Description: An animated fantasy adventure developed in Hollywood and co-produced by CCTV (the state broadcasting agency of China) and iK Entertainment. Scheduled to premiere in a prime-time slot on CCTV-1 this fall, the series is currently being animated in China under supervision of California-based prodco Magic Studios. Whamo Entertainment holds all broadcast, video, licensing and merchandising rights to the series, as well as distribution rights outside of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Owner/Licensor: Whamo Entertainment
Concept: An original concept based in part on ancient Chinese myths, Flutemaster is the saga of a skateboarding teen in Venice, California who discovers a 3,000-year-old enchanted flute that gives him the power to command a fleet of magical, mythical creatures. The young hero, Justin, ultimately must confront a diabolical Sorcerer awakened from an ancient spell, who will stop at nothing to reclaim the flute in adventures the span the globe.
Demo: Kids six to 11
The latest: Flutemaster was introduced to the global broadcasting community at NATPE in January and Whamo plans to make a bigger splash with international buyers at MIP-TV next month when they will have one full ep in hand. Although no further international broadcasters have signed on, Whamo is currently in discussions with a few U.S. outlets.
Potential: Although Whamo is currently focused on broadcast sales, merchandising plans will begin with the search for a global partner. ‘We’re looking for someone that can help us to create merchandising categories and partner with manufacturers and sub-licensors around the world,’ says Fernando Szew, Whamo’s VP of sales and marketing. Szew expects merchandising to begin in China, since a broadcaster has been secured and China has the manufacturing prowess to create the type of merchandise Szew is interested in for the property.
Since the series is targeted at a younger demo, toys will be the initial focus of the program, and Szew is banking on the series’ fantasy elements to strike a chord with toy manufacturers. ‘Aside from the characters, the skateboard and the flute are two things that stand out as being very merchandisable,’ says Szew. ‘Justin [the hero] flies on a skateboard that’s kind of magical, and he has skills preteens can relate to.’ The flute, as center of the story, and the music that plays along with it throughout the 26 eps are elements Whamo thinks will appeal to toycos. Product giveaways are central to Whamo’s promo plans for the series. Ideas currently being tossed around for MIP include a toy skateboard on a keychain, a toy flute playing the series theme song, and fortune cookies with Flutemaster promotional messages designed to highlight the series’ U.S./China collaboration.
Recognizing that many properties achieve global success after resonating with U.S. demos, the U.S. will be a major broadcast and merchandising interest going forward. ‘Once anime products hit in the States, they take off globally, even if they have been seen in and exposed to other territories,’ claims Szew.
Market reality check: As a company, New York-based 4Kids Entertainment believes that a property needs to have a very strong toy component or play pattern to be successful among kids three to eight.
‘This one seems to have a stronger story arc than it has a play pattern, so it might be a great series, but I don’t know that there’s enough to pull out of it to create a big toy line,’ says Al Kahn, 4Kids chairman and CEO. ‘And if you don’t have that toy line, it’s hard to go out and license other categories because people look to the toy line as one of the tent pegs in how the property will perform.’
To appeal to kids in Flutemaster’s target demo, Kahn believes the series main character, Justin, would have to have more empowerment over things boys like to be empowered over, such as monsters or robots. As it stands, will kids want to be Justin? Kahn doesn’t think so. ‘I think a flute is something that little boys may not be that anxious to play with,’ says Kahn. ‘So how do you make this guy more heroic? How do you make him someone kids want to emulate? He’s got to be able to do things that kids want to do that they can’t.’
On the flip side, Kahn says the series could drive younger with some key alterations. ‘The flute and the instrumental position could be appropriate for a preschooler, but they’d have to make the character younger and create a situation where preschoolers would watch it.’ According to Kahn, that situation calls for a simplistic story, very easily followed dialogue and a lot of music. ‘Then some of this musical position could work, but as it’s configured, I don’t think it does.’