This week Mary and I are in Los Angeles. Palm trees. Good Mexican food. The drone of the GPS lady telling us to “turn-right-on-san-vin-cente-bou-le-vard.” I didn’t used to like my work trips to Los Angeles but these days I do. This became very clear to me yesterday when I spent my lunch break sitting by the pool at our hotel eating shrimp risotto. I find that I work just as hard when I’m in Los Angeles but I relax more, I get more sunshine, and I feel more refreshed at the end of the day.
It occurred to me this week that I used to have only one kind of meeting: Pitching my shows to preschool TV broadcasters. These days, life is more complicated and, frankly, more interesting. I find that I’m just as likely to do business with a publisher, an app maker, a non-profit, a film studio, a retailer, or a toy company as I am with a traditional broadcaster. It seems that everyone is dipping their toe into the business of making and/or distributing some form of kid’s content these days. Happily, the one common denominator of these eager new players is that they all need: 1) Original IP, and; 2) Someone to make it.
When I think about the kids’ media business in 2012, I imagine it as a giant casino. There are a wide variety of tables scattered throughout the casino. Big ones and small ones, high stakes and low stakes. Some tables, like the large international broadcasters, have been around forever, while others, like Netflix and Amazon, are just getting started. Some of these tables, like the DVD table, don’t get very much traffic anymore while others, like the SVOD table, are absolutely hopping. The scary reality is that none of us know which tables will still be here in 10 years. Or even five years. Or if the casino will close.
For me, the only antidote to this uncertainty is to do my best to play at all of these tables simultaneously. As my friend Kenny Miller told me when he was working at Noggin, “We’d rather put a little money down on 10 horses than a lot of money down on one.” Is there a risk of having too many pieces of IP spread across too many tables? I don’t think so, as long as each property is truly unique. A few years back, I would have frowned on this approach and said, “Little Airplane only makes shows.” Well, the times have changed, I have changed, and the size and shape of shows has changed. I’ve learned to adapt, albeit slowly.
There are no doubt new challenges ahead for all of us. I would be lying if I said I haven’t had some sleepless nights in the past few years. But I still maintain that there’s never been a better time to be a small and versatile independent producer. Why? Because being small allows you to quickly tailor your content to a wide variety of players, platforms and deal structures. Like a cat in the attic, an indie is better equipped to crawl into the many small spaces that have opened up in the past few years. And, also like a cat, a small indie is better able to land on its feet after being tossed from a high window.