UNICEF PSAs debut at Annecy...
June 1, 1999

UNICEF PSAs debut at Annecy

UNICEF has chosen this month’s Annecy International Film Festival to unveil 37 new PSAs in its Cartoons for Children’s Rights program. Each of the 30-second animated shorts is based on one of the approximately 40 articles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child international United Nations treaty. Produced pro bono by studios and independent producers around the world, the PSAs will be distributed free of charge to broadcasters after the Annecy screening. ‘The goal of the program is to inform the world at large that the convention exists and get them to think more about children and children’s issues and needs,’ says Bill Hetzer, UNICEF’s chief of broadcasting and visual communication.

Overall, 66 PSAs have been created since the program was initiated back in 1995. The first 29 spots were distributed to broadcasters around the world about a year ago, and have since been shown by more than 2,200 stations and networks in over 160 countries. Contributors to the second batch include Nickelodeon, Columbia TriStar, Walt Disney, DreamWorks, Children’s Television Workshop, Sunbow Entertainment, Spain’s BRB, England’s Telemagination, Denmark’s A. Film and Polish TV. Cartoon Network also contributed a spot, along with a US$75,000 grant to enable poorer countries to produce their own PSAs. It’s estimated that the contributors spent a total of US$3 million in donated time and materials on the latest pool.

Also at Annecy, the European Federation of Producers of Animation is holding a presentation at the MIFA. The Federation is an international organization born out of last year’s Cartoon Forum to support Europe’s MEDIA program. DH

Teen pilots take flight

L.A. SCREENINGS: A growing number of teen-friendly pilots focusing on young adults are targeting less youth-oriented outlets such as USA Network and NBC for time slots, but when it comes to teen pilots, the WB still rules.

One-hour dramas (most considered more intelligent and serious than current WB dramas like Charmed) fill pilot slates at the WB this year. Spelling Entertainment of Beverly Hills 90210 fame is pitching a teen girl-targeted pilot called Safe Harbor. Filmed on the Florida coast, the pilot toplines no name talent, and no story line has been released.

Also slated for the WB is Universal’s D.C., a highly anticipated, one-hour drama depicting post-college life for a group of 20-somethings who hold a variety of jobs (including Senate aid, Supreme Court clerk and cable news producer ) in Washington, D.C. These young adults are given a ‘smart and serious’ look by creator Dick Wolf, executive producer of Law and Order. Warner Bros. also has an inside the beltway one-hour called The West Wing. Created by ER genius John Wells, the series is greenlit by NBC, and features, among others, Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe and Moira Kelly from To Have and to Hold.

The WB will also consider romantic comedies such as Jack and Jill (about a man named Jill and a jilted bride-to-be named Jack); and Martin & Claudia, in which mirror-opposite roommates hook up (from 200 Cigarettes writer Shana Larsen). The Force fills WB’s action needs, featuring 20-ish New York cops fighting crime around the clock. All three series were produced by Warner Bros. International Television. Lastly, the WB brings animation to prime time with a 14-episode commitment to Baby Blues (from the producer of The Simpsons), in which a baby comes to first-time parents. Based on the King Features comic strip, the adult comedy is slotted for mid-season.

Youth-skewed pilots greenlit by NBC-notorious for its status as a mature outlet-indicate the caster is angling for part of the teen catch. DreamWorks Television’s drama Freaks and Geeks, set in a suburban high school in 1980, won a Saturday night slot, and NBC Studios’ animated, half-hour comedy God, The Devil and Bob has been ordered. The Simpsons-esque toon stars the family of an ordinary auto worker who is chosen by God to prove to the devil that mankind is worth saving.

Teens are the target for ABC’s greenlit, half-hour animated series Clerks (from Miramax TV/Touchstone TV) and sophomore comedy The Hughleys, which enters the Friday night TGIF teen block.

Youth-oriented drama pilots picked up by CBS include Columbia TriStar’s Now & Again, in which the brain of a 40-something man enters the body of a 20-something hunk. CBS greenlit Paramount’s half-hour comedy Love or Money, in which the daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families gets involved with her building superintendent.

Also honing in on the young adult demo are Universal’s Mondo Picasso (a one-hour drama for Fox centering around two fashion-forward friends who stamp out crime…in platform shoes), and pilots targeted for syndication, including Blind Date, a half-hour reality series on dating, and AX2-Action Times, an action-adventure series packaged with animated interstitials.

Cable channel pilots are also skewing young this season. Las Vegas is the setting for Warner Bros.’ The Strip for UPN, in which two young detectives are hired by a casino tycoon to make the city safe. Universal’s hour-long variety series Happy Hour was greenlit by USA Network. It’s a hip update of the classic variety format, hosted by Dweesil and Ahmet Zappa. VR

The console war heats up at this year’s E3

Although pre-show hype seemed to indicate that a beefed up girls interactive product array would be a major E3 trend, this year’s expo had little to offer lasses beyond the usual Barbie brigade. Although many software producers announced breakthrough extensions of their core digital brands into other mediums like TV and video, this emerging trend was virtually eclipsed by the ever-raging battle for domination of the console scene.

Trying to edge out competitors in this burgeoning market, Sega of America stole the show at E3 `99 with the announcement that its US$199 Dreamcast gaming system will hit retail on September 9 with a built-in 56K modem. This means that Dreamcast’s target demo of hard-core teen gamers (median age 17) will be able to hook up to the Internet and play with friends via the Sega Dreamcast Network, an on-line gaming network the vid game monolith is launching simultaneously with the console rollout.

Sega also mapped out details of its US$100-million marketing blitz, which will kick off this month with psychedelic print ads featuring Dreamcast’s signature swirl, courtesy of Foote, Cone and Belding, San Francisco. Six TV ads developed by Antz creator Pacific Data Images will hit the tube from July to March 2000, running on networks like the WB Network, ESPN and MTV (which, alone, will air 950 spots). Targeting the moviegoing crowd, Sega has linked with Pepsi to sponsor two advertorials called ‘Hot Topics,’ which spotlight cool new flicks and pop-culture crazes. The pieces will air before movie trailers in 11,000 theaters from June to August. Lastly, Sega has signed on as a full sponsor of the 1999 MTV Music Awards show, which garners roughly 22 million sets of 12-to 24-year-old eyeballs each year.

Stealing some of Sega’s E3 thunder, Nintendo and IBM announced a US$1-billion, multiyear technology deal that will see IBM manufacture a ‘Gekko’ processor featuring its revolutionary 0.18-micron copper chip. The Gekko will be the backbone of Nintendo’s next console system (code-named ‘Dolphin’), which is skedded for a holiday season 2000 worldwide retail launch.

On the software side of things, this year’s E3 was a forum for a flurry of big-name licensing deals in the interactive category. Hasbro Interactive signed a three-year software partnership with kids net Nickelodeon, under which Hasbro will develop PC CD-ROMs and vid games based on hit series CatDog, as well as Nicktoons, Nick’s lineup of original animation that includes Angry Beavers and The Rugrats. The first game to result from the deal is CatDog-Quest for the Golden Hydrant, a CD-ROM for kids ages five to eight that’s slated to roll out in the fall for US$29.99. Hasbro also plans to develop the game for Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s Color Game Boy. Other licensed products in Hasbro’s E3 lineup include a Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends PC title for the five and up set (Q4, US$19.99), and a Stuart Little game for the same demo (Q4, US$24.99).

New York-based vid game developer NewKidCo picked up the license for Tom & Jerry in a multiplatform, multiyear deal signed with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The first title under the agreement will be released in Q2 2000.

In a deal signed with International Sports Multimedia, Eidos Interactive scored the mother of all sports licenses-the Olympics. The San Francisco-based software pubco that spawned Tomb Raider will develop a line of PC and PlayStation titles based on the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, as well as the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. The first game to come out of the deal will be based on the Sydney games, and is being produced by Attention to Detail in Warwick, England.

THQ signed a four-year agreement with MTV to use the music net’s brand in a line of extreme sports games for the Playstation console. The first two games-based on snowboarding and skateboarding-will hit shelves by the end of the year, and THQ will market the titles at the MTV Sports and Music Festival, an annual gathering of hard-core shredders.

Knowledge Adventure is brewing big brand plans for its 16-year-old Math Blaster and Reading Blaster interactive learning series. The software lines will cross the digital threshold for back-to-school in September when they’re featured in four electronic handheld games and two digital tabletop games by Toymax. The four curriculum-based handhelds for second and third graders will retail for US$15 each, while the tabletop games will run between US$20 and US$40. The Blaster lines are also morphing into a 13 x 26-minute animated series that will debut in a Saturday morning slot on CBS this fall. The series is a co-production with Canada’s Nelvana.

In expansion news, ITE-USA announced the launch of a multimedia division that will draw from the interactive offerings of ITE Media, ITE’s games division in Denmark. The U.S. interactive arm will release two edutainment CD-ROMs this fall-The Magic Journey and The Magic Oak.

France’s Infogrames has also descended onto State-side shores. A month after acquiring San Jose, California-based Accolade, Infogrames North America is launching out of Accolade’s old office. Jim Barnett, former chairman and CEO of Accolade, has been named president and CEO of the new arm, and is expected to increase staff from 29 to 175 people by July. North American sales, distribution and marketing of all Infogrames titles will be handled by the San Jose office. JL

For the record

* Kushner-Locke is dipping into one of the largest animation libraries in the world to launch a new Spanish-language animation channel in Latin America. The independent distribution and production company has signed a three-year deal with Japan’s Toei for local rights to 1,400 half-hour episodes. The deal, which includes such popular fare as Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, builds on K-L’s prior distribution activities in Latin America through its subsidiary, Phoenix World Investments.

* Nickelodeon International and the Hungarian Broadcasting Corporation have agreed to extend Nick’s programming from a four-hour block to a 12-hour daily channel on HBC’s M-SAT. Both KHOUSZ, Hungary’s largest cable association, and KabelTel, Hungary’s largest cable operator, have signed on for subscription-based carriage of the expanded Nickelodeon channel. HBC will continue to handle advertising sales for the channel, and Nick will now receive payment directly from the cable operators.

* Nelvana and French specialty channel Teletoon have signed a wide-ranging output agreement which includes an exclusive four-month first window for various Nelvana titles and a commitment to buy 100 hours of animation a year.

Other aspects of the deal include a right of first refusal on new production and catalog titles, and an agreement to co-produce a big-budget, 26 x half-hour series. Although Nelvana programs will eventually make up close to 15% of Teletoon’s schedule, the new agreement does not prohibit the Toronto animation company from doing business with Canal J or Disney France.

* Saban’s Princess Sissi is expanding her kingdom to include the U.K. and Latin America. The show is slated to debut on the U.K.’s Channel 4 this September, and an extension of Giochi Preziosi’s European master toy licensing program will follow closely behind. In Latin America, a Princess Sissi doll line tailored for the region will be introduced in Mexico by Argentinean master toy licensee Lionel. Giochi Preziosi is introducing two additional SKUs for the property at Licensing 99 this month, and Saban International is considering an animated feature based on the series.

* Independent French distribution company M5 has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Motion International, the distribution division of Montreal-based Coscient Group. M5 now has the French rights to Motion’s catalog, and Motion has the Canadian rights to M5′s catalog.

* Berlin-based Senator Films has signed on to produce six films with Hamburg’s TFC Trickompany. Senator’s director of animated pictures, Michael Schaack, will develop and produce all of the films by 2003. Schaack and Senator have previously cooperated on features Werner-Das Muss Kesseln! and Kleines Arschloch.

* Charlie Brown is celebrating the upcoming Peanuts 50th anniversary by travelling overseas, thanks to several new international TV deals signed by licensing agent United Media. The tour starts with TNT/Cartoon Network in Taiwan, where the Peanuts video library will air seven days a week, three times a day (9:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.), dubbed in Taiwanese and subtitled in Mandarin. Then, the library begins airing July 1 on Nickelodeon Australia. Finally, the Peanuts hit Nickelodeon Latin America, where the library will air in English, Spanish and Portuguese starting this October.

* Malaysian terrestrial broadcaster NTV7 upped its Sunday morning Fox Kids block from two hours to three hours this month. NTV7, which hits more than three million households, will air the block from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The programming segment now adds series Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog and Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation to its lineup. JL

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