July 18, 2011
For Aardman Animations' head of broadcast, funding shows such as "Timmy Time" (photo) has never been so difficult for UK animators
If there has been a worse time to be an animation producer in the UK, I would like to hear about it.
The opportunities for non-kids animation are few and far between, perhaps one series a year across all broadcasters. The kids’ animation business in the UK is taking a hammering from our increasingly well-organised, increasingly creatively confident and increasingly subsidised international competitors.
The BBC (CBBC and CBeebies) is doing a great job supporting UK animation but has its own budget issues and can’t keep our industry buoyant on its own. Cartoon Network, Disney and Nickelodeon are also doing their bit and ordering shows through their European offices, but they are increasingly buying for their global markets, cutting keen deals and exercising extensive creative control.
Ultimately, all producers need our shows and characters to work at retail, and retail is having the most torrid time of all. Pre-school, where the UK has traditionally been so strong, is now chronically over-supplied and the life-cycle of a pre-school property through TV and ancillary exploitation is getting shorter and shorter. As producers, we are all in the business of trying to create classic brands with enduring appeal, and these market conditions are making it as hard as it has ever been to achieve that.
Of course, there are still opportunities, and it is important to remember that there is always a market for projects that are really really good. No amount of subsidy, cheap labour or low cost production can substitute for a project with creative cut through, great characters and great story-telling which is perfectly tailored for its target audience.
We have a lot to learn from our new friends/competitors in the digital world where producers let their products speak for themselves – I keep coming back to Moshi Monsters, but until recently, (CEO) Michael Acton-Smith spent literally nothing on marketing. He relied exclusively on the quality of his product to spread the news about Moshi Monsters.
This means that we have to be really clever and work really hard on the development of our shows. Every now and again every producer has a ‘Eureka’ moment when they first start showing something that they have developed to potential buyers and the quality of what they have produced does all the selling work for them. Equally, every producer has experienced the jolt of panic when you realise that your pitch hasn’t landed and the more the more you gabble and gabble the further away the commission seems to be.
For all producers everywhere, not just in the UK, I am sure that working relentlessly to get our products right is the way to survive and maybe prosper in these challenging economic times. It’s expensive, risky, and requires a great deal of collaboration with your prospective buyers to shape a project into something that will work for their audience. However ironically it is in these challenging times that exciting new ideas are often born, albeit out of necessity.
So, what am I saying? I guess it’s a simple message: “Broadcasters, please will you pay more for our shows?”