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Annecy’s MIFA 2012: Animation Powered by…France?

Catherine Morrissey discusses the growing importance of French co-production partners at this year’s MIFA market.

The MIFA exhibition floor continues to expand each year.

During the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, there are so many screenings going on in multiple venues (animated features, pilots, series episodes, short films) that it is possible to overlook the MIFA market for animation professionals.  However, for those in the animation industry who want to find creative and financial partners for their next animated film and TV projects, the MIFA market during the Annecy Festival is a terrific place to be - in more ways than one! 

Registered animation producers happily travel across the globe to meet up in Annecy’s Imperial Hotel.  The rewards for such a long journey are immediate, as the MIFA market takes place in an alpine town which sports spectacular views of the glorious French Alps and a gigantic glacier lake. 

Besides paying homage to the fantastic setting, the subject on the lips of the majority of the market participants was the “business” of animation, with a particular focus on the funding combinations possible in today’s international co-production climate. 

Meetings and presentations filled the floor for three straight days.

According to MIFA’s Head of Projects, Veronique Encrenaz, “last year we had 45 countries represented at the MIFA. This year we had 63!  If Europe suffers from the crisis, which makes it difficult for some regions to have the same presence as before, new delegations are arriving every year. This year, with a booth, we had Russia, Czech Republic and Taiwan for first time, and enlarged pavilions for the second year like Mexico, Canada, including French-Canada, Poland and, India.”

Within the mix of attendees, it was evident that a significant majority of participants were French, but not necessarily because Annecy is a short plane, train or car ride away for them.  It’s rather well known in animation series and feature funding circles that a French co-producer can bring 30-50% of a budget “to the table” depending on several conditions being met.  For eager MIFA co-producers, most important of all is to team up with a French co-producer who can help in securing of a French broadcaster/channel commitment.  That assures a maximized France licensing fee, especially if your project can qualify as French and/or European content, which then provides an opportunity for your French co-producer to apply for substantial French government subsidies.

Typically, about 60% of shows that make it on French public TV are co-productions.  Supplementing the public TV channel budgets (funded by government coffers), other national agencies kick in their fair share, depending on how much money is actually spent supporting the French animation and other audiovisual producers.  The CNC (National Center of Cinema and Animation) for example, invested in 4,413 hours of French content in 2010, and not all was allocated to the broadcasters - a healthy 25.6% went to the pay television channels original content production. 

The view of the MIFA lounge from the lake with the Imperial Hotel in the background.

Julien Borde (former Head of Children’s and Youth Activities for France Télévisions), besides being eager to mention the internal promotion of Pierre Siracusa to Head of Animation for France Télévisions, was very pleased to highlight the financial impact from his group of four networks under the France Télévisions banner  (channels FR3, FR4, FR5 and FRO).  Collectively, the France Télévisions networks account for well over half of the TOTAL ANIMATION SPENDING for all of France EACH YEAR!   For 2011 and 2012, Julian confirmed that these four sister networks will spend/invest about 58 million euros - in animation production! 

Julien went on to confirm that across the board, there’s no other country that has France’s powerful system of protecting and supporting its audiovisual sector, in which there’s running formulas for how much [by legal decree] France Télévisions must invest every two years.  This is a great and continuing benefit for French producers, who confidently offer co-producing partners from other parts of the world, up to 50% of the full budget for an animated series of 26 half-hour episodes.  The one hitch is that either one of the France Animations channels, or another French network, will need to say “yes” to finding a spot on their network for any new show, no matter what its country of origination.

But even the French must partner up, thus they’re on the hunt too.  Per many conversations in and around the Imperial Hotel and adjoining tent venue, the consensus is that Europe REALLY IS in crisis!  Especially in the south of Europe, but also throughout the Euro Zone, producers from a number of countries have taken tremendous hits to their budgets due to reductions in their home country’s animation funding (mostly government-backed, but also TV license fees have dropped a lot over the past 2-3 years).   The strongest exception is France and possibly Germany (although according to some sources, even German funds for animation have been steadily shrinking!).

David Michel

According to David Michel, General Manager of France’s Marathon Media (a division of Zodiak Kids), it’s important to note that when some go down, others go up.  David sees good developments coming out of the US these days, stating that there have been “increasing opportunities in the States in the past two years, far more pre-sales (the US equivalent to co-productions) than in recent memory, and with the US majors like Cartoon Network, Nick and Disney.”

Asia’s also on the rise (except the protectionist China, not likely to co-produce).  By all appearances around the MIFA, it seems Canada’s co-production funding continues to wane, except for digital and new media/interactive funds which are receiving tons of Canadian government support.  As a result, a lot of lower budget 2D and digital content projects are now nearly fully financed out of Canada alone. 

So for the rest of the world, our recommendation is simple:  pay special attention to the French.  Not only does their country host nearly all the most important venues for global animation markets (MIFA, MIPCOM, MIPTV and the next three Cartoon Forums), but more significantly  the  French networks and producers hold a heck of a lot of the “cards” in the global deck of animation financing! …  If I were a gambler, I would bet on MIFA having a very bright future!   [Maybe you should think about coming next year?]

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New, key appointees at France Télévisions to note:

Tiphaine de Raguenel

Tiphaine de Raguenel, Head of Children and Youth Activities for the Child and Youth Division. She will be in charge of developing the children and youth programming for France Télévisions. The Manager in charge of Children’s and Youth Programming, the Children’s and Youth Acquisitions Manager and the Deputy Unit Director will report directly to her. She will act as an intermediary between the Digital Strategy Department and the Department of Diversification and Revenue of France Télévisions.

Her appointment will be effective from September 01, 2012.

Pierre Siracus

Pierre Siracusa, Head of Animation for the Child and Youth Division. He will be in charge of the creative development of animated works for all France Télévisions broadcasts. The Editorial Managers for preschool animation and young children, animation for 6/12 year olds and family, and hybrid programs and new format will report directly to him.

His appointment is effective from June 01, 2012.

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Catherine Morrissey writes regularly for AWN about the international animation industry.

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