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Now Who’s King of the World? Digital’s Rise to Global Powerhouse

Massive changes in entertainment programming and distribution leave no doubt the Digital Revolution is sweeping the globe.

Today’s viewers are active, constantly consuming content where and when they want, via a plethora of digital sources: YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Blinkbox, iTunes, tablet and smart phone apps.

Over the past year, massive changes in the entertainment industry have been sweeping the web, TV and home video platforms with reverberations reaching across all platforms and all genres.   The “Digital Revolution” is solidly under way, speeding through every corner of our planet’s entertainment kingdom as evidenced by the spate of sessions, presentations, conferences and key note addresses during the recent October markets – all eyes and ears trained on how “Digital” is transforming -EVERYTHING.

If you attended some or all of the major October industry events, beginning with Cannes’ MIP JUNIOR October 5-6, followed by MIPCOM October 7-10, you simply couldn’t avoid the D-word.  Digital dominated the next week in London, where brave entertainment warriors descended on BRAND LICENSING EUROPE, October 15-17, and where digital elites were hand-picked to participate in the self-proclaimed ground-breaking Cross-Media Forum  October 16-18.  Power to the Pixel cleverly created this digi-specialist event, timed to coincide with the BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL (just ended October 20). 

Whether in Cannes or London these past two weeks, the industry “gets it” and producers are scrambling:  kids, teens, adults - audiences are no longer content to be spoon fed in the slow, passive TV way:  today’s viewers are active, constantly consuming content where and when they want, via a plethora of digital sources:  YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Blinkbox, iTunes, tablet and smart phone apps, etc. 

According to DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg during his talk at MIPCOM 2013, “mobile and digital will prove to be an asset, and not a threat to traditional television.”

DreamWorks Animation’s popular CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg proclaimed to a packed Grand Auditorium address (as MIPCOM 2013 Personality of the Year) “mobile and digital will prove to be an asset, and not a threat to traditional television.”  Katzenberg makes it clear he’s enthusiastically grabbing the digital beast by the horns, full throttle.

Brian Robbins, Founder and CEO of AwesomenessTV confirmed Katzenberg’s energetic embrace of the digital ecosystem during Robbin’s MIP JUNIOR Media Mastermind Keynote.  Nine months after Robbins launched on YouTube, Katzenberg snapped up the AwesomenessTV channel, buying hook-line-and-sinker into Robbin’s focused subscription youth channel jammed with short-form “TV snacks” of 5 to 6 minute scripted and reality series for teens and tweens.   The shorts are funny, share-able and culturally relevant.

Smart phones and second screens, tablet apps and game platforms, the digital revolution is in full swing and every industry event in the past two weeks has reinforced the speed of change, with traditional television executives from kids TV reinforcing adamantly during MIP JUNIOR, that story and characters, unique creator-driven shows are what’s still THE MOST important. 

Brian Robbins, Founder and CEO of AwesomenessTV .

Disney’s Paul DeBenedittis, SVP, Programming, Scheduling, Multi-Platform & Acquisitions proclaimed “Disney see the platforms as a way to distribute, not [that our content is] being created FOR that platform.”  A matter of digital convenience, the Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior are available due to the recent launch of “Watch,” Disney’s VOD/TV/digital-everywhere portal.  DeBenedittis confirms “Our [Disney] content is available anywhere you want to go.”

Echoing his Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon counterparts, DeBenedittis concurred that, “Today’s content must be really, really funny, laugh-out-loud, the humor and pacing must be quick.”

Adina Pitt, VP Content Acquisitions and Co-Productions, Cartoon Network USA added that “over the past 12 months, we’ve concentrated on trying to see where our audience is, [and they’re] on tablets and mobile devices.  We need to supply the best possible content. Our viewers are moving faster than we are.”  Kids want NEW, EXCITING EVENTS.  How we are acquiring is shifting this year.”

FremantleMedia’s new CEO, Cecile Frot-Coutaz.

Whether you’re focused on the “creative” or work on the business side of the entertainment equation, in the words of major indie producer/distributor FremantleMedia’s new CEO, Cecile Frot-Coutaz , she’s bullish about EVERYBODY going digital. “You want to make a play and you want to make a play quickly.”  MIPCOM Media Mastermind Frot-Coutaz just expanded her company’s international presence and penetration into the digital market and warned MIPCOM delegates to do the same.

There’s little doubt that a major trend in today’s marketplace is in finding “verticals and communities of interest.”  Richard Goldsmith, Executive Vice President, Global Distribution for The Jim Henson Company, has already started to bank on his company’s founder and multiple brand name values in the Henson library of content.  Goldsmith confirms that, “VOD now is quickly becoming television” adding that “Jim Henson Family TV [already] launched on Hulu, and we’re expanding to Samsung TV.  Jim Henson Family TV will be a linear channel everywhere in the world.”  What digital provides is the possibility for the audience to find Whatever they want, Whenever they want, Wherever they are.  And as for the revenue potential for digital, Goldsmith added, “We’ve always separated VOD as a separate revenue … we’re focused on the big services Blink Box, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix.  Opportunities are changing every 90 days!” 

Sitting on the same MIP JUNIOR panel with Henson’s Goldsmith, Stephen Hodge, Managing Director, Toon Goggles explains his company’s search for making the most of VOD digital rights. “Toon Goggles started as SVOD (monthly Subscription), then we migrated to AVOD (Ad-based) and what we believe is best for us going forward to monetize, is TVOD (Transactional VOD).  Hodge went on hinting about how his company is expanding its core activities beyond the digital platform space for revenue generation. “It makes sense for us to be involved with all aspects of our brands, taking a 360 approach, stepping out from just VOD.  Kids are on all these devices:  tablets, phones, games, books, etc.”

Henson's Richard Goldsmith, Executive Vice President, Global Distribution and Toon Goggles' Managing Director Stephen Hodge spoke about digital revenue streams at MIP Junior.

The leap from a pure “digital proposition” to the combination of digital with traditional platforms (which together adds up to the 360 degree approach), is as Katzenberg walks and talks, completely symbiotic.  In today’s global business environment, digital speed and social media milieu, the full circle of the 360 approach was evident for those winning, big brands dramatically on display at London’s BRAND LICENSING EUROPE (BLE) event. 

Whether conceived and born into the digital universe first, or already long-established for decades, BLE had it all covered.  Sony, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network/Warner Bros, DreamWorks, Hasbro, Disney -  the majors old and new characters mixed well with the “indie brands that made it” - like Italy’s animation studio Rainbow, creators of the WINX CLUB girl-centric property, and like the UK’s digital studio Mind Candy, home of the MOSHI MONSTERS global online hit.

BLE, like the Cannes markets, included its share of cutting edge sessions, such as “WHY DIGITAL IS DISRUPTING THE LICENSING INDUSTRY AND WHY YOU SHOULD CARE”  On everybody’s mind and lips, licensing executives were not alone is warning how the markets are shifting, and dramatically. 

And old friend “in the business” - London-based book publishing agent Julian Friedmann, offered his opinion over breakfast about the impact of digital:  “It used to be “Content is King.”  Now it’s more like “Content-via-Convenient-Delivery-Systems AND at-a-Reasonable-Price - is King!” 

(I guess it’s time to get rid of my DVD player …..)


Catherine Morrissey writes regularly for AWN about the international animation industry.