After day one of the 29th annual Cartoon Forum pitch-fest in Toulouse, France, one thing can be said with certainty—traditional linear broadcasters with shrinking budgets and transitional strategies for online growth are feeling mounting pressure from streaming platforms.
Netflix has brought its biggest group ever to the event, led by Dominique Bazay, its global kids director of content acquisitions. She says the company’s increased presence was largely prompted by the recent appointment of former Nickelodeon International animation VP Alexi Wheeler to the kids and family international originals team.
“The main reason we’re all here is we have a new colleague in the UK, Alexi Wheeler, who we’re super-excited to work with,” explains Bazay. “For our people in LA, like Josh [Fisher] and Jill [Sanford], who don’t necessarily come out here all the time, it’s a great opportunity for them to spend some time with him.”
Fisher joined Netflix as a kids and family creative executive last November, having previously served as VP of creative affairs for DHX Media in Canada. Sanford, a former Nick exec, is also now a creative executive for the SVOD’s global kids and family content team, focusing on creative development for animated projects and overseeing series currently in production.
Wheeler’s appointment is part of a Netflix strategy to ramp up its investment in European animation, building on an acquisitions streak that brought kids co-pros such as Sixteen South’s Lily’s Driftwood Bay, Pablo from Paper Owl Films and Cartoon Saloon’s Puffin Rock to the streamer’s library.
“Having everyone here is also about looking forward and having much more of a presence in EMEA,”says Bazay. “Alexi is based in London, and we’re also setting up the team in Amsterdam, which is very exciting.”
Netflix moved into a larger EMEA headquarters building in Amsterdam last year after outgrowing its original location in the city, where it had operated since 2015. The SVOD also recently signed a deal to adapt Tonke Dragt’s popular medieval adventure novel, The Letter for the King, into a kids and family series, marking the first time a Dutch book will be adapted as a Netflix Original series.
Since launching in Europe in 2012, Netflix has invested nearly US$2 billion in more than 90 European productions (for kids and adults), including originals, co-productions and licensed programming. The company expects to spend an additional US$1 billion on originals in Europe this year, and it also recently launched its first European production hub in Madrid, Spain to create new opportunities for creative talent in the country and across Europe.
At this year’s Forum, Netflix is keeping quiet about what projects have caught the team’s eye, but Bazay is quick to recognize the talent on display. “I’m continually impressed by the quality of the pitches here, and I know and appreciate how much work goes into them. I’ve been coming to this event for a while now, so it’s great to see some of the more established studios like Cartoon Saloon always bring it home. I remember their Skunk Fu! pitch when the event was in Varese, Italy, and now they’re here with Silly Sundays [pictured]. They always do a great job pitching,” she says.
Other SVODs joining Netflix on the hunt for fresh kids content in Toulouse include Amazon, Azoomee, Hopster and Playkids. Preschool platform Hopster joins Netflix as a 2018 Cartoon Tribute nominee for Broadcaster of the Year, alongside Deakids (Italy), TF1 (France) and YLE (Finland). The winner will be revealed on September 13, the final day of Cartoon Forum.
Finland is this year’s spotlight country—and the happiest country in the world, according to the UN’s 2018 World Happiness Report and anyone at Forum with a Finland badge. Three Finnish projects are in the event’s showcase this year—Harry and Bip (Ink and Light), Momolu and Friends (Ferly) and One Thousand and One Animals (Haruworks)—representing a strong animation industry buoyed by international co-productions, a 25% cash rebate, and world-class IPs Moomins and Angry Birds.
The Scandi region is also being repped this year by Norway’s Klipp & Lim, whose presentation for non-verbal preschool series The Huggingtons was well received. The whimsical co-pro with Montreal, Canada’s Muse Entertainment is inspired by Nordic mythology and follows the adventures of a half-troll, half-valkyrie girl and her Viking family.
“The Huggingtons was very cute and very simple, but what was interesting was seeing the underlying motivation for how they created the set-up, which is actually much more thought-through than you’d think from watching the trailer,” says Tom van Waveren, CEO and creative director of CAKE Entertainment.
Other buzzworthy projects at the Forum so far include preschool musical series Brave Bunnies from Ukraine’s Glowberry and Canada’s Sardine Productions, and CGI fantasy adaptation The Borrowers from French studio Blue Spirit Productions.