Montreal-based Cinar Films is one studio that has taken a very clear stand on TV violence. The publicly-traded company says it won’t produce shows that are violent. And as a result, program sales are targeted to world markets while business in the U.S. domestic market has been confined, to date, to cable networks such as HBO, Nickelodeon and Showtime.
The strategy has meant that Cinar has tended towards producing programs based on established literary-based properties, says Cinar president and co-founder Ron Weinberg.
‘If you do it right it can last a very long time even if it is not the merchandising bonanza of something that is more action-oriented, or boy-oriented,’ he says. ‘It’s more of a trade-off of a short-term investment against a long-term investment.’
Typically, Cinar has taken this longer-term approach with strong literary-based properties such as The Busy World of Richard Scarry, coproduced with France Animation and partnered with Beta Taurus in Germany and Paramount Pictures. Fifty-two half-hours have been produced at a cost of $26.4 million (CDN), but Weinberg says, ‘You can still make money by setting up investments with international partners and enough markets so that the production’s costs are covered before you start.’
Cinar stock has been traded publically in Canada since 1993 and on the NASDAQ national market in the U.S. since July ’94.
‘The marriage that we have, whether it’s with HBO or Nickelodeon or Showtime, has been based on a common point of view about programming content. There’s a reason why we haven’t been on the U.S. networks, which g’es directly to the content of the programming.’
However, he says, virtually all the programming that works for the U.S. cable and specialty broadcasters is also sold to the largest commercial, terrestrial networks and services in international markets.
‘We tend to the world perspective rather than the single market perspective,’ says Weinberg. ‘That is exactly the point and the U.S. happens to be one market in the world. For that reason the idea of having a popular show in the U.S. that is not saleable anywhere else is not really of interest.
‘I think it is also a question of the personality of the company and the notion of taking full responsibility for the program. We’ve taken the perspective that we want to work in a multicultural environment. We are up to about 85 markets right now. And this is not being done with one show, but many series.’
Such is the case for Cinar’s top show, Busy World.
Much of the show’s revenues originate outside the U.S., including BBC and Nickelodeon U.K., Kirch Gruppe and Beta Film in Germany, France 3 and ABC in Australia.
At the recent MIP-Asia, Cinar announced the conclusion of a long-discussed deal to sell Busy World as a daily strip starting next spring to Fuji TV in Japan.
It is this level of foreign penetration that g’es to the core of Cinar’s business strategy.
‘If you look at Japan and Fuji specifically, 99 percent of their programming comes from within Japan. One percent comes from outside sources . . . the bulk of that one percent being the U.S. and the U.K. But here we come against all odds and every major entertainment company in the world and we play 52 half-hours on that network. What they [Fuji] told us was that they liked the [Busy World] characters, the quality of production and they liked the storylines, the format presentation and the painstaking dedication to quality and detail. So it wasn’t a hard match for us even if it took longer than other deals to put together. We did this deal directly without intermediaries in Japan or in the territory; so it really is quite satisfying.
‘Again, I think you could probably get richer, if you’re lucky, with the toy grand slam than with the evergreen, multicultural literary adaptation. But we’re happy doing what we do,’
Cinar program sales in the U.S. market include: The Little Lulu Show which premiered on HBO in late October; Busy World and Papa Beaver Stories, broadcast on Nickelodeon; and Arthur, a book-based animation strip coproduced with WGBH, Boston, and slated for daily rotation on PBS this fall.
Ongoing and repeated broadcasts include Legend of White Fang, The Real Story and Smoggies, seen on HBO’s daily 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. children’s block; Are You Afraid of the Dark? in its fifth season on Nickelodeon and YTV in Canada; and Bunch of Munsch and the live-action ‘tween series Chris Cross, both seen on Showtime.
The Wizard of Oz, which was first sold to HBO is now on Encore, a newer pay-TV service established in association with cable giant TCI Tele-Communications Inc.
On the issue of the V-Chip, Weinberg says, ‘It’s not a solution. The onus should be on creating quality children’s programming and giving more responsibility to program suppliers instead of passing it on to groups and gadgets.’
At the fall ’95 Montreal World Film Festival’s symposium on children’s programming hosted by Brunico Communications, publishers of KidScreen, Cassandra Schafhausen, vice president of animation production and development at Cinar, reported an experience where producers were obliged to remove the word ‘heaven’ from a script. She says the broadcaster/client took issue with the word’s so-called religious overtones.
Later Schafhausen said, ‘The incident speaks to the whole issue of what’s going to be left over when we weed out what’s not OK with ‘them’ and therefore should not be OK with the rest of the world. ‘When I was growing up it was the communist scare. To me this is just as insidious and just as dangerous.’