China has long been a premiere service center for animation. But now UYoung Media, one of the country’s leading kids companies, is striving to update its international profile. With an L.A. office for brand-new subsidiary UYoung Entertainment, two high-profile hires and a hot new IP, the Beijing-based business is serious about its global ambitions.
“Now that China has opened up more, through a greater exchange across regions and borders, we see the same creators who were servicing the Chinese market thinking about international markets,” says Sander Schwartz, chief strategy officer for the company. Schwartz, the Emmy-winning former president of Warner Bros. Animation, who also enjoyed high-profile stints with FremantleMedia and Sony Pictures, joined UYoung Entertainment last October. “Over time, we are going to see more examples of Chinese IPs making a real splash in the international market,” he predicts.
Schwartz says it is both a challenge and an opportunity to bring UYoung to the world stage. “I have enjoyed starting new things and creating new business opportunities,” he says. “I saw the chance to do that with a great Chinese company and I found it a very attractive situation.”
Schwartz was initially brought on-board to steer the company through the first international sale of its series P. King Duckling (pictured) to Disney Junior last year. The 52 x 11-minute animated preschool series, co-produced with New York-based Little Airplane Productions, follows the adventures of the titular character in suburban Hilly Hole with good friends Wombat and stuck-up pig, Chumpkins. It’s scheduled to bow across international Disney Channels, including the US, later this year.
The series’ unique creative also caught the eye of UYoung Entertainment’s second big hire, Elie Dekel. The former president of Saban Brands and EVP of Fox Consumer Products was recently named a senior advisor for branding and licensing.
“The show has warmth, heart and humor, and an attention to the creative aspects of animation that really jumped off the screen,” says Dekel. “The more I saw, the more I fell in love with the story and characters and the rich way the stories are told.”
Dekel is heading to Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas to suss out potential partners interested in branding, marketing and licensing opportunities for the IP and other properties in UYoung’s production pipeline.
“They are already successful within the licensing industry in China and have a very accomplished team in Beijing,” he says, adding that UYoung also handles the licensing for third-party properties in China like Shaun the Sheep. “It is natural for them to embrace the extensions of consumer products, promotional, marketing and digital opportunities,” Dekel says. “Licensing Show is a perfect place to not only introduce P. King Duckling to the industry, but to also introduce the company as a whole.”
While it is still too early to discuss future projects, Schwartz says that he will be using his time at Licensing Show to scope out additional production deals. “I’m going to focus on finding potential co-production partners in the US, Canada and Europe,” he says. “For me, it is entirely about introducing UYoung as a player to the international marketplace and promoting P. King Duckling as a series.”
Dekel adds that he considers the ingrained business culture at UYoung to be its greatest asset. “It has been a really exciting experience to see their very collaborative approach,” he says. “I know it will be well-received in the marketing and branding space, which is, of course, all about collaboration.