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MIPCOM 2008: Something... Anything... Positive?

Heather Kenyon polls a sampling of attendees for signs of sweetness and light.

The global economic tsunami affected MIPCOM 2008, but those who came got business done. © MIPCOM.

I came home late one night and decided to tune into a repeat of the second U.S. Presidential Debate, only to have CNN cut live to its London offices where they were discussing the alarming drop in Japan's Nikkei. I sat up and took notice. By the time I reached London on a transfer to Cannes, the dollar was at a five-year high against the pound, Russia had suspended its market, the Dow was the lowest I have ever seen and everyone was on the edge of their seat waiting to see what would happen when Wall St. opened. We have all been hearing the economic rumblings for awhile. But it seemed leading up to this year's MIPCOM that everything suddenly went downhill.

"Well, this is certainly going to be an interesting market," I thought. I wondered if it would be like the one after 9/11, where the Palais was a ghost town. Or the one where people were called home immediately upon arrival as the United States invaded Iraq.

While this MIPCOM was nothing as dire as those markets, rumors certainly swirled all week of companies going under, staff being told not to travel at the last minute, and whispers of concern over doing business with companies on shaky ground. The Palais seemed quiet… the halls a little emptier… and yet, the people that come to every market were busy. They had tons of meetings and the same amount of business appeared to get done. In fact, organizer Reed MIDEM declared record attendance for this 24th MIPCOM, especially from the emerging markets. So, how bad was it really?

I decided to ask a select group of attendees what they saw that made them hopeful or happy about the future of children's programming. What had they seen during our glorious sunny week in Cannes that made them feel as though there were a light at the end of what is appearing to be a very long and dark tunnel?

Here's what they said…

Rita Street, President, Radar Cartoons

It made me happy to hear that most broadcasters have a wait-and-see attitude toward the economic downturn. They may not be able to buy much next year, but at MIPCOM they were still very willing to look at new properties and discuss new directions -- thank heavens. The trend toward "teenage boy action heroes" is now solidly entrenched in animation, which is good news as we've been preaching this swing in the pendulum to our clients for over a year. A small portion of broadcasters are also willing to consider funny, utterly insane animals as an alternative to the animated "human" series. But, animal/creature shows have to be absolute breakouts to get a buy. Finally, there was a ton of talk of live-action taking over animation slots, but live-action hasn't won yet! You just can't make South Park in live-action -- at least, I hope not.

guru studio screened The Buds for many buyers at MIPCOM. © guru studio.

Donna Friedman Meir, Chief of Creative & Strategy, National Geographic Kids Entertainment

I saw a few truly extraordinary projects while at MIPCOM... one, sadly, is top secret so I can't mention names here, but it gave me that amazing feeling in my gut when I know something is going to be a big hit and touch kids in a powerful way. The greatest part, which you do feel and see over and over again at the market, is that the people behind the projects bring such passion and commitment both to kids and to their art! I always find that inspiring at MIPCOM! Good people doing great work.

Louis Fournier, Vice President, Business Development, Tribal Nova

For my part, I couldn't help but notice a new eagerness to embrace and be part of the online kids entertainment wave. Given that Tribal Nova has built quite an expertise in the field, I had a very upbeat market. The best is yet to come.

Mary Bredin, Development & Acquisitions, guru studio

Frank Falcone, the president and creative director of guru studio, and I noticed a trend that, in general, companies were more conscientious of their brand; we saw the re-branding of Target and it looked great, Brenda Wooding had a new card that was amazing. Perhaps it's the influence of the web and advertising and just more pressure to be aware of how things "look." But, overall, the image of the shows and booths seemed to work better. Even the Telefilm Canada stand, an old reliable, had a new chic feel. Marketing materials that have looked the same, in those pockets hanging off the stands, actually looked like you might want to read them -- or at least, more of them than usual. Somehow, the TV100 stand still looked cool even though it did look similar to the stand! Doesn't everyone now notice when business cards are dull or don't use the back for some sort of statement? Overall, it was a nice surprise -- more thoughtful branding makes things clearer and brighter!

Orion Ross, Vice President of Original Content and Creative, Jetix Europe

The weather was awesome, but we had so many meetings I thought I would lose my marbles. At times it was hard to discern any method in the madness. Ultimately what made me hopeful for the future was the talent. We met a flock of young, cool companies with silly names and great portfolios. We also saw some established studios really committing to fresh new artists, and pushing harder than ever for unique creator-driven shows. Ultimately individual pitches and projects are less important than the people behind them, and I'm really excited about working with some of the exceptional new folks we met. In a crowded market -- and by that I mean both MIP and the world beyond the Croisette -- where original points of view are paramount, the nutty people will triumph over the normal. And there were plenty of nuts to go around.

Kun Wu, Managing Director, Shiao Animation Co., Ltd.

As a first-timer to MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM, I do not have much experience to compare this year's market with the previous years. Of course, I heard during some of our MIPCOM meetings that the market is active, but funding is limited. On the bright side, what I felt is the passion of people who work on the kids' projects and work for children's happiness; this is not diminishing. Also the demand from the kids for more and better animation doesn't decrease. I also felt the trend that the market is diversifying into more different types of media, like Internet-based and video games. Overall, I feel positive about the opportunities in the market if we have attractive content, the correct market target and format, and well-planned and effective execution.

Vickie Corner, Managing Director, VGI

  Whether it was waking up to blue skies and sunny climes, indulging in over-sized patisserie, or absorbing the hubbub and frenzy of a colorful, abundant and a pleasantly calm Palais, there was a lot to be happy about at this year’s Mipcom. VGI was delighted with the fantastic response to our new CGI animated preschool series Everything's Rosie and, in spite of the fragile global economy, Mipcom 2008 felt buoyant.

W!LDBRAIN’s Team Smithereen will be the first new short-form series that Jetix will debut in Europe as an exclusive premiere on its websites. Courtesy of MIPCOM.

Suzanne Ryan, C.E.O, SLR Productions

I saw some really hot shows coming out of Australia this MIPCOM and was excited to hear that the animation industry in Australia is getting a lot of high-profile broadcasters and partners globally. At SLR, we had strong interest and sales on our shows, especially our upcoming project in development, Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs. Seems we've managed to combine two of the most popular things for kids -- pirates and dinosaurs!

Nathan Waddington, Children's TV and Programming Consultant

Patience is a virtue I'm told, but making 'toons is a long, slow process and time is often the one thing we don't have. Anything that speeds things up and helps get the concept from paper to screen quicker gets my vote. That's why I was surprised and impressed by the demo given by Free D Pictures of their proprietary real-time animation software at MIPCOM. Target Ent., Imira Ent., TV Loonland and Go-n Productions are amongst the first European studios to undertake animation tests and, according to Benoit Runel, "The performance of this new tool is going to change the dynamic of 3D production's typical heavy-duty procedures. It will improve the cost, cut down delivery schedule and, above all, allow closer creative control over the course of production. The flexibility of our software makes the word 'retake' sound like a piece of cake." In these gloomy economic times, that can't be bad, can it?

Three Delivery is a co-venture between Animation Collective and Fatkat. It was created by Larry Schwarz and is being produced at Fatkat for YTV, Nicktoons, Canal + and SRC. © Animation Collective.

David Gurney, Rocket Scientist, Blue Rocket Productions

I thought that the October market was drab and devoid of anything really fresh and new. It seems that when times get tough, instead of exciting new programs coming out that really grab everyone's attention, we get safe and bland programming instead. Nobody is prepared to take a risk in an unstable environment. Hopefully that will change when they work out where everyone has hidden all that money and we can get on with the business.

Gene Fowler, Founder, Fatkat

After spending a week at MIPCOM, I realized that despite gloomy times there are still a lot of opportunities for international co-productions for Fatkat. We're a very popular studio regardless; the demand for us to execute on producers' projects this year was still quite high. With weak economics worldwide, people are looking for ways to produce their projects [and] Canada's tax credit system has put our Fatkat in a great spot.

Jon Rutherford, Director of Sales & Acquisitions, Portfolio Entertainment

Overall, we were very happy with the outcome of the market this year. I think the general concern leading into the week was that investing money in television programs was not going to be at the top of people's agenda due to the growing global economic concerns. However, we were pleasantly surprised that business continued as usual, and in fact, is proving to be one of our busiest, and potentially most successful, markets to date.

Patricia Lavoie, Executive Producer, NDi Media

This was a first for me! A very large, well-established production house pitched me a massive online component to their series -- and the series exists only on paper at the moment. Perhaps people are finally realizing that the online component of a television series is not merely an adjunct that is slapped together at the last minute when the series is ready to roll out.

Teamto project Occho Kochoi excited Shuzo John Shiota of Polygon Pictures and could be a project the two companies will work on together. © Occho Kochoi 2008-Team TO.

Shuzo John Shiota, President/CEO, Polygon Pictures, Inc.

The lunch meeting I had with friends from the wonderful French 3D CGI animation studio, Teamto, was by far most creatively stimulating, and thus uplifting. Having traveled to three foreign cities within a period of a month -- Taipei, Ottawa and Cannes -- and having seen a ton of animation during that period -- a market, a festival and four animation juries -- I had a conviction that for 3D CGI animation to have any sort of future, we must stop trying to create like Pixar. Only Pixar can be Pixar. Rather we -- independent 3D CGI animation studios -- should look to embrace the wide and varied styles of art that other mediums, including 2D and puppet animation, have nurtured over the years. The project that Teamto has been developing, Occho Kochoi, seems like a perfect testament to my new-found conviction. It excites me that we may be able to work on it together! It was also interesting to find that many people are enamored of Japanese creativity, but are quite clueless as to how to access, or work with, them. This puts us in quite an advantageous position, as we understand both sides well. I've known this all along but am further convinced through MIPCOM that animation and karaoke transcend all differences in nationalities or upbringing, and make this world a better place.

Heather Kenyon is a consultant specializing in the development and production of animation. For five years, she worked at Cartoon Network, where she was the senior director of development, original series, leading the development of all series for children 6-11 years of age. She is also the former editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.