Special Report ­ MIP’ Asia: Selling animation in Asia

Gerry Travers, head of acquisitions and development for Energee Entertainment, a Sydney, Australia-based animation studio, is a regular visitor to the Asian marketplace. He discusses the opportunities that exist in this complex and exciting region...
December 1, 1996

Gerry Travers, head of acquisitions and development for Energee Entertainment, a Sydney, Australia-based animation studio, is a regular visitor to the Asian marketplace. He discusses the opportunities that exist in this complex and exciting region

Any region that houses a third of the world’s population and contains many of the world’s fastest-developing economies simply cannot be ignored by serious media marketers. The Asia-Pacific region presents both opportunities and challenges to studio-controlled and independent media companies alike. The studios deliver the branding and the blockbusters, and the independents offer flexibility and diversity.

Perhaps the descriptor to keep in mind when you go into Asia is ‘different.’ The social, political, economic and cultural differences are as diverse as the peoples of the region. You have to know the country you are operating in and what is possible and not possible. In other words, you must be sensitive to the local way of doing things.

Three years ago, Energee Entertainment (EE) produced 39 five-minute episodes of an educational language series titled Gogo’s Adventures with English for Longman Asia. The video series was a great hit throughout China, Hong Kong, Korea and other Asian countries, but some script modifications were made as a result of feedback from several countries. For example, body language such as pointing or handling food with both hands can be frowned upon in certain cultures.

One thing that is common throughout all of Asia is an entrepreneurial spirit that makes doing business a way of life. Everybody seems to be in business and this, of course, can create its own difficulties in identifying the real players. Agents, broadcasters and buyers of children’s blocks will all compete for programming that works well in the region.

It is a fact that Asians tend to be more technologically literate than Westerners, and the Asian ‘tiger’ economies are embracing with great enthusiasm new distribution systems almost as soon as they become available. The deregulation of terrestrial television, the rollout of cable and the proliferation of satellite services are all leading to more channels and more opportunities to reach the Asian consumer. Star TV began broadcasting in 1991 and, through the use of digital compression, is now able to transmit on up to 32 channels, 24 hours a day, to a potential audience of 3.3 billion people. In China, it is now possible to gain access to 80 percent of the country’s one billion citizens through the nationwide television channel CCTV.

In India, the general consensus is that the projected growth in the cable and satellite industry could be as dramatic as double the number of subscribers to 25 million by the year 2000, with television households increasing to 65 million.

The biggest single broadcast project under way in Asia is the US$1.64-billion MeaSat project in Malaysia, which will allow direct-to-home (DTH) signals to Malaysia’s three million television homes.

In South Korea, television is the country’s principal form of entertainment due to the heavy traffic in the cities, which encourages people to stay home. The government-owned KBS network is the country’s biggest broadcaster and has two blocks of children’s programs scheduled from Monday through Saturday.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to successful marketing in the Asian region is simply the low price structure that buyers are currently prepared to pay for children’s programming. As competition increases, media buying for children’s products will become more sophisticated, with the results being a faster than average increase in television prices. Nickelodeon, Fox Children’s Network and Cartoon Network will all embrace Asia and will bring programmers who will be focused on demographics and the resulting advertising revenues.

In the past five years, the number of network buyers for children’s programs has quadrupled, and if the Asian economies continue to grow at a predicted 10 percent or more per year, the demand for quality programming and licensed products should also rise and bring with it an improvement in returns.

Traditionally, the action/adventure genre has been the most popular type of program to attract Asian buyers, but even this stereotype of Asian program buying has its flip side. Programmers are looking for softer alternatives to attract four- to eight-year-olds.

At Energee Entertainment, we have developed a close alliance with Vietnam’s Hanoi Cartoon Company (HCC) by offering short-term training exchanges in Australia for senior Vietnamese production staff. EE has the distribution rights for HCC’s 200-film catalogue, which includes a broad range of animation styles produced by HCC over the last 40 years. We are currently distributing their series Fables of the Far East, which encompasses the virtues of family values, honesty and sharing.

There is a genuine love of animation throughout Asia. Animation is able to transcend language in a way that live film cannot. The star of our latest dog series, Digswell, d’es not talk and so the animation must tell the story. He’s lovable, cute and a positive role model for all young children. Thankfully, an excited dog barking at the prospect of a bowlful of bones can be clearly understood by all territories.

Energee Entertainment is a producer and distributor of children’s animated television and new media. The company is jointly owned by the Singapore-based investment house Nomura/Jafco, and is one of Australia’s largest independent producers specializing in distributing animation into the Asia-Pacific region. Energee Entertainment has formed a number of strategic partnerships throughout the region.

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