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Turning Old Hits into New Tricks

Lessons gleaned in 2014 help TV marketers and producers gear up for opportunities and challenges in 2015.

Now that kids’ animation pros are prepping for the next big industry event - 2015 Kidscreen Summit coming late February at its exciting new location in Miami - a lot of us have been dusting off our notes from the past few months of 2014 to see whom we need to re-contact.  Were there meetings and info gleaned during MIPJunior and MIPCOM that can help us “gear up” for 2015? After a nice long break, with more time-off than usual, it’s harder this year to get back into the work groove. So let’s focus!   

From my perspective, I usually remember best what happened most recently.  For those of us in the kids’ biz, the last major must-attend event took place in Cannes, France this past October:  MIPJunior.  Photos help jog my memory a lot, but the notes I took certainly fill in the blanks and put me right back in the mindset of the most important insights I picked up. 

For 2014 attendees, MIPJunior displayed some marked improvements over last year’s event. To start with, the “Meet the Speakers” opportunities immediately followed key panels.  Outstanding change!  The chance to speak one-on-one with a representative from Germany’s largest public network, ZDF, for example, used to be possible only for those brave enough to stop Nicole Keeb as she walked in the corridors.  Conference organizers added venues for efficient meet-and-greet opportunities following most sessions. Refreshing, democratic and highly valuable access - a chance to exchange a few sentences and business cards!

The biggest and most obvious change for MIPJunior 2014 was its new venue - the event moved from the centrally located Carlton Hotel, to Cannes’ remote but glamorous-sounding Palm Beach location. Some of the regulars say this new location is for the better and others, well, not everybody was unanimous in their praise about the commute.  At least the Reed Midem organizers scheduled a regular shuttle service to bring kid-friendly content creators back to central Cannes.

Sessions programmed for the MIPJunior weekend included a mix of the usual country-specific show and tells; event organizer Reed Midem programmed projects originating from Canada, Russia, Mexico and Spain.  Creator-producers from those territories presented their work (practically all animation) on big screens, each giving a concise history about the project and what they were looking for in a co-producer. Yes, almost universally, they needed more money. 

Since this need for financing is an industry “true-ism,” a majority of the more experienced participants skipped the sessions and instead  met with prospects outside  - this time because they could do so on the Palm Beach’s massive wooden deck. This change was unanimously popular.

What was a tad surprising at this year’s sessions was that there wasn’t one Junior session on ANYTHING “apps.” 

The popular topic seemed to be publishing-meets-animation.  There were three sessions (Creative Collaboration, Publishing Matchmaking and Bringing Books to the Screen) about the children’s publishing business. They’re [now] teaming up with producers, and vice versa. 

Curious about this emphasis on book-based projects, I asked Sam D’Elia of The London Book Fair why the new focus on publishing at this past MIPJunior?

According to Sam, “There has never been more opportunity to develop a brand across multiple media.  We are starting to see more and more books developed hand-in-hand with animation elements, whether that be a TV, film or gaming counterpart.  We showcased two such co-productions at MIPJunior – the Penguin / Cartoon Saloon / Dog Ears project Puffin Rock, and the Walker Books project Pigsticks and Harold.   

From attending a few of these panels and several others like “View From the Top: What Do Buyers Want,” I gleaned that from late 2014, there have been many common themes getting traction in the business. There’s a real industry mantra drum beat gaining energy, so, I suggest you go ahead and revise any lagging New Year’s resolutions and 2015 To Do lists with these tips from the kids biz 2014 pros: 

1.  Be innovative + have talent (everybody thinks they have both, presenters/executives imply most don’t)

2.  Tell engaging stories (THE essence of the entire entertainment industry)

3.  Develop strong characters (that kids connect with emotionally, who they’ll love)

4.  Make your content easy for kids to identify with (“kid-relatable” - so important!)

5.  Create content for kids that is immersive (fully holds their attention)

6.  Include a lot of humor and “catchiness” for both the kids and parents

Number 6 is probably the biggest resounding end-of-2014 edict that’s been repeated at market and conference sessions for at least the past 5-6 years.  All media platforms, from digital to TV, from apps to web, HUNGER for humor.  There’s just not enough funny content.  The audience wants MORE and MORE!  Only one thing I can count on for 2015: funny is ABSOLUTELY “IN.” 

Balance the above list of must-do guidelines with some “additional hints” from my MIPJunior 2014 notes:

  • Most broadcasters are risk adverse - there was plenty of evidence to support this seemingly entrenched trend.  As a result, they’re looking for the tried and true.  Safe bets = past hits.   
  • Certainly in the press releases and Q4 2014 articles, there’s a lot of intellectual property from years past that is being updated and re-launched in 2105:  Thunderbirds, Danger Mouse, The Magic School Bus, The Powerpuff Girls, Teletubbies…these are just a few  of the more notable “heritage” properties.  Proven hits from the past seem to make the big networks and producers confident they can succeed again with an old brand, this time NATURALLY programming across multiple platforms including books, games, licensing and merchandising.  
  • YES - Big Players are heavily investing in old I.P. because they can. They have the financial resources and….AND they already own them!  
  • BUT, there’s still a ray of hope for the indies and new creators.  These same big players aren’t just dusting off old I.P.s.  They are simultaneously pursuing new TALENT that will bring them the next “SpongeBob.”  

So, maybe 2015 can be your breakout year! 

Wrapping up my MIPJunior notes, envisioning a fantastic 2015, echoing in my little brain is advice given us MIPJunior attendees by Amazon Studios’ Tara Sorensen: “Think out of the box, innovatively. Break through the clutter, since we [Amazon] don’t want to look like Disney or Cartoon Network.  We want to look different, and work with really strong, creative voices…and unique character designs.”

Karen K. Miller of Disney Channels Worldwide expressed her message of hope for the future, telling us that Disney wants diversity, and they know that, “This [new/young] generation has talent, and a really, really loud voice.  We don’t want everything to be the same.”

The best 2014 inspiration came from the all-genres MIPCOM market, which takes place immediately after MIPJunior.  Morgan Spurlock, of Supersize Me fame presented to a jammed 700+ auditorium.  His message to creators still resonates the loudest. “[If] you can make someone laugh, you can make someone listen.  Be platform agnostic and TAKE RISKS.”

Here’s wishing you a super-sized HAPPY 2015!  And as Morgan would say, really go for it this year!

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

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