When it comes to distribution in Asia, Japan rules. And there was no upsetting the status quo at this year’s MIP Asia. Fuji Creative (the distribution arm of Fuji TV) weighed at this year’s market with 26 episodes of Great Teacher Onizuka-an animated spin-off from a comic book and dramatic live-action series already popular in Japan. With its new animation series, Fuji sales reps logged long hours negotiating TV sales rights in Asia, and while they were busy on the shop floor, an animated feature film version of Great Teacher Onizuka was being released simultaneously in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Little wonder the price of the series is reaching US$10,000 per episode-huge in the Asian market. The series centers around Onizuka, a young, unconventional teacher who has the ability to change his students’ bad attitudes. Of course, he has a few bad habits of his own-X-rated movies for one.
Teenage animated series and live-action dramas for older students are the sales trend in Japan, according to Maiko Suzuki of international program sales for TV Asahi. At MIP Asia, TV Asahi launched Gregory Horror Show, a new series of five-minute animated spots that Suzuki describes as a ‘darker’ product for the Asian market.
Despite the fact that Tokyo Broadcasting has introduced a softer animation program for kids at the market-The Wise and Wonderful World of Folk Tales-buyers still gravitated towards its grittier fare such as Sorcererous Stabber Orphen (24 half-hour episodes), according to Foo Choo Wei, who is with program sales at Tokyo Broadcasting.
This ever-increasing appetite for Japanese animation in Asia frightened the Korean government into taking punitive action. Korea passed legislation last year to curb Japanese anime on its airwaves, now demanding a 50% ceiling on foreign-produced animation by October 2001.
The legislation has proved to be a stimulant for Korean producers. Long known as a service hub for Western animation, Korean producers arrived at MIP Asia with a number of co-production proposals tucked under their arms. License fees in the territory are not high enough to make Koreans self-sufficient in the marketplace, so instead, they are developing concepts with international appeal.
The philosophy shared among producers is evident. Many Koreans believe that 3-D series will sell better abroad than classical cel animation. The East-West divide is too great to cross in the 2-D format.
‘With 2-D animation, it’s difficult to match the Western [look for animation], but with 3-D it’s easier to come close,’ says Mr. Wook Jung, president of Dai Won Animation, the oldest animation house in South Korea. Dai Won has serviced such shows as DIC Entertainment’s Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, but now it is in negotiations with a U.S. company to hand over world rights for Vectormen, Warriors of the Earth, a 26 x half-hour, live-action/3-D animated series and accompanying TV feature film. The series centers around a group of warriors on Earth who have received an implant of DNA from the best fighters from an ancient civilization. When the recombinant genes are activated, they become ‘Vectormen’-characters that look like Power Rangers.
Also on Dai Won’s drawing board, and introduced at MIP Asia, is its one-minute, 3-D animated pilot CUBIX. According to Jung, the advantages to working with Koreans remain the same-a 30% reduction in the overall price tag.
For indigenous production, merchandising remains a major revenue generator. ‘The only way to survive in the Korean environment is to have merchandising,’ says Jung. ‘Over the last 10 years, Dai Won has produced about 10 series [of its own], and only two or three have made money. Seventy percent of the financing is from the merchandising because the networks pay so little.’
Jung is not the only producer advocating 3-D projects with cross-over appeal. At MIP Asia, Jung was joined by Jin Wook Choi of Gav (who was pitching Broom Broom, a 26 x 10-minute 3-D series) and Nelson Shin, chairman and CEO of AKOM Production, a company that plans to add some 3-D special effects to the feature it is currently producing entitled Empress Chung. The film is based on the mythical story of a young daughter’s sacrifice to a sea monster in order to restore her father’s vision.
Two other firms, Tooniverse and Hahn Shin, were also promoting their 3-D products at the market. Boongaboo is Tooniverse’s best hope for a co-venture, and Chin Won Chang, the company’s senior manager, is hoping to raise enough money to produce 26 half hours. The series features two alien tribes who crash-land on the moon and wreak havoc upon one another. Each episode will cost about US$200,000.
Producing local content is essential for Tooniverse, which is a 24-hour cartoon channel owned by the Tong-Yang business group. Last year, Turner Broadcasting System bought a four-hour time block on Tooniverse, and the station airs a lot of Japanese product. But the Korean government’s legislation means Tooniverse will have to start putting more resources into indigenous fare. It may also have to face off against another direct competitor in the market.
Peter Choi, president of the Hahn Shin Group, says his company has raised over US$20 million following two stock offerings in July and November, and has plans to establish another cartoon network in Korea by the year 2001. Although it’s too early to start buying, Choi says he’s scouting the market for product: ‘[Our channel] will have a lot of European and American product because my competitor is almost 100% anime. I want to be different.’ Choi predicts that other Korean companies will follow suit and take their companies public soon.
In addition to raising money for the proposed channel, Choi is discussing a 2-D/3-D hybrid project with American and Canadian partners. Traditional cel projects also in production at Hahn Shin are Turtle Hero (a 26 x half-hour series and theatrical film) and Dream Tour of Kkongji (five x 15 minutes).
And if Korea isn’t generating enough 3-D ideas for the marketplace, buyers can also look to Singapore’s Bizarts Creative, a young company that is currently looking for partners for a 13 x 24-minute series called Rats 2099, The Young Heroes. A show pilot aired on Television Corporation of Singapore this fall. The story centers on a group of technologically advanced rats living underground. During a presentation announcing a co-production treaty between Canada and Singapore, Bizarts’ executive director, Edmund Ooi, was clearly eager to see a Canadian partner jump on-board.
‘It’s not really complicated, this high technology,’ says Jung of Dai Won. ‘When you have talented and trained people, it’s easy to catch up.’