MIPTV 2009: New Media and Diversity

While there is no denying that the world is in the midst of a major fiscal re-order, a lot of the people at MIP weren’t necessarily crying the panicked, frantic song they were at last fall’s MIPCOM.  The sky is no longer falling, business is just slow…really slow.

MIPTV is always a draw, but how has the economy affected this marketplace?

written by Heather Kenyon

Wow, was it easier to get from meeting to meeting this past MIPTV.  Considerably smaller in scale both booth wise and in attendance, it was a noticeably quieter MIPTV. “Yeah, well, this is what it looks like when several trillion dollars disappears overnight…” a seasoned market-goer told me.  While there is no denying that the world is in the midst of a major fiscal re-order, a lot of the people at MIP weren’t necessarily crying the panicked, frantic song they were at last fall’s MIPCOM.  The sky is no longer falling, business is just slow…really slow.  “I am only here for a few days and only meeting with the people that I might actually do business with,” I heard over and over.  I also heard, across the board, in every meeting, the words, “new media” and “diversify.”  New media is the given, with not only producers unveiling elaborate cross-platform ideas with every pitch, but also a number of new players coming to the event and starting some interesting, brain-bending conversations.  And “diversify” came into play as players scramble to have as many arrows in their quivers as possible to stay afloat.  An animation producer with a new board game?  An animation company plunging into live-action?  A television producer suddenly pitching a feature?  An animation production house moving into online world creation?  ‘Why not!’ is the attitude right now.  When times are slow, you have to start thinking of other places to sell.

New Media Opportunities What a wide-ranging term.  If it isn’t “just” on television then I think we are calling it new media these days.  There were several interesting new players at the market that were discussing new avenues of distribution.  One was KIT Digital.  This fascinating company takes high-end brands’ product and spreads it across multiple platforms in creative and brand unique ways.  Being platform agnostic, they help companies, whether they are consumer brands, telecommunications providers, content producers, or broadcasters, successfully monetize the consumption of their online and mobile video assets.  “The iPhone has changed the way we think about technology,” explains Senior Vice President of Business Development Barak Bar-Cohen.  “And all-you-can-eat data plans, cool apps, have only increased the appetite for watching content on smaller screens.”  Their most successful project in the animated space to date is the site they created for Seth MacFarlane.  Seth wanted to connect with his fans more directly and so with help from KIT and a sponsorships from Burger King, together with a partnership between Google, Youtube and Media Rights Capital, a special web environment and Youtube channel was launched.   With high-resolution video and other content the site achieved over 100,000 hits in the first 24 hours!

Yahoo! was also in the Palais talking about their latest “application” – ConnectedTV.  “’How do we bring Yahoo content to TV?’ is basically the question we asked ourselves,” explains Lucas Mast, Yahoo’s Connected TV evangelist.  “The answer is a widget!  Just like an app for the iPhone, but this is like a bookmark that will appear on your TV, only when you want it too.  You control the interactivity.”  The Yahoo widget engine is pre-loaded onto certain television models like new Samsung, Sony, LG and Visio brands.  One can then watch television and, like a sidebar, bring up favorite websites and content.  While keeping an eye on your golf game, NBA play-off, or favorite soap opera for that matter, you can also peek at your stocks, latest eBay showdown or any other website/content you like.  For instance perhaps you would download the Macy’s widget and then be able to check in for special offers and coupons.  “We are trying to marry the computer to the television,” Mast explains. “And what is great is – it is a platform.  So everyone is welcome to write a widget!”  There are no fees associated with writing a widget, it is just another way of making your content available. 9 Story's FuggetDiversify Young Man! 9 Story is a company whose quality I have long admired.  I sat down with Vince Commisso, their president and CEO, and we had a good chat.  Having just sold “Survive This” to Cartoon Network’s widely anticipated upcoming reality block, 9 Story is a prime example of an animation boutique that is now developing a wide range of high quality content to suit the ever-changing market’s needs.  “It all comes down to story and quality,” says Vince.  “Who am I serving?  If that audience changes, then you have to change how you think about content.  Today’s kids are moving at the speed of light!  Unless you move with them, they just won’t pay attention.”  While staying true to their pre-school roots, 9 Story is also moving into the prime time space with a hilarious looking project called “Fugget About It.”

Another animation company that was conceived with product diversity in mind is Ireland’s Jam Media.  John Rice started as an animator working at 20th Century Fox Animation in Phoenix on “Anastasia” and “Titan AE,” before moving to New York and working as a character designer at MTV on such series as “Downtown.”  However, even way back then, he saw that the days of hand-flipping animation on paper was going to become just one of the many ways to animate.  “Technology was only going to advance,” he says.  Therefore, he returned to his native Ireland and studied multi-media, only to emerge and create Jam Media with two other partners, Alan Shannon and Mark Cumberton.   From the beginning the point of Jam Media was to create great animation and develop methods of delivering the content over traditional and emerging platforms.  My favorite application of theirs is called “Head-hunter.”  It is a riot!  This technology allows users to take their content and personalize it by adding their face in different poses, thereby creating a personalized animation.  What’s more is it includes a render engine that allows the finished animation to be spit out in the format of the creator’s choice.  Video sharing sites, blogs, mobile phones, you name it!  You can share your silly creation however you please.  “From the start of the company, there was an awareness of technology.  It is never an add on, but rather an intricate part,” John explains.  Jam is working from a model where, while they develop the content, they are then happy to oversee and share production, while focusing more on the R&D of new technology.  At MIPTV, Jam launched their new live-action, animated comedy “Roy.” Commissioned by CBBC and premiering in the fall, the series tells the story of Roy, the only cartoon boy living in the real world.   Anne Gilchrist of CBBC exclaims, “It’s funny, poignant and totally mesmerizing.”  All of the live-action footage is being shot in Dublin and Jam is working with Studio B on producing the animation for the 26 x 22-minute order.

They say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’…and this MIPTV I felt as though there was a lot of thinking going on.  A lot of meetings where people were asking, “What if…”  Our industry was already in the midst of an upheaval before the economic crisis hit.  These trying times will force us to rethink, regroup and continue to look for new avenues of business.  There is another saying, which is, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.’  And so, I am interested and closely watching, as everyone is, what new models, inventions and developments will occur as people forge ahead, making business happen in a strange time.  Some really exciting innovations may be right around the corner.