Is cross media the future of independent animation?

While we’re on animation, an article in Animation World Magazine (AWN) offers some interesting perspectives on where animation execs see the future of the business. Needless to say, it’s distribution via portable media, vodcasts and broadband portals that are providing new opportunities for small independents to break into the market. This is a quote from one of the execs called Ken Faier from Nerd Corps Entertainment. I think he is right about the big opportunities for animation in the emerging media landscape.

I definitely feel that the multiple platforms for reaching audiences are a huge opportunity for the animation industry. The value chain is evolving in such a way that it’s starting to make sense for indie producers and creators to reach the end consumer directly, or partner with companies that have the distribution streams, but are starving for quality content. The challenge, of course, is to find a way to produce cheaper without losing quality. Quality doesn’t necessarily mean better animation, it means better storytelling.

Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim is a great example of this with old Hanna Barbera series being re-worked to hilarious effect – “Harvey Birdman” and “Sealab 2021” both highly recommended and the dodgy stop motion “Robot Chicken” an all time classic. At a time when the young male demographic is deserting TV, Adult Swim is one of the few things bringing them back. But despite these successes it’s still very hard to get non-kids focused animation funded for series TV. The primary market is still young children, at least in the West.

I’d contend that animation is much better suited to cross media exploitation than live action drama programming. Why is this the case? Animation doesn’t date as quickly as live action so has a longer shelf life with audiences. It travels better across territories and language barriers and it’s easier to break up into constituent parts. This is reflected in the healthy merchandising history surrounding animation properties and the legal and licencing framework in place to accommodate this. In a more mature cross media market we’re likely to see much more tailoring of content to various distribution channels and creative cross referencing of stories and character between platforms. Being able to break up images into constituent parts – characters, backgrounds, objects, sets – and reconstitute them in different ways is somewhere that animation has it all over live action.

In another recent AWN report about the International Licencing 2006 trade show held in New York, it seems there is a major culture shift underway amongst animation property licensors. It seems that TV is no longer as necessary as it once was to launch an animated property to the world and new distribution methods are firmly on the radar.

Podcasts have been particularly successful for Nick Jr’s show “Wow!Wow!Wubbsy” and Frederator Inc’s Channel Frederator reportedly is achieving about 100 000 downloads per week through the iTunes music store. Fred Selbert, president and executive producer at Frederator Inc, spoke on a panel at the trade show and talked about advantages for independent producers in this environment.

The major studios and distributors may have bigger pockets, but independent players have the advantage of speed and innovation, which can be more important in alternative environments. “There is no boundary between what you can do and what they can do,”

New distribution methods are seen to be an effective way to launch brands and build audiences but I’m interested to see who will take the next steps and begin to tailor content for platforms and integrate interactive elements.

The other thing to consider is that innovation is very likely to happen first in the animation space precisely because it is targeted to young audiences who are first adopters of new technologies.

Speaking about their new animation targeted at teenagers called “CoolCity”Carmen Llanos Acero from Comet Entertainment Inc says:

The viewers want to be involved in the show, interaction is needed. Viewers also want to be able to watch what they want the way they want and you have to offer them not only TV content but something else. Teens want to use all their portables: phones, PSPs, Ipods, Pocket PCs, etc. for all the entertainment. Gaming, TV, Movie Playing and Music, all-in one platform and on-demand.

This is the next stage of development and involves cross over of gaming with linear animation and strategic campaigns which launch aspects of a property over multiple media devices and channels.

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