The TV Animation Business Part 3

What If You’re Not a Multinational?

The multinational corporations are not the only companies making animated TV series. But if you’re not a multinational and don’t own your own channels, you have to work hard to get a broadcaster interested.

One way to do it is with a marketing hook. You’ve got to show broadcasters something that they believe will pull in an audience that they can sell to advertisers. In children’s television, one approach is to adapt a well-known children’s book. Some companies, like Nelvana and Cinar, built their studios on this approach. The success of the books also provides a safety net for the broadcast executive in charge of buying programs. If a show based on a well-known book fails, it’s easier to defend the decision to buy the show than it would be to defend buying something untested in the marketplace.

The marketing angle doesn’t have to come from a book. While DreamWorks is a large, successful company, they don’t own a broadcaster and as a result, their success in TV has been limited. Father of the Pride, their forthcoming computer animated prime time series, has several marketing hooks. It uses computer animation (though that didn’t seem to help Game Over) but more importantly, it features Siegfried and Roy, performers who are known from their TV appearances and their Las Vegas act. It also doesn’t hurt that the animal characters are lions. I’m sure that NBC is hoping that Jeffrey Katzenberg’s previous success with animated lions will continue.

Independent companies often rely heavily on merchandising revenues. HIT is a British company that owns Bob the Builder. They spent a limited amount of money producing the animation and then merchandised the property as heavily as they could. They made more from the merchandising than they did from the show. Using their profits from Bob, they bought Barney the Dinosaur and also bought a Canadian company, Gullane, just so they could get ownership of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Some companies have resorted to giving their shows away for free in the U.S, just so that the shows can stimulate the sale of merchandise. Barney, even before it was bought by HIT, was provided to PBS for free, as was the show The Big Comfy Couch. The producers felt that if they could get the show to an audience, they could sell enough merchandise to pay for the production of the show and still show a profit.

I’ve heard of instances where producers offered to pay to put their shows on the air in order to find an audience for their merchandising efforts.

This is how companies sometimes get broadcasters interested. Another necessity for companies that don’t own channels is keeping their costs down, and they do this through outsourcing and co-productions. I’ll talk about these next time.