Kickstarter Projects Will Result In LESS Animation Being Made

No really, hear me out. I’ve waxed lyrical about Kickstarter projects before. I think it’s a great tool for the independent animator/producer who’s project is perhaps a bit too risky for a serious investor. Some great projects have found backing through it while others have stuttered to a halt despite 6-figures in backing; not naming any names. Yet Kickstarter could actually result in less animation being made. That sounds mad, right?

Kickstarter screenshot

Well yes, it is. But it’s completely true and not for a readily apparent reason. Now that isn’t to say we should shut up shop and move on, but rather for all of us to be a bit more cognisant of its impact. It’s been huge so far, but what of the longer term changes it instigates?

A recent post by Chris Dorr highlights the rather large similarities between the Kickstarter model and that of cable TV. One has the audience fund projects directly, while the other spreads the cost of all projects among everyone. One sounds like the panacea of creators while the other one is that of the businessman.

The reason this is so is because Kickstarter plays to the desire of plenty of people for a la carte cable; basically you pay for the 5-6 channels you actually watch instead of the 100+ that you don’t. Except the cable companies and their pundits like to point out that if that were the case, that IFC channel that you like to watch now costs $150 a month because the audience is relatively small. In other words the most popular channels end up subsidising the the stragglers.

Now apply this to Kickstarter, where people only fund the projects they like. Popular ones get funded easily, like Bee & Puppycat and Baman Piderman. But it’s the ones that you don’t see that really struggle. The late, great Michael Sporn couldn’t get $20,000 together for his POE project (although he did launch a subsequent campaign on Indiegogo), and he’s considered one of the best independent animators that we were lucky to have.

So what you end up with is relatively few, large projects (Bee & Puppycat alone sucked up $600,000) leaving the riskier, less popular ones in the dirt. Fans contribute greater amounts but to fewer projects; the pot is only so big. The end result is that overall, less animation is actually produced.

There is always the argument that falling costs, etc. etc mean that animation continues to flourish, but the point here is that commercial animation which exploded thanks to YouTube and the internet in general will slowly crawl back into oblivion. The big boys will run the show and since there’s only so much money to go around, instead of fans funding stuff they likely won’t ever watch, instead they will only fund what they will watch, resulting in reduced choice, and less variety of animation for everyone to choose from.

The ideal solution is to have studios run on a subscription-type system, whereby fans fund a minimal amount and in return get a plethora of choices when it comes to content. That’s a hard sell in the internet age, but sites like Crunchyroll and Netflix prove that it is viable given the right conditions. Getting a few studios together and forming a syndicate of sorts is just one possible solution.

12 Comments on “Kickstarter Projects Will Result In LESS Animation Being Made

  1. You can look even earlier than cable TV. Once upon a time there was bundling at movie theatres, where the feature film came with serials, newsreels, and cartoons. The revenue subsidized them all, giving studios like WB the opportunity to experiment and create without worrying about their cartoons being the sole box office draw. What most animation nerds rightly consider the “Golden Age” of animation was in fact the golden age of “block booking”. Block booking was declared illegal in the US in 1948.

    You could also make an argument that the LP record led to a similar type of innovation in music, and the rise of the “concept album.” Singles and hits could subsidize the less commercial songs on the same record. The return of single song buying via iTunes is pushing back the other direction.

    I think you’re right that a subscription model would be supportive for the next generation of animation. For example, look at the reputation of HBO series, and how the high quality and creative freedom of HBO has trickled down to other cable channels like AMC. Keeping down the garbage level is key for maintaining this reputation, and I’m not sure that Netflix has an interest in that sort of editorial control over its streaming content.

    • Netflix might not want it over the material they source from others, but for what they produce themselves, I’m sure they do. So far their original series have been quite varied and I’m sure that only going to increase going forward.

  2. It’s an interesting thought process, though I’m not sure how much I buy into it. For one thing, the pieces like Bee and Puppycat and Baman Piderman that you mention would not be made at ALL (most likely) if not for Kickstarter. So I have to wonder then, how is it producing less? With Cable TV the point is pretty clear, because it is all coming from one company (or several large ones). So if Pixar funds some clever innovative short with money from Cars 2, that makes sense. However small studios don’t have the same option. They don’t have some money maker to fund their other “more creative” project.

    So let’s say Kickstarter didn’t exist for a moment. Going by the theme of the article, there would be MORE animation made, yes? But I don’t see that being the case. Kickstarter is providing a source for people who would never be able to fund their project TO fund it.

    I also don’t know if I buy into the argument that “the pot is only so big” to be honest. We have hardly scratched the surface of “the pot.” While you may have X dollars to spend on Kickstarter funding, if something is funded and goes on to make a great deal of money then the people who profit suddenly have more which may allow them to fund more projects.

    We often only see our resources as being limited, but really the resources of our world are enormous. We rarely harness them in the most advantageous way. An example outside of animation for a moment, the world has plenty of food to feed everyone. We just don’t. We have excess in one place while people starve in another. It isn’t that the pot isn’t big enough, it’s what we DO with what’s in the pot that limits us. We limit ourselves by saying “Oh, I can’t do this project exactly the same way as someone else has done it because I lack the specific things the other person had, so I won’t be able to do it.” If I waited around until I had the budget of Toy Story 3 to make an animated film, I’d be dead long before it ever happened. It isn’t that there’s some limit on the POT, it’s the limit I place on myself to “need” the 200 million dollars instead of creatively making it happen with what resources I have.

    Touching for a moment on the Michael Sporn project you linked to, I know there are many diehard fans of Mr. Sporn. I do not want to speak badly about him or his work, because I frankly don’t know it very well. I will say, just as a personal bit of anecdotal evidence, that I got a link to that kickstarter when it went up. I didn’t know Michael Sporn, so all I had to go by was the video attached. And that video looked lousy to me. The animation was limited and extremely evenly timed and the drawings were unappealing. There was no lip sync, and there was no explanation as to why. Would the whole film look like this? If so, I would never want to watch it. So while I do contribute to animated projects on Kickstarter, I did not back that one because I saw no reason. It looked bad. And the name attached to it meant nothing to me.

    In many ways animation is subjective. You may have thought that POE video looked great, I don’t know. But I will ask you this: If Michael Sporn’s name was not attached, and the project was started by “MyLittlePonyFan37” or something, would you have been as interested? Only you can answer that (and I’m not looking for an answer, just bringing it up as a possible reason for why the project failed to meet its goal). So many Kickstarter projects are funded not because they’ll be great, but because someone famous is doing them. I think you might be lending more weight to Michael Sporn’s project because of your admiration for the man behind it (maybe, I have no idea), rather than the work shown in the KS video. I don’t think many people would have seen that KS video and been impressed, which is why I personally think it didn’t reach its goal. It didn’t do a good job marketing the film, and that is the purpose for that video at the top of the KS page. The ONLY purpose for that video. Save your artsy trailers for when you’re not trying to raise money. The KS video should hit the audience with everything you’ve got, because it is your one chance to sway them.

    I do have an actual question about one part, though, if you don’t mind:

    “The end result is that overall, less animation is actually produced.”

    Less animation is produced than… what exactly? I’m not sure where the comparison here is. Less than if all companies banded together under a conglomerate and shared profits? Or they all suckled the teat of Netflix or another super-for-profit-first company in order to survive? Personally I find that terrifying, because then it gives creators a very valid reason to produce garbage “just to fund this other, better thing.” Animated pieces become a means to an end, instead of the end itself. And frankly you might be right in that case that we’d see more animation that way, but one has to wonder, is that the kind of animation you really want to see produced?

    In that instance, I’m not sure I see more as better.

    Anyway, it’s a really cool topic and one I hadn’t thought much about before! I’m looking forward to sitting with it longer and rolling it around in my mind. Thanks for the as always excellent, thought provoking post. You just don’t get stuff like this most places online where people are more concerned about link-bait and whatever will be popular regardless of quality.

    • Wow, great points J.K!

      When I was writing the post, I had already jumped ahead a bit to a point in time where the cable subscription model is dead and instead, the Kickstarter model or variant thereof was the dominant way of producing animation.

      In such a scenario, fans would be the major source of funding. It is at that point that the pot would become finite; fans can only afford so many ‘donations’ a month and even with rewards as an incentive, the numbers needed to sustain the current level of animation production would never be reached.

      Consider that the average animated series comes in at over a million dollars. Extremely few Kickstarter projects have reached that goal and even if all content was funded that way, I don’t see the variety being much better than it is today.

      My worry at the end of the day, is that the limelight that independents can currently bask in will eventually disappear again; much the same way that it is quickly vanishing from YouTube as larger players vacuum up audiences.

      We’ll see how it plays out, but ideally, I would rather see a setup where a studio attracts and audience, and instead of having them cough up for each production, they contribute a regular amount, and enjoy everything the studio makes.

      • What evidence or insight do you have for your scenario that the cable subscription model is going to die out completely rather than shrink? I get a better value from cable then I do from anything else at a similar price, save perhaps Netflix. I might find another subscription service that provides the same content but I’m not going to give up the value that such a service provides. The only way I’m going to give it up cable tv is if I either can’t afford it, somebody has a better service, or cable tv stops offering enough good content to be worth the price.

        • Most systems eventually die and are replaced by others. Just part of how things work. Your concept of “somebody has a better service” is likely what will occur.

          • You’ve got a point there. That and I’ve just found out that one of my favorite shows got cancelled which makes me realize that fractured attention isn’t doing anyone good. So I’ll backtrack to the beginning of my argument and replace cable with ‘content by subscription model’. That would include Netflix technically, but they mostly acquire content after a time delay. I don’t see any reason for this model going away. It will be part of a more crowded system, but this particular kernel seems here to stay. Let me put it this way. No matter what people are reading their books or watching their movies on, they’ll still read the way their culture dictates which is in our case, left to right. Some ideas are solid enough to stand the test of time.

            I think something similar will happen in the future for movie stores. They’ll be stocked by experts at finding films their customers like and use their in store expertise to direct people to good films. They’ll either download it to their disk and sell it to people or charge money in exchange for their expertise.

          • Yes, the idea of content curation is fast gaining steam. One look at Netflix and it’s easy to see how finding new and interesting programming is getting harder, thanks to the sheer volume of content available.

            An algorithm can recommend things, but a recommendation from a person is infinitely more valuable; it’s what’s kept movie critics in business for so long.

      • Ah, I see what you’re saying. That’s a good point, and that makes it clear, gotcha.

        I think the thing that stops me from being too worried about that “end of the day” is we do such a poor job (as people generally, not you and me specifically!) at predicting the next thing these days. Go back a few years before Facebook and talk to someone about Facebook and how their mom and grandma would eventually be on it and they’d laugh you out of town. So I think we just won’t know until the future arrives, and when it does, I think people will find a new way if the old way no longer works. I know I would, anyway. I’d look for whatever I could in order to fund my dream projects and things. And I think those people who do whatever they need to will find the way.

        You’re right, though, the “ease” of it may be gone and we’ll go back to a system where only those dedicated enough will get their stuff out there. And as a result, there would indeed be less animation produced.

  3. I like the subscription model. Rooster Teeth (Red vs. Blue, RWBY) use this model. For $10 a year, fans get access to videos hours earlier, special features and access on their forums, and other exclusive features.
    Their regular content can still be viewed for free, but the money they earn through subscriptions are a huge help in funding and produce their content.

    • Ten dollars a year is ridiculously good value. The trick is to figure out what scarcities you can offer fans in return for their cash. Live action has it easy in that stars can simply make an appearance. Animation isn’t so lucky, but drawing fans into shows seems to be a fairly consistent Kickstarter reward, so there’s real possibility that could work.

      • Actually, that’s a mistake on my part. It’s $10 for six months, or of course $20 a year.
        Aside from Kickstarter, Patreon is almost as good as having your own subscription service. People can be patrons and donate a dollar or more per cartoon or per month. And those who donate more get more special features!

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