Euro players partner up and CGI abounds at MIP-TV 2001

Spring was in the air during last month's MIP-TV, perhaps triggering attendee instincts to seek out the perfect partner from a selection of just under 3,000 companies from 92 countries. Or maybe it was the economic climate fostering a need to...
May 1, 2001

Spring was in the air during last month’s MIP-TV, perhaps triggering attendee instincts to seek out the perfect partner from a selection of just under 3,000 companies from 92 countries. Or maybe it was the economic climate fostering a need to form a united front at the 38th annual market. Either way, the result was a flurry of kid player hook-ups.

Spain-based BRB Internacional announced a major financing deal during the market with Iberian Banco Espirito Santo de Investimento (operating mainly in Portugal and Brazil). The agreement facilitated advancements 29-year-old BRB wants to make in programming and licensing, as well as the creation of Screen 21, a division that will oversee full-length animated feature film production and distribution. BRB is also looking to develop fiction and game show formats, and hopes to open a Latin American office in Miami over the next year, says BRB president Claudio Biern Boyd.

Right before MIP, Entertainment Rights announced its acquisition of Link Licensing-a significant transaction (valued at approximately US$21 million) that remained a hot topic throughout the market. Jane Smith, Entertainment Rights managing director, and Claire Derry, Link’s managing director, lauded the benefits of the deal. In the last year, says Smith, Entertainment Rights effected a huge turnaround, increasing its programming portfolio by 400%. Licensing was in an embryonic stage, she explains. The company wanted to focus on amassing a considerable stable of youth properties-from preschool to teens-and then see what needed to be done for licensing. Enter Link, which has 440 hours of programming to bring to the table, in addition to its obvious expertise in global licensing.

At the market, both companies represented a slate of preschool properties, with Mainframe CGI DTV Barbie in The Nutcracker topping the list. Looking forward, however, the new entity will focus on animation for eight- to 10-year-olds and some live action, with continued global brand-building another key focus. They can afford to choose carefully now, says Smith, although an aggressive acquisition strategy is planned. ER and Link have around 18 shows airing in the U.K. between them.

German prodco Igel Media and Italian producer and licensor Mondo TV put together a US$3.5-million deal right before the market giving Mondo a 30% stake in Igel. The agreement gives Mondo the worldwide video and cable rights for 18 Igel properties.

U.K.-based Granada Kids and New York’s JP Kids have entered into a co-development agreement for up to four properties a year (including live action and animation for TV), bringing expertise from their respective home markets to the table in hopes of developing programming with international appeal. Granada International will handle worldwide distribution for the planned projects, the first of which will probably be announced at MIPCOM, say reports.

TV-Loonland was last year’s acquisition junkie, but the German company appears to be sated for now. Currently focusing on partnerships after a year of pick-ups-including Sony Wonder, Salsa Distribution and Telemaginaton-TV-L is expanding its footprint into the Russian market with Nox Music. The Moscow-based music and record label has signed for a seven-year licensing deal, acquiring rights for CIS/Russia, the Ukraine and the Baltic States to just under 1,000 half-hour eps from Loonland’s catalog.

Nickelodeon is also trekking eastward. Beginning this month, the company will start co-production with Beijing Tanglong Culture Developing Corporation on a customized Chinese Nick block that will go to 100 cable and terrestrial stations across China, reaching approximately 40 million households. This marks the company’s 13th entry into the Asian market since 1998.

On the production side, some trends seemed to surface, albeit in a somewhat calmer pool than markets past, I’m told. CGI was quite

prominent with Nick’s debut of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Canada’s Mainframe touted its latest offering BattleSnakes (which is probably going to be a live-action/CGI mix), Gate Crasher and Dot’s Bots, in addition to its role in Barbie in The Nutcracker and a renewed push for Reboot. The Irwin toy deal is in place for the Reboot resurgence, says Dan Didio, Mainframe’s senior VP of creative affairs; feature-length movies are in the works and the interactive rights recently returned to Mainframe from Electronic Arts, so gaming extensions are also being developed.

France-based Alphanim featured CGI-animated Gardener heavily in its MIP roster, garnering interest from several major European broadcasters, international pan-regional kids channels, notable merchandising companies and State-side toycos, says Julie Fox, Alphanim’s head of distribution. Alphanim is evaluating the propositions and coming up with a gameplan for the property, she explains, ‘however, we can say right now that there will definitely be a German partner on-board.’ Montreal, Canada-based KliK Animation jumped on the property in March, making it a 70/30 French/Canadian co-pro.

But Alphanim also has many other properties to flaunt. One of the hotshop’s designers (who worked on The Baskervilles, Cosmic Cowboys, Spaced Out, X-duckx and Shorts of Steel), Jan Van Rijsselberge put together three concepts just prior to coming to Cannes. One is a commission for Canal J called Potatoes and Dragons. It’s a 130 x five-minute 2-D series in development for kids four to seven in which all of the characters are potatoes. Weird, but cute. Zombie Hotel is also in development, targeting six- to 10-year-olds. It’s about a group of people living in a hotel who don’t know that they are actually dead. Ralph the Record Rat is being developed as an interstitial (150 x one minute) for a wider demographic target. Ralph is desperately seeking his 15 minutes of fame and attempts any number of crazy feats to do it. All three projects are being developed in 2-D Flash for US$240,000 per ep.

For the older 12 and up crowd, Alphanim is working on The Suspect with a Portuguese production company called Zeppelin Filmes, which has been working on the half-hour pilot for seven years. It’s an extremely detailed clay-animated concept that has garnered interest from Canal+ in France and Spain, as well as parties in Denmark and Canada (with Alphanim distributing worldwide).

U.K.-based Blue Monkey Studios was another non-North American player touting CGI at the market. Budgeted at US$150,000 per ep, Little Big Feet, for kids eight to 12, should be ready for delivery in a year and a half depending on how co-pro deals shake out. Thingie and Whatzit is for the seven to 10 set, and while it was received well at MIP, Blue Monkey is retooling the characters a bit for relaunch at MIPCOM. It’s budgeted at approximately US$110,000 for an 11-minute format.

Montreal, Canada-based CinéGroupe brought Pinocchio 3001 to market. The CGI project targets six- to 12-year-olds and their families. It’s being developed theatrically for some countries, but, says CinéGroupe International’s president Michel Welter, outside of Nickelodeon and Disney, few players have succeeded in that arena. So realistically, theatrical development will be restricted to European and Asian territories, with DTV planned for North America. The movie, at US$10 million to US$12 million, is in development with production slated to start in the next month or two. It won’t be ready for delivery before the end of 2002.

In general, says Welter, the company will tread cautiously within the CGI medium and only consider production when costs are nailed down. ‘It’s tough to have the financial realities in mind,’ says Welter of CGI. It costs a lot of money, and the characters, especially human characters, have to be good.

Before the market, Carlton International announced the revival of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds follow-up Captain Scarlet, reporting that the show will return to TV on BBC2 starting in the fall. It skews a little older than Thunderbirds with some more complex characters and darker themes. The company expects fans from the show’s heyday to tune in, but also counts on netting their kids. Surprisingly, says Carlton’s head of consumer products Sian Fraser, and despite some of the darker undertones, there may be preschool interest because of the big ships and moral story lines. There is CGI potential, says Fraser, but because of higher production costs, she says the company will have to be careful.

And careful not to disregard widespread buyer interest in older-skewing live-action properties, teen-targeted Head Start was also at the market with much acclaim, garnering sales from MNET in South Africa, CYBC in Cyprus and Ireland’s RTE (with the U.K. and other territories pending).

Speaking to older-skewing product (the elusive 12 and up crowd) in general, John Bullivant, TV-Loonland’s director of programs, specifically discusses the notion of storytelling as a means to attract older demos-developing a stronger sense of story in animation. As you get older, he says, the longer serial stories become more appealing. . . the characters become more complex and focused on relationships à la Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dawson’s Creek-traits that aren’t common to animated series, which almost never run serially. (A few exceptions include older-skewing MTV-minded material or anime properties like Gundam Wing, Pokémon, Dragonball Z, etc.) Still, with that said, TV-L’s main focus at the market was preschool offering Little Ghosts.

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