The truism that ‘no two deals are ever the same’ has never been more accurate than in today’s climate of intricate production partnerships linking companies from around the world. The main feature in our MIP-TV special report traces the evolution of these partnerships through the complex deals that led to new children’s television shows that are now being marketed at MIP-TV. The report also includes a discussion with U.S. studios on television programming trends, as well as a glimpse into the television markets of Germany, England and France.
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More than 30 animals from different countries come to reside on a floating island that is propelled by a volcano. Under the leadership of Noah, a polar bear, they must learn to work together to survive and to reach a safe haven in the remote Diamantina.
Expected to air in the fall, the 13 x 25-minute animated series is aimed at a family audience.
Partners: 17 European Broadcasting Union members: ORF, Austria, BRTN, Belgium, RTBF, Belgium, DR, Denmark, YLE, Finland, France 2, France, France 3, France, ARD/WDR, Germany, RTE, Ireland, RAI, Italy, VPRO, Netherlands, NRK, Norway, RTVSLO, Slovenia, SVT, Sweden, TSI, Switzerland, TSR, Switzerland, BBC, U.K.
How the partnership began:
Elphin Lloyd-Jones, creative director of London-based Telemagination, conceives the island concept for the show that would become Noah’s Island. He and executive producer John Mills develop a series called AESOP (Animal Emergency Survival Operation), and later pitch it to the BBC.
AESOP takes a back seat at Telemagination to a new project, The Animals of Farthing Wood. The animated series brings together, for the first time, members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a Geneva-based organization whose participants are public-service broadcasters from 48 European countries, independent producer Telemagination and the team that would later form Praxinos, who were working at Paris-based La Fabrique. The parties spend the next three years developing 39 x half-hour episodes.
By this time, the BBC has decided that it cannot finance the Telemagination concept, now known as Noah’s Island, on its own. But the EBU’s TV youth programmes expert group is looking for a new series to co-produce. Theresa Plummer-Andrews of the BBC, also an EBU executive producer on Farthing Wood, presents Noah’s Island at the annual EBU TV youth programmes expert group meeting in November. Many members like the idea, but request that further development be done by the February meeting of the executive committee.
Telemagination presents new character designs, storylines and animation sequences to the executive committee, and gets approval to work out budget and contract details.
Without formal confirmation, but with some reassurance that the EBU will commission Telemagination to make the series, the independent producer takes a risk by beginning pre-production. ‘I suppose there were some nail-biting moments in 1995 where we’d been spending quite a lot of money and we still didn’t have the actual go-ahead,’ says Mills.
In March, Mills and Marie-Claire Vionnet, then-EBU program coordinator, finalize budget details at the World Summit for Children and Television. Detailed discussions among Telemagination and the EBU executive producers, Theresa Plummer-Andrews and Siegmund Grewenig, of WDR, occur from April to September. Most main characters have been drawn by October. The next month, 16 EBU members agree to co-produce the series following the annual meeting of the TV youth programmes expert group. The co-producers will split the budget based on the size of each country, and the show will be broadcast with the Eurovision logo.
For the EBU members, there are ‘several benefits’ to joining forces, says Philippe Jacot, program coordinator at the EBU. For some small- or medium-sized countries, a series like Noah’s Island would be too expensive to produce on their own. Pooling their resources enables the partners to create a quality program that represents European values. As well, the co-producers will air the series and share the commercial revenues, ‘so they also have a commercial interest in such a series,’ says Jacot. ‘But the first idea is not to make money, but to have a good program.’
For Telemagination, having the show carried by 16 broadcasters is appealing. ‘It’s not often that you get that kind of platform for an original project,’ says Mills.
The EBU gathers the money from the co-producers and draws up the contracts.
As a condition of the project, all work must be done in Europe. Telemagination brings on Praxinos of France to develop half the animation, and later asks Cartoon Producción of Spain to contribute some sequences.
In January, contracts are signed between Telemagination and the EBU and Telemagination and Praxinos.
Music is created by German composer Detlev Kuhne, who had worked on Farthing Wood, and an orchestra provided by German co-producer WDR.
The EBU receives offers from several companies, including ITEL, to distribute the series and manage the licensing program.
Noah’s Island is a ‘very attractive property’ because it comes with guaranteed transmission by the 16 co-producers in 13 European territories, says Mike Morris, ITEL’s head of marketing and business development. ITEL likes the theme of animals working together. And the show has all the elements of a ‘perfect play concept,’adds Morris, including many different animal characters and an island setting, complete with devices used to tap the volcano as an energy source.
ITEL wins all video and ancillary rights, as well as distribution on cable and satellite in countries where the show will be aired by one of the co-producers and in all other territories, after MIP-TV. ITEL appoints London-based Link Licensing as the licensing agent.
Telemagination presents the first finished episode at the meeting of the EBU TV youth programmes expert group in November, and Dutch broadcaster VPRO comes on as a co-producer.
The show is launching at MIP-TV, with four episodes completed for viewing.
All of the parties hope to develop another 13 episodes.
Evaluating the partnership
‘It’s going really well,’ says Jacot. He credits the success of the co-production to date to good relationships among the EBU members and among the EBU executive producers and Telemagination.
Mills admires the EBU members for their ability to identify and stick to a common goal of co-producing television series. Since this is the second program uniting EBU members, Telemagination and Praxinos, Mills says the group may be ‘one of the most experienced co-production teams in the world.’