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Animania bets on a higher-res America

Already a fixture in about six million State-side homes, high-definition TV is continuing its slow and steady march towards market domination. And one of the first kids players to jump on the bandwagon (in the hopes of driving it for a while) is start-up digital network Animania HD, one of 39 high-def channels that launched in October on Voom, a subscription-based digital service run by Rainbow Media.
March 1, 2004

Already a fixture in about six million State-side homes, high-definition TV is continuing its slow and steady march towards market domination. And one of the first kids players to jump on the bandwagon (in the hopes of driving it for a while) is start-up digital network Animania HD, one of 39 high-def channels that launched in October on Voom, a subscription-based digital service run by Rainbow Media.

Keith O’Connell, head of programming and acquisitions at Animania, is currently shopping for four more series to round out the channel’s 12-hour programming wheel, as well as two Christmas specials and four interstitial series with episodes that are either three, five or seven minutes long. The shorts will be packaged in a one-hour block called Animinis that will also be home to one-off festival animation as it comes up.

Animania targets kids six to 12, but O’Connell says she is already acquiring shows for a 1.5-hour preschool block that will hit the airwaves in Q1 2005. Though most of the schedule is day-parted by age group, there is an action block that features Flash and anime series, anchored by Columbia TriStar’s CGI-enhanced space adventure series Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future (26 x half hours). And rounding out the slate is a classic cartoon block with animated staples like Felix the Cat, Mr. Magoo and The Pink Panther (who joins the channel just in time for his 40th anniversary).

While it’s been a challenge to fill the schedule with high-def toons, O’Connell says many producers seem eager to up-res their properties in anticipation of the format eventually becoming the new broadcasting standard. Spanish studio Neptuno Films, for example, re-rendered 2020 (26 x half hours, with Megtrix) in HD, along with June-launching The Gravediggers Squad (52 x 15 minutes, with TV3 and Televisio de Catalunya) in order to sell them to Animania.

Ireland’s Monster Distributes also converted three half-hour animated specials for an HD debut on the channel. The first is Ape, the story of an orangutan who escapes from the zoo and becomes a talk show host. Next is Hermie: a Common Caterpillar, about two bored caterpillars who long to escape their lives and transform into something great. And keeping with the creepy-crawly theme is The Lost Little Caterpillar, who is desperately trying to get back to the leaf she’s fallen from.

Ed Galton, executive VP of business development for Paris-based Xilam, says the sale of its 52 x 13-minute series Ratz to Animania was as much about building up the studio’s HD library as it was about getting key American exposure for the show. ‘We get access to the HD masters that we’ve created, which gives us commercial viability down the road when HD catches on,’ he says. ‘If we can start experimenting in that world now, we’re going to have a leg up on the competition moving forward.’

So why isn’t everyone running up the HD flag? Well, the price tag is still prohibitive. Neptuno president Josep Viciana estimates that the cost of producing in HD is about 25% higher, with that figure fluctuating depending on the animation style and type of property, as well as whether or not the work can be done in-house.

But O’Connell believes that once HD TV sets come down in price to below the US$1,000 mark, which many industry players expect to happen this year, the number of owners will skyrocket. She estimates that there will be 60 million households with HD capabilities by the end of 2006. ‘I know a lot of people are looking into HD and talking about it, but I don’t know how long it will be before they actually do something about it because it is an investment,’ O’Connell says. ‘Right now, no one else is really doing this, so we’re working towards becoming the premier all-animated HD channel.’

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