It’s been a rough couple of months for DreamWorks Animation. If it wasn’t the poor performance of Rise of the Guardians, it was delays in development and most recently, the job losses resulting from each. In essence it’s a cash flow problem. Guardians didn’t bring in enough to keep the studio going along a the pace it originally planned. Borrowing the money would be costly so the unfortunate situation is that the release schedule has been dialled back and people have been let go. Many media and blogs focused on those aspects, but few were asking what DreamWorks should do next. Here’s a few hints.
TV is Still King But So Is Original Content
As much as the death of TV is plastered on the internet, the medium is still very much alive. In fact it’s still far to big to ignore. The TV properties of Disney continue to prop up the film studio and until they don’t TV screen across the globe will continue to be central to any large studio’s strategy.
DreamWorks has made efforts to get its films onto the small screen. First it was The Penguins of Madagascar and recently it’s Dragons: Raiders of Berk. Both shows have done well on their respective networks and DreamWorks seems keen to continue to idea of spin-off shows. Heck, it did Disney no harm at all back in the 90s.
What DreamWorks should do though, is create an original TV series. They have the talent at their disposal, what better way to keep them busy and productive than to have them branch off into TV series? For one, they could crank out programmes much faster than feature films. Two, you can be sure plenty of networks around the world would jump at a DreamWorks TV show. And lastly, the revenues would help bring in revenue; not just from licensing fees, but from merchandise as well.
Sure, it’s a crowded TV market, but DreamWorks would be far and away the largest presence given that both Disney and Viacom (Nickelodeon) have their own networks. That fact would work in their favour.
Mobile Will Become More Important
The studio is off to a decent start, what with the tie-in with Rovio for The Croods, but what else are they doing in the mobile sphere? Well, they’ve got this augmented reality app that makes movie posters move. It’s a nice idea but ultimately a bit gimmicky. The studio’s Ptch app is a much better approach, but there’s been no word yet on where that app will ultimately lead for the company.
No matter who you talk to, the keyword is ‘mobile’. DreamWorks needs to figure out a concrete plan for the platform and what it intends to offer. Games are a no-brainer and Ptch is a great starting point, but where else can the company leverage its content on people’s phones and tablets? Netflix is clearly part of the solution, but the company could also look into leveraging the vast store of IT knowledge it has at its disposal. Just imagine a DreamWorks-created 3-D rendering app and you’ll get the picture.
Shorts Will Return
In my post predicting the future of animation, I state that shorts will make a comeback. To clarify, that’s not completely individual shorts but rather those along the lines of the classic Looney Tunes. In other words, a recurring set of characters in a wide variety of plots.
The reason is simple: in conjunction with the shift to mobile platforms discussed above, shorter content will become popular again. If you consider the limited periods of time that people spend on mobile devices, it makes sense to produce content on a 7-8 minute scale rather than the traditional 11 or half hour scale.
Cartoon Hangover is giving this idea a shot and they’ve done OK with it overall. Bravest Warriors could have tighter stories but on the whole, the shorts work for the YouTube generation. At the other end of the scale, the Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld shorts clock in at just over a minute each. Theoretically ideal for mobile, but ultimately too short for substantial storylines.
DreamWorks hasn’t really created any shorts outside of the extras on its DVDs. It would be nice to see them throw some [more] out there either as promotion for the films or as sidelines to the TV show. They could easily do it and the payoff would be substantial.
The Theme Parks Will Pay Dividends
Remember those theme parks that were announced a while back? Stop snickering! Just because they’re going to be situated in New Jersey and Russia is nothing to laugh about. Sure Disney has the theme park gig down pat, but they’re only in a few select markets (the US, France, Hong Kong and Japan.) DreamWorks is betting that with smaller, indoor parks, they can grab customers from a smaller area, but ultimately have them visit more times throughout the year, especially in the winter.
The parks are also in areas where Disney is not; Russia being the principal one. DreamWorks movies do quite well there, so it makes sense to head to that country first. The risk may be more than in western Europe, but the potential rewards are huge given Russia’s rapidly growing middle class.
The only downside to the theme park idea is that the dividends will take years to reap.
Technology Is The Silent Winner
As mentioned above, DreamWorks has a great store of computing knowledge acquired historically from the PDI divsion and also through the technology that the studio itself has pioneered. The company has been moving in the technology direction for some time, and it make sense to continue down that road
Pixar has long done the same, selling and supporting its Renderman software as a side business to the animation. DreamWorks appears to be slowly doing the same, but it might be time to become more overt. Consider how Amazon went from being just an online retailer to an established technology firm thanks to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) division. The company basically realised that they could sell the technology they used to power their website and profit from it. DreamWorks could and should do the same.