US networks like CN, Nick and Disney have been producing creator driven shows for years. Anywhere you find up and coming creative talent showcasing their work, you will find a development executive from these networks on the hunt for the next Spongebob, Adventure Time, or Phineas & Ferb. Once found, the talent, along with their idea is unleashed upon the development team and funneled into their well oiled development and production pipelines. The goal is to keep the creative talent close to the heart while making a commercially viable (and hopefully successful) show. With few exceptions, it is a fairly new approach abroad. At the Annecy International Animated Film Festival this year, it was apparent that this method is starting to catch on abroad and regional channels from US studios like CN and Disney have been leading the charge.
Perhaps the best example is The Amazing World of Gumball from Cartoon Network Development Studio in the UK. Taking the cue from their parent company, in 2007 CN UK launched its own in-house development studio in an effort make creator driven shows from the European marketplace. Creator, Ben Bocquelet, was on staff at the time and when pitches were opened up to the team members, Ben’s presented Gumball. It was greenlit by Daniel Lennard, VP of Original Development, then went straight into development, with Ben at the heart of the process. The show was the buzz at Annecy, not only because it made Official Selection, but also because of its ratings. Having only premiered a month earlier, it’s been a huge hit in the UK and is also a ratings success in America. Second season was ordered only 3 short weeks later and it looks like this could be CN next big franchise.
Disney Europe, under the direction of Marc Buhaj, has also been actively pursuing creator driven projects since he was appointed Senior Vice President of Original Programming for Disney Channels EMEA in April 2009. Looking after content needs for both DXD and the Disney Channel EMEA, Marc has a mandate to round off the original programming slate it gets from it’s parent company with ones from European producers. To that end, he and his team (all experienced in producing creator driven shows) have a number of projects in development which they pilot, test, and if they test well, green-light. While some are fully commissioned and developed in-house, the majority are co-developed in partnership with European studios and with an emphasis on keeping the creators vision at the core.
Other parts of Europe are picking up the cue, in particular France. The French have always been skilled at producing creator driven shows for the local marketplace. And while many of these shows may have been regionally successful, few have translated well into international hits. However, there is a strong desire to change this. And while the channels will not likely set themselves up like CN UK and Disney EMEA, many of the French producers like Samka, Timoon, and Alphanim have. Consequently, as these development slates grow, we will begin to see more creator driven shows with universal appeal rise out of France in the months ahead.
Further signs from France came in the form of France TV’s announcement during Annecy that they are creating a slot for family animation and CN France’s test launch of the Adult Swim block in the region. It is clear that both channels see an audience for family/adult animation (think The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, Robot Chicken, etc…). And of course the key to the success of these shows has been the creator driven gene.
The trend is also migrating to the other CN regions around the world. In fact, Cartoon Network Asia Pacific’s Silas Hickey and Yoshiya Ayugai were at Annecy also looking for creator driven content to produce within their region (Asia, India, and Australia/NZ). When thinking about the majority of the Asian studios (excluding Japan), what typically comes to mind is the cost saving advantages of doing service work there. But underneath the surface, there are very creative and talented people there just waiting to be tapped and nourished in the same way a Gumball was created. It will be a treat to see what Silas and Yoshiya are able to cultivate.
It’s not surprising that the MIFA has been steadily growing these past several years with more network executives, producers, financers attending. The timing pre-summer holidays makes for a perfect time to end the first half of the year. What is refreshing is that the folks attending MIFA are actively pursuing more creator driven shows, opening up new opportunities for so many students, animators and emerging talent attending the festival. Let’s hope that some of them get discovered!
Brenda Wooding specializes in the executive production, financing, co-production and distribution of children's and primetime entertainment. Simply put, Brenda works with creators to help them find alternative markets to sell their ideas to. Her strategy is to tap into her expansive digital rolodex of broadcast and production entities from around the globe, jump start projects then bring them to the US networks for acquisition or co-production. Her company, B WOODING Media is a boutique consulting, executive production, and international TV program distribution house based on Los Angeles. You can read her AWN Expert Blog at www.awn.com/blogs/create-finance-produce . You can contact Brenda directly at Brenda@bwoodingmedia.com. Her website is www.bwoodingmedia.com .