Repurposing Animation for the Internet

Joe Strike looks into the growing opportunities of repurposing content from other mediums on the Internet.

Re-purposed programming is flowing to viewers, and nothing stands up to repeat re-viewing like animation, even when its on a computer screen or a handheld mobile device.

Bruce Springsteens complaint about 57 channels and nothing on has long been out of date by a factor of ten or so and now that figure seems poised to multiply a hundredfold.

Something is on those channels, though. Broadband delivery, Internet downloads and online streaming are supplementing traditional cable and broadcast (remember them?) television. High-speed Internet connections let cable services, web portals and new media entrepreneurs become content providers in their own right.

An assortment of new content is flowing through those pipes, but its small in proportion to programming re-purposed from its theatrical and TV origins. And as everyone knows, nothing stands up to repeat re-viewing like animation, even when its on a computer screen or a handheld mobile device. The difference is freedom of choice, also known as Video on Demand, letting viewers decide what, when, where and how to watch their favorite toons, instead of being limited to broadcast and cable schedules.

The business models supporting these new lines of distribution are still evolving, but seem to be heading in the direction of ad-supported streaming and purchased downloads. Its still possible to see stuff for free, if only short, streamed promotional clips on a cable channels website (such as Cartoon Networks) for shows airing on the channel itself. While Cartoon Network has yet to offer full-length cartoons, other services have. These uncut toons, running 11 or 22 minutes long come with commercials attached.

Nick Onlines Mike Skagerlind selects programming to promote a show for the channel or to show things that dont get seen otherwise.

Make that commercial attached. For the moment at least, streamed animation is taking it easy on the commercial content. We treat the advertising model very lightly, says Mike Skagerlind, Nickelodeon Onlines svp/gm. Last July the channel launched TurboNick, a broadband platform featuring six different choices of programming, all of which (save TEENick) feature cartoons from Nickelodeons library. (Two Nick Jr. channels separate from TurboNick Nick Jr. Parents TV and Nick Jr. Video also went online.)

We have chosen to show commercials a minimum of one every five minutes on TurboNick, Skagerlind explains. You see your first ad at the end of the first video you watch, then no ads interrupt the programming for at least five minutes. If youre watching an 11- or 2-minute cartoon, you wont see your next ad until it ends. Thats a considerably lower frequency of advertising than anywhere else. Theyre normal TV commercials, but theyre only served one at a time. On ordinary TV might see five or six back to back.

Superstars like SpongeBob SquarePants and newcomers like The Xs can be found on TurboNick, along with golden oldies like Aahh!!! Real Monsters on its Nick Rewind channel, as well as programming there simply isnt room for on cable Nickelodeon.

Our programming philosophy is a number of different things, Skagerlind continues. Sometimes were looking to help promote something thats coming onto the channel. We premiered Catscratch on TurboNick to help kick it off. Its a terrific way to use the service, but not the only way. Were also showing things you cant otherwise see. We have short form cartoons from Nick Australia that havent been on Nickelodeon cable, like Very Aggressive Vegetables veggies that are upset because kids wont eat them whats wrong with us? Its a really great way of offering kids a unique package of stuff that they know and want to see again on their own terms, as well as stuff theyve never seen before.

When Adult Swim launched its online Friday Night Fix last September, it was staking a claim on the one night denied to it by Cartoon Network. From 11:00 pm to 6:00 am, Adult Swims normal cable window, five full-length episodes are available for streaming on its adultswim.com website.

Like TurboNick, Friday Night Fix has previewed Adult Swim episodes prior to their first cable airings. Mike Lazzo, the head of Adult Swim offered that to us, explains Chip Duffey, the sites creative director. If you want to get a sneak peak before it goes on the air you come to Friday Night Fix. Asked whether the premieres are used to promote the website, or create a buzz prior to their cable premieres, Duffey answers, I think its both. It was a bit of gamble, but it hasnt seemed to hurt ratings thus far.

The numbers bear Duffey out. Moral Orel, a stop-motion spoof of Davey and Goliath previewed on Friday Night Fix prior to its official Sunday cable premiere. The online presentation earned 7,823 page hits vs. 429,000 18-34 year-old cable viewers two nights later. I dont think anybody believes the Web is the venue of choice to watch video. Thats why people are paying $2,000 to get huge screen TVs. TV will always be the preferred medium, but its a nice supplement its a great second tier tool.

The good news is its worked out really great, Duffey goes on to say. So well, were looking to do even more of it. Were starting to expand the Friday Night Fix concept. This is going to be the most generous offering yet from a cable network. Were going to open up a new section of the site just called Video. Youll get seven full-length streaming episodes a week, archival shows that will be available 24/7. Friday Night Fix will remain an area of the new Video section youll still be able to go there for premieres, but only on Friday.

When Adult Swim launched its online Friday Night Fix last September, it was staking a claim on the one night denied to it by Cartoon Network.  & © 2006 Cartoon Network. All rights reserved

With its massive three-studio (Hanna-Barbera, MGM and Looney Tunes) library, Warner Bros. has the most to offer in the way of repurposed animation. Darryl LaRue, vp of sales for Warner Bros. Online hesitates to call broadbands growing impact a sea change. Its more like dipping our toe in the water.

As befits a sales executive, LaRue takes a more business-oriented approach to the new media, observing that streaming fits our advertising model, and we can connect it to our ad survey system. We are seeing ad revenue.

The classic Looney Tunes run full length on looneytunes.com (together with new Flash-animated shorts starring Bugs and company), while The Jetsons and Flintstones clips can be seen on hanna-barbera.com. Short clips from those shows have been repurposed into The Great Gazoos Flying Factoids, spoofs of VH1s Pop-Up Videos that reveal trivia or tweak the characters. (Watch for Barneys instant tan, one factoid warns, highlighting a cel painters 40-year-old mistake.)

Commercial spots precede the short cartoons, and appear in the breaks within half-hour episodes. Again, the streamed shows carry nowhere near the commercial load as the same shows on cable.

The repurposing focus at MotherLoad is on clips. Comedy Centrals strategy covers ad-supported streaming videos on the broadband site, and downloadable episodes that can be purchased via Apples iTunes. Courtesy of Comedy Central.

A variety of Warner Bros. animation will soon be syndicated to some 400 websites via a deal with Broadband Enterprises. This past summer Looney Tunes started appearing on targeted kids websites Kaboose.com, Kidsdomain.com, Funschool.com, Zeeks.com, Piczo.com and Bonus.com. On both Warners and Broadbands websites, commercials precede the Looney Tunes shorts and appear between the acts of the half-hour cartoons.

Comedy Centrals strategy covers ad-supported streaming videos on its new MotherLoad broadband site, and downloadable episodes that can be purchased via Apples iTunes website. David Bernath, the channels svp of programming describes the phenomenon as multiplatform mania. We want to touch our viewers in as many places as possible, he adds, offering a straight line that the South Park kids could probably build an entire episode around.

The repurposing focus at MotherLoad is on clips. I dont see us in near term putting up full length episodes, Bernath says. Its a combination of things. Twenty-one minutes is a long time. People arent currently streaming things of that length. These platforms are evolving constantly. Come back in a year and that might be different.

Right now we do collections, we do themed groupings of clips, we do it as a promotional platform. When theres a new episode of Drawn Together, we run a preview clip beforehand and a highlight clip the next day. We put together a program on MotherLoad in a sort of sensible way that complements whats happening on the channel.

Full-length South Park and Drawn Together episodes can be had for a price. The channel is selling downloadable episodes via iTunes for $1.99 a pop, podcasts the purchaser owns for life and can transfer from home computer to a mobile device. (Nickelodeon shows like SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer are likewise available.) There are limits built in as to the number of computers you can view it on and number of copies you can make, Bernath explains. Its not competition to the website. Is it cannibalizing future DVD sales? We dont think so.

Its an unanswered question whether this will impact cable viewings. If you can buy Lost day after it airs, the network may only air it once more, but we show South Park and Drawn Together a lot. Right now, there are only 2 million iPods. When there are 20 million out there, well rethink it.

Were the little engine that could, says Bill Sager, ceo of iwatchnow.com. The year old streaming service had been in a soft launch mode and free of charge as its plans evolved. Sager acknowledges that iwatchnow.coms programming tends towards oddities, rarities and public domain titles to a great degree, the kind of movies one finds in the supermarket discount DVD bin. Were not getting a lot of money for this. Were not offering Harry Potter we dont charge $4.99 to download this months megahit.

Now ready to move on, the website will start charging a monthly fee for a basic bucket of some sixty movies in February. Genre fans will have the option of paying a similar fee for unlimited access to their favorite category of titles: horror or sci-fi for example, or animation.

Sager is casting a wide net for his animation programming. Public domain favorites like Felix the Cat and the Fleischer Superman cartoons are available, along with items like a previously unseen cgi Felix Christmas special or a British-animated version of the Chronicles of Narnia. Were adding more animation, Sager notes. We did a deal recently with Central Park Media, were talking to ADV and FUNimation, were looking at Russian animation.

Sager plans to add budget-priced, download-to-own podcasts to the sites offerings next month. We might offer 10 packs of podcasts, like 10 horror movies for $8.99, or $2-4 for a single title.

Disneys main foray into repurposing comes via the Disney Connection, a subscription service now available in some 35 to 40 million broadband cable homes. The focus of the kid-aimed Connection is interactivity, with an assortment of games and an online multiplayer universe. A handful of classic Disney theatrical shorts rotate through the service every month, too one of the few places those shorts can be seen at the moment. Disney feature downloads remain the province of Movielink, Cinema Now, & Starz Real Ticket.

Vongo as a more consumer-friendly alternative to pay-per-view. Viewers can pay $4 or 5 to download a single film for a 24-hour window. Courtesy of Starz Ent. Group.

The future of downloadable entertainment may be glimpsed in a new video application known as Vongo from Starz Ent. Unlike the specific purchases one makes through iTunes, Vongo gives consumers unlimited, downloadable access to a thousand-title feature film library for a flat $9.99 a month. The software lets you download movies into three devices of your choosing, your home computer for instance, together with your mobile phone and iPod.

Starz spokesperson Eric Becker extols Vongo as a more consumer-friendly alternative to pay-per-view. It costs $4 or 5 to download a single film for a 24-hour window. If you dont like a film you feel like you didnt get your moneys worth. When youre a Vongo subscriber, the worst case scenario is you delete it and watch the other 12 movies you downloaded instead. Theres a lot of downloading based on what Id call the curiosity factor.

Vongo comes with some interesting strings attached. Those strings are known in the industry as Digital Rights Management. Put simply, its a way of making sure you arent making illegal copies of their movies and its a battle thats been raging ever since home recording first came on the scene.

The three device limit is built into Vongo, via software that can tell whether or not the movie is heading for a device the user specified during the original set-up. Even more interesting is the self-destruct code added to downloaded movies: after six or eight months the file simply deletes itself from your computer or portable device. Vongo has never been successfully hacked, says Becker, and Hollywood is collectively pleased with that.

The issue of giving away the content is a shortsighted, trumped up issue, says Frederators Fred Seibert. Its been the copyrighters knee-jerk reaction for 100 years. In 1930, 78 rpm record labels said not for broadcast. The record companies decided if they gave it away to radio, they would never sell any records.

The arguments been replayed 10 billion times, most recently in the record business again with online sharing. My proposition, to me proved out by 100 years of media business is the more you give away for free, the more sales you get.

For Fred Seibert and his Channel Frederator, the two most important things are creating a relationship with the audience and filmmakers. Courtesy of Frederator Studios.

Seiberts Channel Frederator offers free downloadable Podcasts of original short cartoons selected from hundreds submitted every week. As a non-commercial site, the channel is creatively rather than financially driven. Its not altruism, Seibert cautions. Im building a brand for ourselves. I have a good relationship with those filmmakers. If I want to get some rights, Ill call them up and see what rights theyre willing to make a deal on. To me, the two most important things for my business are creating a relationship with the audience and filmmakers. Those two things will always end up being profitable for me.

Starz spokesperson Eric Becker extols Vongo as a more consumer-friendly alternative to pay-per-view. It costs $4 or 5 to download a single film for a 24-hour window. If you dont like a film you feel like you didnt get your moneys worth. When youre a Vongo subscriber, the worst case scenario is you delete it and watch the other 12 movies you downloaded instead. Theres a lot of downloading based on what Id call the curiosity factor.

Vongo comes with some interesting strings attached. Those strings are known in the industry as Digital Rights Management. Put simply, its a way of making sure you arent making illegal copies of their movies and its a battle thats been raging ever since home recording first came on the scene.

The three device limit is built into Vongo, via software that can tell whether or not the movie is heading for a device the user specified during the original set-up. Even more interesting is the self-destruct code added to downloaded movies: after six or eight months the file simply deletes itself from your computer or portable device. Vongo has never been successfully hacked, says Becker, and Hollywood is collectively pleased with that.

Bill Sager of iwatchnow.com is casting a wide net for his animation programming. Public domain favorites like Felix the Cat are available, along with previously unseen items. © Felix the Cat Prods.

The issue of giving away the content is a shortsighted, trumped up issue, says Frederators Fred Seibert. Its been the copyrighters knee-jerk reaction for 100 years. In 1930, 78 rpm record labels said not for broadcast. The record companies decided if they gave it away to radio, they would never sell any records.

The arguments been replayed 10 billion times, most recently in the record business again with online sharing. My proposition, to me proved out by 100 yrs of media business is the more you give away for free, the more sales you get.

Seiberts Channel Frederator offers free downloadable Podcasts of original short cartoons selected from hundreds submitted every week. As a non-commercial site, the channel is creatively rather than financially driven. Its not altruism, Seibert cautions. Im building a brand for ourselves. I have a good relationship with those filmmakers. If I want to get some rights, Ill call them up and see what rights theyre willing to make a deal on. To me, the two most important things for my business are creating a relationship with the audience and filmmakers. Those two things will always end up being profitable for me.

Seiberts brand-building efforts are bearing fruit, with Channel Frederator number 52 out of 20,000 podcasts, according to iTunes directory. The decision I made is these portable video devices is where the marketplace is going. Why tether a viewer to one place where you have to have a wire live to the server all the time? Convenience is where consumers always end up wanting to go.

Another factor may give iPods and videophones the edge over home computers when it comes to watching downloaded entertainment. By and large, desktop computers can be found exactly there atop desks, used by people sitting in chairs designed for work, not relaxation. And depending on its compression, a digital file may simply not have the oomph to fill a large, high definition plasma video screen in front of a much more comfy couch.

Joe Strike lives in New York City and writes for and about animation; hes this close to finishing his childrens novel.

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