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Fearless Predictions

Buzz Potamkin makes his predictions on the trends that will influence our animation industry and marketplace well into the next 100 years.

It feels somewhat strange writing an article knowing that no one may ever read it. If the Y2K fanatics hoarding food, water and fuel are correct -- and not to forget the terrorists attempting to bomb us back to the Stone Age -- all that will be left of this article as of January 1st is a mass of non-purposed free-floating electrons, resting in peace at the bottom of a meltdown. However, as our intrepid editor assures me that Animation World Magazine is at the forefront of the technological leap into the new century, and also that the server farm is located well out of the blast pattern, I'm willing to suspend my qualms and forge ahead.At every turn these days one finds great minds engaging in a wrap-up on the just ending era, millennium, century, decade, or year -- you pick it. I've been known to look back too, for guidance on what in the future will parallel the past. But this time I'm looking forward: what does the future hold for all of us here in the animation bunker?

Of greatest concern to most of you, the need for time- and action-based visual creativity will not diminish. Whether or not animation as we know it perseveres, whether or not the biz continues forward on its own version of Sherman's March through Georgia, people who create visually -- be it draw, write, time, or even produce -- will be needed. There are all too many reasons for this, but suffice it to say that an art form that traces its roots back to cave painting (sorry, but the past has its own way of creeping in) obviously answers a need buried deep in our collective psyche. And the new media, as well as the old, offer all of us opportunity to explore and create nearly ad infinitum, perhaps even ad nauseum.So, here goes a half-dozen fearless predictions, in no particular order:1. Kids TV animation as we know it will continue to collapse as a meaningful business.

There are no rules that require an audience to sit quietly in front of a gently flickering primitive device to seek solace, just as there are no rules that require us to sit quietly in a darkened cave to watch images dance on a wall. OK, I know that churches and movie theaters still attract significant numbers of patrons, but -- in both cases -- nothing like they did in their days of incomparable glory. It wasn't that long ago that the greatest minds of their time were completing animation storyboards on the walls of churches throughout Europe, but I don't see too many of us doing that now. (Yep, the Arena, Brancacci and Sistine Chapels were stops along the road between the caves and Pokemon.)

The sorrowful state of the kids advertising market has been chronicled within Animation World Magazine in the past, so there is no need to detail it here. Let it just be said that any market that has a significant surplus of supply will see a drop in the "clearing" demand price. CPM (Cost per Thousand, the basic currency of advertising pricing) has no place to go but down, and the resultant winnowing of profits must (as it has and will continue to) reduce the production marketplace, except for the artificial demand generated by government support, which leads to2. The non-U.S. governments (and multi-governmental units) that support kids TV animation production will tire of throwing money down the sewer, and animation around the world will have to stand on its own financially. Animation in Canada, France, and other locales in the European Union, is mainly a means of income redistribution: taxes and tax preferences are transferring wealth from general taxpayers to a select group of fellow citizens, without any sort of means testing or quality standards. This is done under the guise of "cultural protection" and other vote-gathering criteria, but it will eventually meet with political opposition, as the sums involved become necessary for other needs.

Animation workers are not the only beneficiaries of this sort of financial gift. French farmers have a far greater call on the swill, and haven't been afraid to express support for their share by violence -- but I do doubt we'll see animators bringing disks into the street and stopping Parisian traffic. As the governments face the hard choices on income transfer in the future, animation will not be first at the trough. (The reasons for the future reduction of these income transfers are complex and compelling, but don't fit in here. If you want to know more, do some research in the economics press, especially those journals that cover Europe.)

3. Original feature animation directed at kids will remain a Disney monopoly.

No matter how hard they try, not one studio has been able to break this barrier. In case you didn't notice, creative and/or production quality is not the question. Minds greater than mine have been burning the midnight oil attempting to get past the public's resistance to non-Disney originals for kids, but only properties adapted from other sources ("pre-sold" -- e.g., Pokemon) have done it so far. The rewards for success in this market are enormous, and it is possible that someone will do it, but the chances are very slim. (Pre-sold properties will continue to succeed, so the news isn't all that bad for the folks at the disks.)4. Prime time TV animation will continue to expand.

Animation is usually cheaper than most live-action (reality excepted), and the actors don't talk back (or at least not too much). Done well, animation allows re-runs to continue forever, and the international market absorbs cartoons more easily than live-action. These add up to a compelling argument that goes down well with the MBA types watching over all the major production/distribution outlets.5. Speaking of the majors, their power will be much diminished in the future.

The advent of digital TV and the continued growth of the Web will combine to loosen the control of the traditional gatekeepers. We are in the midst of a major shift in electronic communication patterns: the new multi-point to multi-point model is rapidly replacing the old single-point to multi-point regime. Under the old system, the gatekeepers raked off the majority of the profits, much to the detriment of the originator. This disintermediation will benefit the creator enormously.6. The New Media will be a veritable paradise for animation.

I always like to end on the upbeat and leaving this for last gives me the chance. The Web is very amenable to animation, with browsers that are attuned to animation nearly ubiquitous. We are now at the point where Walt was in 1928 (sorry about another historical note), when sound revolutionized film and live-action was forced into a straightjacket by the demands of the microphone. Animation flourishes when it easily outshines live-action in a new venue, as it did in the first rush of sound film, and we are now at the very beginning. The future of Web animation is bright, and the opportunity is yours. William Mulholland said it best when he opened the L.A. Aqueduct: "There it is. Take it."So, there you have it -- a fearless half-dozen, all pointing to a revolution. I doubt I've called it 100% on the nose. As always, the future holds surprises for us all.Buzz Potamkin is an award-winning independent producer, best known for The Berenstain Bears and Dr. Seuss. Before he escaped L.A. for New York, he had been President of Southern Star Productions and also Executive Vice President of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. In the Internet world, he is on the Board of Directors of Visionary Media, the creators of WhirlGirl.