No, we’re not talking about Aladdin, but rather trying to pick winners. You see, animation as an industry is still heavily based on sales; that is, between studios and networks. Annual conventions like MIPCOM continue to drive large portions of the industry and feed a lot of revenue into it. Here’s a look at why it’s tough to navigate and even tougher to win in.
The impetus for this post was the MIPCOM guide published by Animation Magazine. Inside, there were numerous ads like this:
This post isn’t a commentary on the show above, but it is a commentary on the nature of the ad. Granted, it’s been created so that attendees of the convention will be familiar with it before they see it on the floor. However, just by looking at the ad, could you glean any information about the actual content of the show? Can you say with certainty that it’s either funny, action-packed or adventurous? The ad claims as much, but doesn’t offer much in the way of proof like this promo does:
It’s merely an example that animation is first and foremost a business like any other. It’s tempting to only look at it from the artistic side and hold a belief that the best really is all that should exist. However, that simply isn’t true, and for every one Gravity Falls, there are twenty Chuck Chickens, quietly entertaining kids throughout the world.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day because kids can, and will, watch anything. That isn’t an excuse for producing or broadcasting poor content though. The fact that networks often have a lot of time to fill, and well, the cheaper an animated show is to buy, the more likely it is to end up on the air all combines to make it more difficult to get lots of great animation on the air.
Hence the rash of shows that have little artistic/creative merit, but who nonetheless are successful enough to keep all the players happy.
Animation is, after all, a lucrative business if one succeeds, but is also exceedingly cut-throat until you do. Here in the US there is a temptation to put the blinders on when it comes to animated content and ignore the fact that the rest of the world is creating far more animation than the Hollywood studios could ever hope to achieve.
My point is that just because animation has to be cheap to produce is not a valid excuse for doing it poorly. There are too few proverbial diamonds in the rough when it comes to animated shows and that means that the industry as a whole suffers.
It’s unfortunately a bit of a vicious cycle as networks only buy what studios create and studios will only create what they can profitably sell to networks.
The internet has already started to change things though, as studios must now produce not only a show, but also the requisite games, app and VOD-capabilities that are fast becoming necessary if they are to successfully sell the property. All this places extra costs on them while their fees from networks remain static.
It ought to be a concern to them that at some point, this business model will disappear in its current form. YouTube and the multi-channel networks that inhabit it are fast become prototypical networks replete with gatekeepers albeit without the requirement for them to purchase the content first.
While this should, ideally, force the content to stand on its own and favour the best, it actually permits a race to the bottom as view counts and ratings become ever more important. The result is that again, producing studios are left with little incentive to actually produce good animation and we’re left without any diamonds at all.
How can we improve this scenario?
Well, great animation will always find an audience. What needs to be done (and it is a very tall order) is for audiences to not only demand better quality animation, but for producers to be smarter about how they produce it and how they sell it. Plenty of shite animation has succeeded because the producers managed to create a community of fans and a method to extract value from them. Conversely, plenty of great animation has floundered because the studio either didn’t create a community of fans, or didn’t exploit them enough to survive financially.
Once again, animation is an extremely tough industry and it takes special talent to create outstanding content. Diamonds in the rough should be hard to find, but why can’t we simply be searching for the best diamond in a field of diamonds instead?