Pigs are widely revered as symbols of good luck and prosperity in China, and the country’s fondness for the animals – and one porcine, in particular – led media giant Shanghai Media Group into forging a wide-ranging co-development partnership with Chorion.
Executive chairman Waheed Alli says he struck the deal after SMG approached his London-based prodco and brand hatchery with an eye to acquiring broadcast and Chinese merchandising rights to upcoming preschool series Olivia. The show about Ian Falconer’s fashionable and irascible little piglet and her family is set to bow on Nickelodeon globally this spring. And according to SMG deputy director of animation, Wang Lei, the property was made to resonate with Chinese audiences. So SMG jumped at the chance to handle promotions, marketing, home entertainment and licensing for the series in its home territory.
During their Olivia discussions, Chorion and SMG decided to combine forces to see what they could produce in the way of new animation. Alli says the distinct creativity of the Chinese team and the working chemistry between the two companies are major factors moving the partnership forward. ‘There is a style and a movement happening in China that will influence us in the next 10 years,’ says Alli. ‘Plus, there is a discipline in their creativity that we don’t have,’ he adds. He also points to DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda as an early indicator of the appeal of Chinese mysticism for global audiences.
Alli maintains that the partners will focus on creating properties with true global appeal, rather than emulating deals struck in the past that see Chinese creators partner up with Western companies solely to establish a foothold in the Western animation market.
‘They want to be best in class, and so do we,’ says Alli. ‘And that means that the quality moves to a different level.’ To that end, the companies have set up a strict development edict. Chorion and SMG are in the process of appointing co-development directors – based in New York and Shanghai, respectively – to oversee the joint creative effort. The directors will touch base at least twice a week to work through new ideas and concepts via video conference calls. And Chorion and SMG have agreed to have their teams meet in person for two intensive creative summits. The first will take place in New York just prior to KidScreen Summit in February, from which Alli says new ideas could work their way into his Summit pitch meetings. The second will be in Shanghai in July.
Chorion is looking to develop one strong concept a year through the collaboration, which Alli says could be rooted in either Chinese or American culture. The initial slate of ideas germinating are aimed at kids six to 11 and skew towards a boys audience, but Alli says he’s open to all kids demos. For the next few months, the development team will work to hone these and other ideas in preparation for the partners’ first face-to-face meeting. The cream of the crop will then be greenlit for further development and presentation in Shanghai next July.