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Production community in limbo hunts for the Next Big Thing

What do you get when you combine an already soft advertising market with heavy broadcast consolidation and a disastrous global event like the terrorist attacks of September 11? A really dismal environment for TV production and distribution across the board. In fact, many kids prodcos have ended the year in limbo, with new production and development activities significantly slowed down or halted completely in an effort to ride out the hyper-recession that is plaguing the global industry.
November 1, 2001

What do you get when you combine an already soft advertising market with heavy broadcast consolidation and a disastrous global event like the terrorist attacks of September 11? A really dismal environment for TV production and distribution across the board. In fact, many kids prodcos have ended the year in limbo, with new production and development activities significantly slowed down or halted completely in an effort to ride out the hyper-recession that is plaguing the global industry.

The upshot is that everyone has had plenty of time to focus on finding the Next Big Thing now that the reign of anime has begun to wane. Prodcos have been playing around with several themes and genres in hopes of finding one that could skyrocket to übertrend status.

First up was a horde of merch-friendly robot concepts, with LEGO’s Little Robots, Nelvana’s Medabots and 4Kids’ Cubix leading the way.

And then, as the industry clued into the fact that tweens were fast becoming the largest subset of the overall kid demo, eight- to 14-year-old girls (hello, spending power) became the hot target du jour. Shows that have contributed to the resulting glut include the ever-evolving Mary-Kate and Ashley franchise, Sunbow’s Skeleton Key, Rumpus’s Princess Natasha, Cuppa Coffee’s Cinema Sue and Mainframe’s Dot’s Bots.

Perhaps to make up some revenue shortfall and cover all the profit bases in preparation for a longer-term recession, many players spent the year breaking into new business areas in an effort to become ‘you want it, we got it’ one-stop shops. Animation studios made strides in live action, with CinéGroupe opening a new unit dedicated to the genre and Nelvana starting work in cahoots with MTV on its first live-action series Sausage Factory. Series producers broke into the commercial world, with Studio B opening a commercial arm and DIC shopping out its toon characters for spokeswork, while Euro players attempted to establish North American business strongholds by way of opening U.S. operation HQs (Millimages) and acquiring thriving State-side studios (HIT’s Lyrick pick-up).

Looking forward to 2002, no one seems able to predict with any certainty when the general economy–and the advertising market in particular–will bounce back, so the first quarter will probably be marked by the same waiting game that’s playing out now.

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