The market officially ended on Friday afternoon. But it’s fair to say most of the folks you’d want to meet would be gone by then. Generally meetings wrap up on Thursday (some buyers leave on Wed, or even earlier). Friday is really the teardown day (for exhibitors), while queues at the freight counter are a mix of weariness and relief that it’s all over – for another 6 months or a year at least.
4 quick take-aways about the market this time round:
1. Comedy, Comedy, Comedy
If it’s funny, you’ve got a leg in. The hard part, of course, is being funny. Comedies are the most difficult to do, and more so than other genres, are creator-driven. It’s a problem if, as an Asian studio, you’re targeting the US and/or European markets – where hundreds of creators with closer access to buyers and top writers as well as more entrenched relationships are themselves finding it hard to get a development deal. Cultural sensibility is understandably a hurdle, more often than not. Buyers are generally happy to look ideas and concepts from anywhere, but the key to it all is writing – and that, they demand the tried and tested. The obvious options for Asian producers – hire them or more commonly, work with co-producers who’ll look after the writing. It’s a long way just getting there though, but I’ll touch on co-productions another time.
There really hasn’t been a bona fide worldwide hit since Spongebob.
2. Boys comedies and/or action shows still in demand
Boys watch more cartoons than girls. It’s not uncommon to see a 13-year-old girl today already on to Desperate Housewives (which is a bit frightening), while younger girls continue to bow to High School Musical, Hannah Montana. Jonas, Zoey 101 and a dozen other derivative live-action teen series. And so the battle for boys’ eyeballs is fiercer than ever across the major networks. How to have a funny show that speaks to the boys? The less profound question, although just as difficult to answer and execute, is how to find a cool toy that could make a cool boys’ show? Asian creations have historically been stronger in the space of toy-driven shows. Japanese and to a lesser extent, Korean properties in particular have made their mark. Could be a niche for creators in the region to develop. The Chinese producers are doing an impressive job at this, albeit their primary market is still China with little effort in export (lot of their latest stuff look exactly like Japanese actually). 90% of toys in the world are made in China after all.
Exploding balls – literally. Brittle toys that are just cheap enough so that it won’t hurt to buy new ones when they break.
3. Animation is skewing older
Demographics seem very much like a science, although I’m no sure. Often they feel rather academic, yet it’s usually the first or second thing a buyers asks about. You have your pre-school group, then kids (which generally covers early and late pre-teen), then tweens, then teens. That’s about it. If you have a good idea which of these 4 groups your show is in, you’re on firm ground. There is an evident trend over the last 18-24 months of certain buyers looking for ‘older’ animated shows. That means shows targeted at kids or tweens that have an older, edgier sensibility and humour, play on issues more commonly seen in teen dramas (even reality shows), and generally steer towards prime-time writing but not quite at the same level as say, The Simpsons or Family Guy (which incidentally, continue to be among the highest rated shows watched by kids, even though they’re really for adults).
Animated Reality TV Show. Seriously. Damn funny too.
4. Live-action rules
The extraordinary market appetite for live-action kids / teen shows continues to impact the industry and business. Spurred by the extraordinary success that Disney (as the prime example) has had, and the amazing transformation of Disney Channel into a juggernaut by its live action offerings, everybody wants a piece of this pie. Even Cartoon Network has gone into producing live-action. CARTOON Network. Asian producers are left helpless here. The very nature of animation is that it travels. And while many Asian countries have been buying live-action shows for the longest time, one can’t quite imagine a kids show made in Singapore, or Hong Kong, or Korea, or Malaysia, or Thailand, or Japan would work in the mass markets of US or Europe. The one upside of this is that hopefully, as western producers shift resources into live-action, more opportunities would open up for animation content from other parts of the world, namely Asia – which is by far the fastest developing animation industry globally.
It’s like Knight Rider for the Gen Z, except the hero is a crime-fighting online game character (but of course).
That was more than I expected to write. I’ll leave my erm…final final wrap up for the next post.