Though buyers continue to lean into highly renewable, single-cast shows, the anthology format is starting to see some accelerated growth, thanks to a higher demand from streamers for nostalgic co-viewing content and bingeable short-form animation. Seven new children’s anthologies have been ordered by broadcasters since 2020, compared to only four the previous year, according to data from London-based market research firm Ampere Analysis.
This uptick has largely been driven by Disney+, which recently picked up animated anthology series Kizazi Moto, Pixar Popcorn, Short Circuit, Sparkshorts and Zootopia+, as well as the live-action horror-comedy compilation Just Beyond.
Other recent greenlights include Irish pubcaster RTÉ’s animated Christmas anthology Shorts Yule Love, the BBC’s unscripted teen monologue series Sparks, and WarnerMedia’s upcoming HBO Max LatAm series Frankelda’s Book of Spooks from Mexican stop-motion specialist Cinema Fantasma (Victor & Valentino).
Ampere’s research doesn’t include anthology series in development or reboots, and taking these into account, the total number of anthology projects in the works would increase by at least six. These include Nickelodeon’s 2019 revival of its ’90s anthology Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Steven Spielberg’s AppleTV+ 2020 reboot of Amazing Stories, and an upcoming reimagining of ’80s fantasy series The Storyteller from The Jim Henson Company and Fremantle. Beyond optimizing demand for nostalgia and bingeable shorts, the industry’s interest in anthologies also ties into the need for more diverse content.
For example, more than 70 emerging directors and creators from across Africa were invited to pitch concepts for the 10 x 10-minute Disney+ original series Kizazi Moto. Before the final 10 shorts were selected, 15 shortlisted projects received mentoring from Oscar-winning director Peter Ramsey (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) and the creative teams at Disney+ and its South African producing partner Triggerfish.
Missouri-based Lion Forge Animation—the studio behind Oscar-winning animated short Hair Love—is using a similar strategy for Puerto Rico Strong and Black Comix Anthology (working title). The tween series Puerto Rico Strong will feature a new story from a different Puerto Rican creator in each standalone episode, and will mix genres including fantasy and sci-fi. Meanwhile, Black Comix Anthology is aimed at six- to 11-year-olds and will feature stories from Black creators around topics such as racial inequality and the Black experience.
With a new story from a different creator in every episode, the anthology format is an excellent tool to provide more opportunities for emerging talent from underserved communities, says Lion Forge president and co-founder Carl Reed.
“Until recently, there hasn’t been much kids content from Puerto Rico,” he says. “What better way to grow relationships with new talent than to add six to 10 pieces of different content in one go.”
In terms of budgets, Reed says every production is different, but if costs run up, producers shouldn’t forget to factor in the extra development value.
“Per episode, an animated anthology can be expensive. And as a collection, they generally cost around the same as much longer 52 x 11-minute or 10 x half-hour series,” he says. “But if you view a short anthology as additional development and not just a production on its own, it more than justifies any extra cost per episode, and is still doable within traditional budgets.
“If an audience really relates to one of the shorts, and you fully intend the episodes to have lives beyond the shorts, anthologies are like development treasure chests for streamers,” he adds. “If [streamers] have first rights to additional exploitation, certain anthologies could really expand their dollars on the development side.”
One reason why producers might view animated anthologies as risky from a cost perspective is the fact that assets (i.e. characters, props, backgrounds) don’t necessarily get reused unless there is a recurring narrator or a character with a serialized storyline—known as a through-line.
As for episode counts and lengths, buyers have primarily been ordering smaller, short-form anthologies with episodes running anywhere from two to 12 minutes. Though Lion Forge has yet to determine an episode length for its series, Reed says he would love to see a return to the half-hour format. “With shorts, you get just enough to make you hungry, which is good, but you often don’t feel 100% satisfied,” he says. “You can do a lot in a half hour, or even an hour, going back to shows like Twilight Zone.”
Ireland’s RTÉ prefers a two-minute format for anthologies, says kids executive Eimear O’Mahony. “It seems to focus everyone, it’s not financially risky or time-consuming, and viewers are more likely to binge-watch short episodes,” she explains.
Unlike some anthologies that use characters as through-lines, RTÉ has relied solely on broader themed anthology Shorts Yule Love and an unnamed animated Halloween anthology that’s currently in production. Both projects feature the work of a different Irish animation studio in each episode— Studio Meala, Turnip & Duck and Daily Madness, to name a few. And each one is presented as an indie short film without RTÉ credit boards or branding at the beginning. Forgoing these elements gave the animation companies more ownership of their shorts, and made it easier for them to be submitted to film festivals, says O’Mahony.
“When the anthology theme is so clear and obvious, you don’t need that extra branding,” she says. Leaving it out also lowered costs as fewer assets needed to be designed. That being said, a through-line can be immensely helpful for a series in the long term. Mexico City-based Cinema Fantasma is using this strategy for its stop-motion series Frankelda: Book of Spooks, which is in the final stages of post-production. Created by brothers Arturo and Roy Ambriz, the five x 13-minute anthology will stream exclusively as an HBO Max Original later this year in Latin America. In each episode, the titular character presents a different creepy story from her magical book.
To give the show a better shot at multiple seasons, the creators devoted time to developing Frankelda’s story arc. She provides consistency and familiarity in order to keep kids watching episodes they might have otherwise skipped, says Jaime Jiménez Rión, VP of content strategy and original production for WarnerMedia Kids LatAm.
“Other anthologies [without through-lines] can be completely disconnected, and you might only enjoy two or three out of 10 episodes,” Rión says. “Having a common element is better for kids to navigate and connect to the experience.”
While Frankelda’s main purpose is telling the stories in each episode, Roy Amrbiz says there is so much material behind the character that the team could create an entire feature film focused on her backstory. To start, the show’s fifth episode will delve a bit further into her life, a strategy that could carry over into new seasons, says Arturo Ambriz.
And because Frankelda is Cinema Fantasma’s first original series, the brothers are also using it as a calling card to showcase more of their studio’s capabilities. “The anthology works really well for us because we wanted to explore a lot of different monsters, characters, stories and aesthetics,” says Roy Ambriz.
Adaptability and long-term strategy were two of the main things Rión appreciated about Cinema Fantasma’s Frankelda pitch. “Along with their focus on relatable and appealing characters, I liked that they were already thinking about the show’s universe, and how it could evolve,” he says. “I’m not saying it will happen, but it could lead to a second season, a spinoff series or a movie.”
If anthologies are successful, they lend themselves well to subsequent seasons because they are potentially infinite, and producers don’t necessarily need to tie up a story arc like they would in a long-running series, says Ampere senior analyst Fred Black.
“It is kind of an easy decision to pick them up for another batch of episodes,” he says. “And you can tweak them halfway through, so it’s easy to change from short form to a half hour, or split episodes into two. Their adaptability is key.”