Since the heyday of Saturday morning toons in the 1980s, the link between kids TV series and ancillary playthings has only gotten stronger, as evidenced by the resources toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel have been pumping into their production operations over the past 18 months (uh…Hasbro Studios, The Hub and Monster High, anyone?) And in the middle of a successful run with its first original toy line/TV concept Bakugan, Toronto, Canada’s Spin Master certainly isn’t being left behind. However, its content arm Spin Master Entertainment (SME), currently pitching its first full slate, is approaching the space a bit differently from its contemporaries.
While Hasbro, in particular, is drawing heavily from its vault of storied toy brands to craft content, SME is actively scouting for partners and creators who can bring entirely new concepts to the table. ‘We like to look at the marketplace and try and predict where the opportunities will be in the next two years, asking where no one has gone before and what kind of properties are fading in popularity,’ says Jennifer Dodge, SME executive producer. ‘Ideas can come from anywhere, not just the traditional IP and publishing route,’ adds fellow SME executive producer Matt Wexler. ‘We’re tracking trends and where people are going to be.’
Certainly, the concepts SME’s Toronto and L.A.-based development teams place under serious consideration have to have strong consumer products potential. And the first two co-productions post-Bakugan (which is heading into its fourth season) target two key demos for SME’s parent company, boys six to 12 and preschoolers.
Announced last year sans title, SME’s boys action co-pro with Paris-based Marathon Media is now in production for a 2011 delivery. Now called Stax, expect the core boys series to span TV, interactive and the toy aisle. At the same time, SME is launching Suzy Takes the Stage at MIPCOM with co-producer and concept creator Little Airplane Productions. This preschool series focuses on a precocious little girl who happily narrates the events of her day to her preschool viewers using the conventions of live theater.
Interestingly, SME will step away from those toy-friendly demos if the project is right. Also on the development slate is 26 x half-hour tween-targeted toon The Special Offers. Created by the minds behind Cartoon Network Adult Swim series Metalocalypse, L.A.-based Titmouse, this music-driven comedy chronicles the misadventures of a pop group trying to make it big.
Titmouse pitched Wexler and Dodge on the concept when it was just an idea accompanied by one song. ‘We started to think about that age group,’ says Dodge. ‘We then went to the executive team with an idea that didn’t have a direct line to the toy aisle and got the go-ahead.’
At the outset SME aimed to put roughly six projects into development and one concept into production per year, and it has so far exceeded that benchmark. Dodge says it’s more likely the company will have between two and three series in production per year with an even larger crop in development.(Pitches should be sent at the earliest stages to Melissa Wolfe email@example.com, director of development at SME.)
As for how SME splits the work with its partners, Dodge says that depends on the partner. ‘We take on what’s important to us and vice versa,’ she says. For example, Marathon is looking after animation and distribution on Stax, areas where it has a solid track record, while scripting, voice work and post-production will be completed in Canada and fall under SME’s supervision.
On the business side, Adam Beder has just been promoted to SVP of global licensing and business affairs and will be overseeing financing and contract negotiations for SME. He says because the majority of SME projects have a commercial/consumer products element ‘baked right into them,’ it’s important to account for that aspect in contracts and agreements at the outset.