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BKN targets mainland China in expansion efforts

Cross-Atlantic animation company BKN International will be casting its eyes towards the Pacific in the coming months to shore up new TV and licensing deals. In July, the company expanded its business operations to Singapore with the opening of its BKN New Media subsidiary, and the effort is already paying off.
October 1, 2004

Cross-Atlantic animation company BKN International will be casting its eyes towards the Pacific in the coming months to shore up new TV and licensing deals. In July, the company expanded its business operations to Singapore with the opening of its BKN New Media subsidiary, and the effort is already paying off.

The first deal to come out of the Singapore bureau is a US$1.6-million partnership with Hong Kong animation studio Agogo Corporation to distribute its catalogue of 19 kids shows.

At the tail end of the ’90s, the toon hotshop started to retain Asian distribution rights on shows for which it did service work, such as Nelvana’s Berenstain Bears and Mona the Vampire for Cinar (now Cookie Jar). But it couldn’t really exploit these rights because its execs had a limited knowledge of the distribution landscape.

Under this new deal, BKN New Media will represent Agogo’s Asian animation rights for television, home video and some merchandise deals.

BKN chairman and CEO Allen Bohbot says BKN New Media will act as a gateway for the company to widen its footprint in Asia as a whole, but his short-term goal is to expand into mainland China by the new year. ‘Historically, it’s only been about 15% of our turnover, but we think we can double that in the next couple of years,’ he says. The Chinese kids market presents a lot of opportunity to domestic indie producers because the government holds back big-hitters like Disney, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. to protect Chinese kids from too much Western influence. BKN New Media also plans to exploit the territory’s thriving merch market by bringing aboard a Chinese licensing expert in the coming months. ‘HIT just opened an office in Tokyo, so I know our competitors are looking at doing the same thing in the region,’ he says.

Just before MIPCOM, BKN began delivering 26 half hours of Legend of the Dragon to Chinese pubcaster CCTV. The 2-D animated action-comedy for six- to 11-year-olds stars a set of Chinese twins, one of which becomes a dragon master, while the other turns to the dark side. Also presold to the BBC, the series will be supported by a worldwide toy rollout in September 2005, thanks to a deal with Hong Kong’s Playwell International worth more than US$3 million. Bohbot says its master toy licensee is in the process of buying an unnamed U.S. company and will be expanding its efforts to hit North America next year.

As for the future, Bohbot is looking to repeat the success of Legend with the company’s latest toon Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Aiming for a younger six to nine target, the US$6-million series is based on the classic tale of an Arabian lad who discovers treasure – and a great hiding space – when he utters the words ‘open sesame.’ Given the story’s heritage, Bohbot says it makes sense for BKN to target Middle Eastern broadcasters for presales, but he’ll be looking at worldwide networks to complete the financial picture.

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