Karen Raugust looks at how portable devices have enhanced producers and distributors ability to pitch their properties at trade shows.
Several portable digital entertainment devices that have emerged over the last four or five years -- video iPods, PSPs, portable DVD players and the like -- have not only changed the way consumers view animation. Theyre also starting to alter how some animation producers and distributors pitch their properties at trade shows.
Trade show attendees and exhibitors can load up a handheld device with clips and other pitch materials and have it handy at all times. These gadgets allow producers to pitch a property quickly, such as when they run into a potential buyer unexpectedly in a hallway, aisle or bar, and they provide backup when glitches occur in more sophisticated, permanent AV setups, such as at a booth or a clients office.
I think were going to see a lot more of that [portable digital pitching], says Regis Brown, evp of Entara Ltd., whose properties include Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks. But he notes that a portable device is most appropriate for impromptu and supplemental pitches. Its not going to replace going to the stand and seeing [a show] on the bigger screen, he says.
Pros and Cons
Each portable device has pros and cons when it comes to pitching. Laptops are already owned by everyone, have plenty of memory to accommodate models, backgrounds, storylines and the like, and are fully interactive. They also allow access to the Internet if there is a Wi-Fi hub or a wired broadband connection nearby.
But their batteries must be recharged often and theyre not ideal for spontaneous pitches. Weve stopped using laptops because of how long they take to boot up, says Mark Simon, owner of A&S Animation Inc., producer of Timmys Lessons in Nature and other animation properties. Simon points out that there are some laptops with instant-on features, intended primarily for movie-watching, but most dont have this capability.
Portable DVD players are good for pitching because theyre instant-on, files dont have to be converted for use on the machines, and DVDs can hold a lot of information. In addition, theyre lighter and smaller than laptops. Your shoulder gets tired carrying around a laptop, Simon points out.
One device that has been embraced relatively recently for pitches is the video iPod. It is easy to convert files to this format, and showing clips on the iPod is simple and quick when the opportunity for a pitch arises unexpectedly. But it has its drawbacks; primarily its small screen. I think the iPod is a fashion tool, but really its not a good tool, says Sergi Reitg, managing director of Icon Animation, whose properties include Lola and Virginia and Sandra the Fairytale Detective. Youre spending thousands or millions of euros or U.S. dollars [to develop a property]. The buyers are devoting two minutes of their attention to it. You need a large screen and impressive resolution.
Producers and distributors stress that the iPod is best for unanticipated situations rather than as a primary tool. If you meet someone in the lobby while youre waiting for a meeting, you can show it to them on your iPod with a click, says Reitg, who has used the device for such situations.
If youre sitting there at the airport or the Martinez bar [in Cannes], you can whip it out and show a clip, agrees Brown. He points out, however, that tiny-screen devices like the iPod arent appropriate for storing or viewing any other supporting materials, such as scripts and so on, which can be included on laptops or DVDs.
Another device that has picked up in popularity recently for pitching is the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Weve found that PSPs are a great little development tool, says Ken Faier, El Presidente of Nerd Corps Ent., producer of CG-animated properties, including Storm Hawks and Teem Awethum!!!.
Although converting files to the PSP format is slightly more difficult than converting for use on other devices, with several plug-ins needed, PSPs are very mobile and the picture quality and sound quality are excellent, Faier says. He adds that, with the PSPs headset and a good screen -- it has a 16x9 aspect ratio -- buyers seem to be able to really concentrate on viewing the material. You want the buyers undivided attention after months or even years of development, he says. The relative difficulty of conversion is worth it because viewing a property on the PSP helps get the buyer excited about it, he adds.
All of these portable devices serve not only as handy tools for chance meetings, but they also offer insurance when things go wrong during pitches at booths or offices with a full complement of AV equipment. Batteries and Internet connections fail, and, in many cases, people -- even in the television industry -- have no real idea of how to use their AV equipment properly. The likelihood of failure is high, Faier says. Carrying various portable digital devices can serve a producer well in these situations.
While digital pitches are on the rise, traditional paper pitches are still in use, partly because of the frequent call for backup. When you really need it, then the laptop wont work, comments Reitg. I always bring a paper classic bible.
In addition, most producers and distributors provide some paper materials as leave-behinds. These include, at minimum, a one-sheet, as well as CDs or DVDs containing full interactive programs. People still like to get the classic flyer, Reitg says.
The one-sheet leave-behinds are still as important as ever, agrees Simon. No matter what youre showing, you cant leave behind your iPod.
Paper is also easier to pass around than a digital presentation. Buyers often like to have these to share with colleagues, explains Andrew Fitzpatrick, chairman of Monster Distributes, a Dublin-based distributor that sells live-action and animated programs, including several Christian properties.
Having one-sheets and Bibles in paper form can also enhance the pitch. You dont get the same feel from a disk as you do from paper, explains Simon. Its incredibly important.
Flipping through a bible can be more organic and less formal and mechanical than a PowerPoint presentation or other digital materials, adds Faier, particularly in a one-on-one presentation. You can move back and forth easily or go right to a specific page, for example. Longer, text-based documents, such as writers bibles or scripts, are more easily perused on paper as well, he says.
In some cases, the reliance on paper rather than digital tools is simply due to tradition or comfort level. Im still surprised, in this business where we move huge budgets, that people are still doing things the way they were done 35 years ago, says Reitg. He notes that trying to sell a six-million-euros show using just a paper bible, rather than a more impactful digital presentation, doesnt seem logical. It makes no sense to me, since were in the TV industry, he says. But sometimes they are a success.
Im surprised how few do [digital presentations], actually, Faier agrees. With the exception of properties in the very early stages of development, or those created by budget-constricted solo creators -- where paper would still be the most appropriate medium -- portable, digital presentations are critical in that they help buyers become interested enough to read the script.
They have to be inspired to do that, Faier says. If there are no strong visuals, its pretty tough to build up the courage to spend 45 minutes reading the script. You have to do a presentation that makes them think, I want to read this. You have to make them say, OK, these people are serious. Whether it's a 10-second character test or a three-minute clip, A great trailer is always something that gets them inspired to take the next step.
A Glimpse into the Future
As portable devices and digital technologies continue to advance, the ability to pitch properties anywhere and anytime should improve as well. The ideal would be to be able to download content reliably from a central server, so there would be no need to copy or convert files. All materials on the Internet or an Intranet would be available anywhere to anyone with access privileges.
Thats possible now in an office setting, but typically not at trade shows, airports or other temporary locations. While its possible to have a server of sorts at a trade show booth, Wi-Fi currently isnt reliable enough and broadband networks are too low-capacity for remote server access to be counted on in most situations.
Despite the problems with remote access, many producers have all their pitch materials available for streaming online anyway. If they have the ability to view the site while on the road, they can do so on their laptops. Meanwhile, potential and current customers can screen their properties in advance or look at posted materials as a follow-up to an initial one-on-one pitch. We put clips, trailers and sometimes full episodes of all our programs online, allowing potential buyers to preview them before a meeting, Fitzpatrick reports.
Nerd Corps has an Intranet that is available to buyers and potential buyers who have passwords. This eliminates the need to ship information and allows everyone to stay current on the companys properties. Whenever a new script, animatic or other information is posted, everyone on the digital mailing list automatically is notified by e-mail so they can see the new materials immediately.
Another tool those pitching animation properties at trade shows are anxiously awaiting is a portable device thats as easy to use as an iPod, but with more memory and a larger, higher-res screen. The iPod will be a good tool if theres a possibility to use a bigger screen, says Reitg.
With such a device, there would be no need to carry DVDs; it would essentially be a big, lightweight screen with memory. Simon points out that this type of gadget already exists for home use as a digital picture frame; if it could be made portable it would be a great tool for pitching, he believes.
Smaller, portable media storage devices also may grow in popularity. Fitzpatrick, for example, believes the industry will see more presentations stored on USB keys, including flash drives and mini hard drives, which are smaller and easier to carry around than DVDs.
Remembering the Fundamentals
Some people are using technology just because they can, reports Simon, who notes that a digital pitch alone is not adequate. It is the personal connection between buyer and seller that really cements the deal. The face-to-face is incredibly important, he says.
The main thing is just repeated contact with the buyer, Brown agrees, noting that laptops, video iPods and the like are secondary to that personal touch. Theyre a supplemental pitch. Still, buyers are coming to expect some sort of digital presentation as part of the whole. Theyre sophisticated enough to know that these media are out there. They accept it. They like seeing some of the digital, but thats just part of the process.
Building a personal connection sometimes entails having the potential partners get to know one another informally, such as over dinner or cocktails. Unfortunately, the fact that technology has become portable has turned the all-important casual get-togethers into pitch opportunities. As Fitzpatrick says, Producers are trying to show us stuff when we want to have a drink and a chat!
There is also a risk that so much focus on the digital technology will overshadow the property itself. You want to blow them away with a trailer, Faier says. Its great that these options are there. But the danger is that the show doesnt live up to the trailer. He notes that the producer is delivering an expectation with the trailer, then must hopefully exceed that expectation with the show itself.
Were at a point in time where people are paying so much attention to the platform that theyre taking their eye off the ball, which is the content, Brown says, noting that hed rather see a compelling story on paper than an iPod presentation of a short clip. Theres a shortage of good creativity. The technology is just a supporting element. It all comes back to the fundamentals of making a good show.
That said, the sizzle provided by portable digital devices can add to the overall pitch presentation. You want [the buyers] to be inspired by the story, whatever it is, Faier says. Theres nothing that replaces video for creating that emotional connection.
Karen Raugust is a Minneapolis-based freelance business writer specializing in animation, publishing, licensing and art. She is the author of The Licensing Business Handbook (EPM Communications).