run very, very hard, and to get anywhere, you have to run even harder" We’ve got really cool track shoes.

– Peter Keefe, president and CEO, Earthworks Entertainment

The market is increasingly saturated with product and is more competitive than ever before. The greatest challenge is creating that unique idea that brings so much enthusiasm from the market that you are able to evolve from the development stage to greenlighting a show for broadcast in a matter of months.

– Leslie Nelson, SVP, international sales & managing director, European operations, DIC

Probably the biggest challenge is the fact that broadcasters aren’t getting involved earlier in the production process. They’re really only interested in seeing fully produced shows, which means that TV animation producers are playing it safe and producing more derivative programming rather than taking a chance and doing something groundbreaking.

– Adam Shaheen, president, executive producer, Cuppa Coffee

The biggest challenge is doing more quality and more innovation with much less money. Kids are savvy, they want originality and the market is crowded out there. There are lots of choices!

– Michel Lemire, EVP creative affairs and production, CineGroupe

Cost. As producers, we all want to create magic and set the bar high and the license fees through out the world are a huge disconnect to the cost to produce high quality animation in both 3D and 2D.

– Arnie Zipursky, CEO and president, CCI

The competition is tough. There are a lot of properties on the market these days. Producers are challenged to come up with something fresh and new that will capture the imagination of a broad audience.

-Jennifer Stewart, director of International co-productions, sales and acquisitions, CBC International Sales

Finding the financing to greenlight shows.

– Brenda Wooding, managing director, Brenda Wooding Media

Continues to be a lack of proper funding for the actual cost of producing a quality animated series and a way to actually hold onto the equity in case it does become a success.

– Alan Gregg, director of development, children’s TV, Alliance Atlantis

Creativity. Basically these days all the shows are quite similar: action, space … There is not enough attention to the story or character design. We need refreshing ideas!!

– Raquel Benítez Rojas, CEO, Comet Entertainment Inc.

TV animation producers are facing increasing demand more than ever before to produce programs for specific target groups mainly due to the increase in TV channels, especially digital channels.

– Joris Eckelkamp, managing director, International sales, ohm:tv

The biggest challenge is without a doubt putting together the budgets. The advertising market is still very weak and as competition increases, numerous broadcasters are not able to spend large budgets on new productions. As a result, there are still limited funds available to produce shows. But production budgets are not getting any smaller despite new technologies, so therefore producers need more and more broadcasters to greenlight a production.

-Susanne Schosser, joint managing director, EM.Entertainment GmbH

As the market is being saturated with animation, it is important to be focused and follow a particular vision. Our production team guarantees to follow through and develop projects that are extremely stimulating for children and safe for the whole family.

– Sandrine Pechels de Saint Sardos, VP program distribution, Classic Media

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