MONTREAL: Spurred on by the success of big U.S. players like Disney, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and by the overall drive of entertainment conglomerates to go global, Canada’s Mediatoon has a co-production formula that helps level the children’s programming playing field.
‘If properly produced, experience shows that [nationally co-produced] programming tends to be more successful than the exported kind,’ says Mediatoon president David Patterson.
In Europe, for example, Patterson says Spirou (co-produced with Dupuis Audiovisuel in France) regularly beats out a U.S. syndicated-style block followed by a Disney-type block.
Since its entry into the international marketplace in early 1996, Mediatoon has packaged six co-produced children’s animation series, worth some Cdn$60 million in production.
The package has blossomed under a new joint-venture production and distribution agreement between Mediatoon, an Astral/Dupuis company, and Luxembourg’s CLT Multi Media.
Based in Montreal, Mediatoon is a ‘facilitator’ style operation, a transatlantic linchpin aimed at stemming the high tide of American export. Its role is to bridge talent and distribution opportunities in Europe and North America, says Patterson.
The company brings together valuable assets: the distribution, specifically broadcasting, and financing resources of Astral Communications with the resources of Editions Dupuis, the leading publisher of French-language comic books in Europe.
‘Mediatoon is a developmental partner in terms of creative development with producers and the property owners, and also a packager of the financing,’ says Patterson.
‘That is to say we bring together parties with co-production financing and distribution financing, which we supply, and ultimately, [with] investment in the project from a deficit financing viewpoint.
‘We always make an investment in return for an equity position, and it is the library value of this material that interests us primarily.’
Co-production with France is central to Mediatoon’s business strategy.
‘The basic objective [of using the official Canada/France co-production route] is to qualify the resulting series as fully national content in each of the co-producing countries,’ notes Patterson. ‘We’ve chosen to do it in conjunction with Canada and France because there are significant benefits available to national productions in France.’
Mediatoon’s entry into animation and multimedia children’s programming starts with Flash Gordon, which airs this fall on YTV in Canada and France 3 and Canal+ in France. Hearst Entertainment is the series’ American syndicator with Ottawa-based Lacewood Productions in the role of ‘lead producer with final creative control and authority.’
Patterson says animation programs like Flash Gordon can perform well in both the United States and Europe.
‘We want to do more of that kind of model. It has to do with our ability to bring together the right partners and manage the situation in a way [in which] the resulting programming is effective for both [markets]. But at the same time, we’re doing things that have their primary market in one or the other. Vor-Tech, for example, is primarily a U.S. product, whereas for Poil de Carotte, it is the reverse (Europe).’
A sci-fi action concept, Vor-Tech is being developed in association with Universal Cartoon Studios.
All of Mediatoon’s 1996-97 packaged TV series are produced as 26 half-hour installments with budgets in the US$300,000 to $350,000 an episode range. This is increasingly comparable in cost to other forms of half-hour TV.
Carrot Top/Poil de Carotte is a computer-generated imaging (CGI) effects-laden cartoon series from Montreal’s Productions Roger Héroux and France’s Carrère Télévision. It’s on track for delivery in spring ’97, while a third series, Red Beard/Barbe Rouge, matches Carrère with Medver, the new animation arm of Verseau International.
Another new series is The Adventures of Papyrus, one of Editions Dupuis’ most successful comic book titles.
Two additional titles, Nanook and Matthew and the Midnight Adventures, have been developed and financed using the co-production ‘twinning’ formula, an approach that allows for separate creative development while retaining the advantages of official co-production.
Patterson says the arrival of Teletoon, the newly licensed all-animation Canadian specialty service, is good news for the industry.
‘We sorely needed an outlet for animated product in Canada that allows Canadians to deal as effectively in their own territory as we are able to deal elsewhere,’ says Patterson. ‘The demand in Europe for animation seems to be virtually insatiable. Demand in the U.S. is heavy, but product in the key time slots is concentrated in the hands of major interests [the networks and studios], a major competitive issue for us.’