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MIP-TV: Animation in Crisis?

Julien Dubois reports on the 1998 MIP-TV market in Cannes, revealing a troubled international marketplace for animation.

Cartoon Network's inflatable character float livened up the bay and set the scene for the market in Cannes. Photo by and © Scott Ingalls.

The 35th MIP-TV, held in Cannes from April 3 to April 8, 1998, was marked by a slight lowering of attendance. The absence of South-East Asian countries, because of grave financial difficulties, partly explains this decrease. None of this hindered China, however, from making its intentions known to play an important role in the world television market. Central and Eastern Europe made a remarkable entrance into the market, especially the Russians, whose financial means are in full growth.

"The market for animated programs in Germany is very difficult, as well as in England, where many shows are stockpiled," stressed Peter Worsley, Director of Sales and Operations at Europe Images, one of the largest distribution companies in France. "The same in the United States, where there seems to be less money in the syndication market, and in Japan, where local productions remain quite dominant. On the other hand, there are opportunities where the market is growing, like in South America, Italy, and also in Spain for the regional broadcasts." In this general context, a remark by one of the participants perfectly sums up the ambiance of this MIP-TV: "You're no longer there for show, but to do business." MIP was calm, professional and very dynamic. The market is now at a stage where a company's library demands priority. Without a doubt this year's MIP-TV allowed one to take note of the "new world order" which now reigns in the audiovisual program industry, that of the advent and multiplication of channels broadcast by cable and satellite, whose direction and buyers are presently clearly identified by the sellers.

Photo by and © Scott Ingalls.

Just Try to Get Some Air Time"The principal difficulty at present consists of managing and trying to procure the broadcast windows between general and thematic channels," detailed Peter Worsley. This new order is evidently not without consequences in the production sector, which includes animated programs and series. "We're leaving a period in which animation production enjoyed a spectacular growth," explains Christian Davin of the French production company Alphanim. "Growth and the merging of companies have gone hand in hand in Europe and in the U.S.. However, independent American producers have suffered a lot from this phenomenon of vertical integration. European production, very successful thanks to the boom that took place in the old world, is currently very much in demand by the American market, which is looking to Europe for 20% to 30% of the financing for its programs." As an example of this point, one could cite the co-development and co-production agreement signed during MIP-TV between Porchlight Entertainment (U.S.) and Millimages (a European studio grouping) for The Rooties (26 26-minute episodes), an "animated cartoon fantasy" destined for the four to eight year-old audience. "The opportunities for co-production between the two continents have multiplied, while the cultural gap that separates them is less important," adds Christian Davin. "The artists have traveled a lot during the past five years. The Americans are less reticent than they used to be regarding artistic collaboration, and it's no longer rare that a series conceived in Europe finds partners and markets across the Atlantic. The world is getting smaller."

Fred Flintstone in front of the Warner Bros. booth at MIP TV `98. Photo by and © Scott Ingalls.

Shrinking Financing

And so is the market, it seems. Financing is becoming more difficult, due to the joint effect of the fragmentation of the audience and the fall of advertising revenues from commercial broadcast channels, which have always been the only ones able to finance animation programs. Even if the new cable and satellite channels multiply pre-sales, as one saw at the MIP-TV, a recession is on the way. "We're entering a period of crisis," stressed Marc du Pontavice, director of Gaumont Multimedia. "A lot was produced during the last five years. The stockpile of programs is at the highest level. There is a very important multiplication of possibilities to broadcast programs, but at the same time there is a certain shrinking of the opportunities for financing." Two trends will probably prevail over the market in the upcoming years: one, an increased concentration of production in fewer hands, and two, large studios will gather necessary capital by considerably augmenting their part of the market, which is on par with stressing the importance of a library and the management of rights to receipts. "When a market is on the verge of recession, you have to increase your part of the market," declared Robert Rea, Director General of Ellipse at the opening ceremonies of MIP-TV. His department, Ellipsanime, the youth and family wing of Ellipse (a partner in audiovisual production with Canal+), announced shortly before this 35th MIP-TV its intention to expand its production considerably by going from 3 to 8 series a year and from 200 to 400 million francs [roughly $33 million U.S. to $67 million U.S.] of business volume. It is also a goal to double the size of the catalogue exploited by Ellipse and Canal+DA, which is currently 600 half-hours, within the next three years. For the independents, who work in Europe or across the Atlantic, the chances of survival undoubtedly rest in lowering costs. "Soon you won't be able to market a 2-D series for more than 35 million francs [roughly $5.8 million U.S.], when the production is sub-contracted in Asia," Marc du Pontavice estimates. "With the new technologies -- whole computers can be carried in the palm of your hand! -- we're going to have to produce series of 26 episodes of 26-minute shows for less than 30 million francs [roughly $5 million U.S.]."

Quality and Niche Audiences

Cheaper series, if they want to sell, will have to prove their excellence on the level of writing. In a market where the audience is more and more fragmented, the targeted audience evolves over time as a result. "We've left the Disney era," explains Christian Davin. "Animation today reaches a larger and larger public, a family public. There are a lot of projects in development, but still few venues for distribution of this type of program. One can expect that the venues will follow." Gaumont MultiMedia announced during MIP-TV an agreement with TPS, a digital platform rivaling that of Canal+ in the French marketplace, involving the pre-purchase of the series Oggy and the Cockroaches (78 7-minute episodes), which will be broadcast every week in prime-time before a program on the cinema channel Cinestar. "The broadcasters need a programming leader, an engine," added Marc du Pontavice from his viewpoint. "There are niches to exploit with a very high-scale cartoon series. The positioning in prime-time is one of these niches. There will be many called but few chosen. The financing, which should be on a comparable level to live-action stories, is there. You have to be in the position to develop a series in which the writing is of excellent quality in order to convince the programmers that the audiences will follow." Julien Dubois is a journalist who lives in Paris, France. For 10 years, he has been exploring the wings of this gigantic dream industry, the television industry.