Why the Boom and Bust In Animation Employment?

 

There seems to be a consensus among studios or the powers that be that mandates how productions are ataffed. No, this has nothing to do with ability, skill, gender makeup or anything like that. Rather it’s how animation employment levels tend to ramp up for a production and are then reduced as said production makes its way through the pipeline.

I raise this issue because someone likened it to being a construction worker. I.e. once the building is built, it’s time to move onto another job. That’s only partly true though, because even construction workers (unless their self-employed) aren’t fired from the overall firm. Instead, they’re simply moved to another contract that the company has.

The benefits are obvious, hence the reason it’s a widely instituted practice in construction. Contractors save money (and boy, do they like to save money) by not having to constantly hire and train workers. Their admin overhead costs are lower too, since they don’t require a large HR department to sift through resumes and file all the necessary paperwork. Lastly, they save a ton of time, because they already have a skilled workforce in place. All they have to do is manage it’s deployment.

An animation studio should be no different. the different productions are the different jobs, and a studio in the 21st century does not have the right to exist if it can’t manage it’s slate of productions so that crew numbers are constant.

What I fail to understand is that as a studio, your output ought to be constant. Sure a feature film requires a massive amount of manpower, but if you’re constantly releasing films, can’t you allocate resources to provide for a seamless transition?

It’s an even more critical issue for TV shows, which are in production year-round. Staffing up and down for a TV show is a ludicrous way of managing your team.

While there may very well be tax and wage benefits to hiring and firing, that is only because the rules of the game are set that way; to the detriment of the people actually playing.

Some of the greatest animators had very long and very stable careers with one or two studios and both parties were all the better for it. The concept of a job for life has vanished in recent decades, the notion of steady, dependable employment lasting more than one season or production should not be a rarity; indeed it should be standard.

Week Links 29-2013

Another late roundup this week thanks to extenuating circumstances. All I’ll say is that the lack of public transportation options in the US is about to cost me a lot of money and car dealers truly do embody the stereotype of vultures. Anyways, enough of my troubles, here’s what you ought to read this week.

The end of the Hollywood blockbuster

This story has been kicking around for a while now ever since Spielberg and Lucas opined at a talk. This Pando Daily piece doesn’t attempt to explore the financial changes or pressures facing studios. Rather it looks at the generational shifts in terms of viewing habits. Here’s the key paragraph:

But here’s what should keep Hollywood executives up at night. My daughters don’t care much about the so-called quality of the experience. They don’t like to schlepp to movie theaters because the big-screen experience is less appealing than small-screen viewings on our television or iPad. The only time they want to go is when a movie they can’t get on TV or the iPad comes out, like “Despicable Me 2.” As for me, I’m happy to save the money it costs for us to see a movie in a theater – for a family of four it can be $40 or more plus transportation. That pays for four months of Netflix.

For the animation industry, whose core audience today is kids and by extension, their parents, that last sentence ought to serve as a wakeup call. This summer we’ve been lucky, but that may not be true in 2014.

Burka Avenger: Pakistan’s cartoon superhero battling for girls’ education

Via: The News
Via: The News

Coming via a regrettably rather snide piece in the Guardian is the news that the very first animated TV show to be produced in Pakistan will feature a superhero, and a female one to boot!

There’s a dearth of female protagonists in the west, but even more so in heavily masculine countries around the world. Burka Avenger is an attempt to counter the views of groups such as the taliban when it comes to the education of girls and young women.

The News has a much more well-defined and positive overview of the show.

Rising Animators Spring into Action

This New York Times piece (sorry, the on link I could find leads to a paywall but Cartoon Brew’s might be good) appears to be more fluff than anything else. For one, there’s only one female animator listed and you know there’s more than that in the industry that could be worthy of a place. That isn’t to belittle the guys on there though; everyone is top-notch talent. It would just be nice to see something a bit more representative, that’s all.

Ice Queen By Brianne Drouhard

Ice Queen Potatofarmgirl

I wish I could draw like this. I really do, but I can’t. Thankfully people like Brianne exist out there who can, and do, create awesome things like this. Ice Queen is a favourite of mine, and this captures her perfectly.

 Tweets of the Week

 

 

Theatrical Animation Needs A Rating Below ‘R’

IFCO - 16_cinema

Neil Emmett over on Cartoon Brew has a post where he discusses how to make animation more adult. The issue is incredibly complicated and Emmett chooses to base his analysis on the televisual side of things. Back in 2011, I published a post looking at the theatrical side of things; namely the ‘R’ rating used in the US and how it actively hurts the chances of animation that isn’t overly ‘adult’ but is certainly incapable of being seen by kids.

The Current Setup

As I discussed in my post, the R rating is a bit of an anomaly in the world of ratings. It prohibits anyone under 17 from seeing a film unless they’re accompanied by an adult. Other countries systems provide for unaccompanied teens through intermediate ratings like the 16 one from Ireland, above.

By permitting teens to see films by themselves, you are facilitating the time-honoured teen pastime/social event that is going to the cinema. The R rating eschews that entirely by mandating an adult presence. Furthermore, the only other rating is the NC-17 one which practically all the major chains refuse to screen.

Lastly, the R rating represents a dramatically smaller potential audience for films than the next lowest one, PG-13. So much so, that studios perform a bit of a dance around it. A film is either going to be a very close PG-13 or a very close R. The middle ground is quite thin when it comes to film. The logic here is that if your film is going to be R, you might as well go whole hog.

A Proposed Rating System

The issue currently at hand is that the entire business model surrounding films and TV is changing, Ratings exist on TV merely as a guide to viewers and parents. Theatrical ratings are similarly voluntary but are a hangover from the days when the government threatened regulation.

The internet has no such ratings (although Netflix provides them anyway). While things are almost certainly heading that way, there remains a lot of money in the theatrical market and likely will be for some time.

Animated films can still flourish for older audiences. All they needs is a fuller ratings system that permits teens to see films by themselves. A 16 rating is a good step in that direction.

The reason is obvious, teens have shown no bones about simply finding alternatives to theatrical entertainment. Live-action films don’t suffer because they don’t encounter the same stigma that animation does when its audience ages.

By facilitating the screening of films that are not suitable for kids but not mature enough for an R rating, studios and cinemas could greatly improve the market for animated features.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or is it a case of too little, too late?

Does This Pixar-Related Kickstarter Project Break the Law?

Kickster_Pixar models

Kickstarter is white-hot right now (that means the customary fall from grace/popularity is just around the corner) and we’re seeing projects, specifically animetion ones, popping up all over the place. While some are to fund entire films or TV series, others are a lot simpler, but no less ambitious. For example this one, which purports to model every Pixar character over a 12 month time frame. Ambitious, yes. Legal? It’s not so clear. Let’s take a look at how this particular project once again highlights the tricky intersection of copyright and trademarks.

It’s Copyright Infringement

What may be abundantly clear is that yes, it features the use of Pixar’s copyrighted characters and designs. For many studios, that’s a no-brainer. The creator is proposing to recreate (as accurately as possible), every major character from all of Pixar’s films without permission.

Furthermore, he is performing exact replication. Even though his own efforts are going into creating the models from scratch, he is essentially creating facsimiles. In order to ‘escape’ the copyright protection afforded Pixar, he would have to make them transformative in some way. Something he does nto appear to be doing.

It’s Trademark Infringement

The copyright aspect is clear enough, but what about the trademarks? Ah, you say, he’s not selling anything or masquerading as Pixar so it doesn’t matter.

Well, actually, it does. While he is not pretending, or even pretending to pretend to be Pixar, trademark law also looks at things like brand dilution. By creating Pixar characters and such, he is, in a way, diluting Pixar’s abiity to sell those characters that also function as trademarks in the same way that Mickey Mouse does for Disney.

On top of that, his project requires funding to begin with; it isn’t being done for charity. The money raised will feed and clothe the creator for a year while he produces the models. That makes it a commercial enterprise and almost certainly puts it under brand dilution.

The final aspect to the trademark case is that many of the characters in Toy Story aren’t even owned by Pixar. The original ones (Buzz, Woody, the martians, etc.) are, but almost every other toy in the film is owned by another corporation who hold the trademarks. Selling models of those toys, even if they are based on a Pixar film, will infringe on those trademarks instead and almost certainly again be covered by dilution.

Escape From Infringement Via Fair Use

Fair use is a clause within US copyright law that shields users from the perils of copyright infringement provided it is for certain, codified functions or situations. An example would be news reporting, or critical commentary.

Another aspect is education:

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

So, is this a “commercial” venture? Ostensibly no, but the fact that he will be living off of the monies raised certainly complicates matters. A court would likely find that it is, if not on the basis of the living expenses, but on the basis of him distributing DVDs of his work.

What about the educational aspect though? The whole aim of the project is to illustrate and explain the process of modelling a 3-D CGI character, right? Yes, absolutely! However, does that count as being educational for the purposes of copyright?

On the surface, it is. Delving deeper though, it again gets pretty complicated. It could easily be argued that the creator could simply use his own designs; he’s clearly talented enough. The use of Pixar’s characters is admirable and would be beneficial, but their use does not preclude other possibilities, especially non-copyrighted ones. Lastly, educational purposes generally do not create things for use by others, rather they are instructional. In this instance, the models created will be available for others to use; not use for their own education.

Conclusion

Once again, we see how easily it is to get bogged down in some of the legal concepts that govern animation.

It would be nice if Pixar released their own models, or even instructions on how to make them, but that is not the case. Disney is well known for being overly protective of its creative designs.

Filmmakers like David OReilly are leading the way by making their character rigs available for non-commercial purposes, but until a process of sorts is formalised, Kickstarter projects like this on are on shake legal ground.

Why The Internet Hasn’t Brought About The Exciting Animation It’s Promised

The External World by David OReilly is an ideal example of how internet animation should be influential. Via: STASH
The External World by David OReilly is an ideal example of how internet animation should be influential. Via: STASH

That’s heresy I hear you say; of course the internet has brought about exciting animation! Ah, yes, that is true. YouTube has single-handedly brought about some of the most adventurous, entertaining and stimulating animation ever seen. Yet why does such animation remain confined to the internet, why have we yet to see the influence of the internet break through to TVs and films in the way it has leached into other areas of entertainment like news and documentaries?

Money

The answer in effect, is quite simple: none of the internet stuff has made much money. Now before you jump the gun here, I’ll make some clarifications later on. Just stay with me for now.

Yes, internet animation has been the talk of the town for a while now, and is by far the best place to discover and watch exciting, stimulating animation. Prior to this, you had to visit a film festival or hope you were close to one. Nowadays, anyone with a connection can view and absorb all the animation they can muster.

Yet animation on TV and film remains, uh, boring for the most part. Even series like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and the coming series Stephen Universe and Wander Over Yonder all lie well within the established boundaries for animated TV. If you want to get argumentative, you could say that animated TV has not moved on since John K’s Ren & Stimpy. Feature films have been moribund for decades, and the current crop have only gotten more homogeneous in the last few years.

Money is yet again the root cause of all of this. While internet animation is as wild and impulsive as it is, the vast majority of the stuff on there does not make much if anything. As such, that’s where a lot of its influence remains also. Traditional studios making either series or films, like to make animation they know is going to be popular but also profitable.

While the likes of Frederator are going full bore with their webseries, no financial information is available. (Although they did just move into a bigger office, so presumably they’re doing OK.) That said, Cartoon Hangover shows plenty of influence from the reverse direction; their shows are heavily reminiscent of what you’d expect to find on TV.

Age Differences

In conjunction with the profitability, there is also the age difference. Many internet animators are young, hungry and independent. Only a very select few are in any kind of position at a regular studio to command either a crew or output. The end result is that the top brass at many a studio remain traditionally minded and mostly familiar with the kind of content they are familiar with, i.e. not anything on the internet.

The Internet’s ‘Issues’ With Traditional Business Models

Lastly, besides the money and the talent, there are plenty of legacy issues like rights, licensing, standards and practices and so forth. All these combine to muzzle many of the wilder ideas put forth by animators and crews. The internet has no such barriers and what flows forth is almost exactly what the creators want. With that in mind it is often tough if not impossible to get even the tamer stuff past and as a result, it is safer to simply ignore it.

To clarify what was said earlier, yes, sometimes internet animation can make it through to TV. Annoying Orange is perhaps the most obvious among others. However, it did not influence TV, it simply transferred to it. There is a difference, and even then, there has been very little evidence that Annoying Orange is having any influence outside of parody and satire at its own expense.

Henry Sellick Calls a Spade a Spade

Too little time today for a full post, but at SIGGRAPH, Henry Sellick made a whole slew of statements and comments about the industry as it stands and what he thinks of it.

Variety has coverage where Sellick discusses his future ventures, and by the sounds of things, his feature is dormant for now at least.

The Hollywood Reporter takes a slightly different take by looking at the entire panel, but quotes Sellick as saying that blockbusters are bad, and that there is too much homogeneity between the blockbuster animated content out there.

Both articles are well worth your time, but yet again, they highlight the fact that we’re in a bubble.

Week Links 28-2013

What a week, and wasn’t even at Comic-Con! Here’s a few stories you should read and ponder.

The NSA Spying Scandal, as Explained by Pixar

If you’ve been paying attention as of late, you know that the NSA records the details of just about every phone call made in America. While they call it ‘metadata collection and retention’ most ordinary people prefer to call it unwarranted spying.

So while most out there are not a fan of that, they are a fan of Pixar. Thankfully, someone has a parody ready to go (via io9):

Save the Tooth Fairy! Toy Industry Execs Highjack a Childhood Icon

We’re long used to seeing childhood icons (Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, etc.) being hijacked for the sole purpose of selling, quite frankly, crap. However, the Tooth Fairy remains commerce-free for the most part; sans appearances here and there like in Rise of the Guardians.

That’s about to change, as someone is attempting to commercialise the Tooth Fairy. While I won’t go into much detail, suffice to say, it’s awful, and I’m not talking about the concept. A poor idea that looks to be poorly executed but noteworthy nonetheless for what they’re trying to achieve.

Confessions of a Cosplaying Librarian

Cosplay is a concept that has been touched on here before but never discussed in detail. Thankfully, Peter Gutierrez has done so instead, and his two part conversation with librarian Linda Thai is well worth reading. That is especially so when there are quotes like this:

Isn’t there then a strong element of critical literacy here—or at least there could be? Cosplayers, even those who aren’t explicitly hired by marketers, can still become a promotional tool for the industry. Isn’t that an opportunity for young people to consider their own position within the system, how their creativity can be co-opted in a sense?

Definitely. Now, the cosplayer who’s hired to portray a character for a company obviously becomes a promotional tool for whatever series the company is trying to push at the audience. So we can look at cosplay as a medium that assists other media, anime and manga, by targeting a certain audience segment related to fandom. The question to pose is, what about the rest of us who are not hired, but just cosplay of our own accord? Are we a promotional tool, too?

Exciting and stimulating stuff; start with part one.

Fishnets and Fangs for the Win? The Dark Side of Monster High

Monster High is a property that’s been on my to-do list for a long time. It’s an interesting concept and (after a recent class discussion) is surely one that Mattel concocted with the explicit aim of keeping the dollars oozing out of Barbie within Mattel. They have, after all, learned their lesson after the Bratz fiasco.

Of interest today though, is this piece by Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker which counteracts a piece by NPR that essentially praises Monster High. Given my unfamilarity with it, I can’t comment too much on it except that the points that Shewmaker raises are ones that are familiar to anyone who’s seen the kind of animated content that toy makers tend to produce.

For Exposure

In America (and plenty of other countries), there’s a general consensus that’s been around for many years dictating that if you perform work, you’re entitled to do so for pay. That doesn’t mean you’ll get paid much, but you’ll be remunerated in some way that you deem beneficial to yourself. In recent times though, we’ve seen plenty of artists being asked to do work with only ‘exposure’ being offered in return.

Step forward the truly hilarious/horrendous twitter feed from For Exposure:

For Exposure

The mind truly boggles, eh? Yet this is what many artists are faced with and ultimately, some of them put up with it. Hopefully this will go some way to highlighting the ridiculousness of the situation and educate people as to the same and the fact that such individuals should be avoided at all costs.

This one cracks me up though:

 

Tweets of the Week

 

 

Years ago, I advocated that Pixar should do exactly that. Today however, I’m not so sure.

PBS’ Idea Channel Discusses How Radical BMO’s ‘Gender’ Really Is

BMO burglar

Unusually enough for a blog about animation, you don’t see that many videos posted here. That is let slide today because PBS and their Idea Channel on YouTube have released a rather excellent video:

The topics of animation, gender and the issues surrounding the two are a familiar site on the blog and in Is BMO Expressive of Feminism? host Mike Rugnetta does a great job of analysing both BMO’s character and it’s gender (or lack thereof) and how it relates to the so-called third wave of feminism.

Now this isn’t a feminist blog per se but many of the goals of the movement can be related to and discussed within, the boundaries of socially mandated gender norms and expectations.

BMO, as Rugnetta contends, ignores many of those established norms and, in effect, makes gender a non-issue simply by not having the character defined as one. BMO is both male and female and yet is also neither, being an electronic box of parts that cannot comprehend self-definition of a gender because it simply isn’t possible.

Rugnetta is right that BMO serves to break down the social norms we are used to but not at the expense of the character themselves. BMO is universally loved by all fans of adventure time and serves as one of the few such unifying characters in animation today.

Is BMO representative of third wave feminist ideals and goals? It’s a bit of a stretch to entirely attribute BMO’s character to the notions of biological and social gender identifications. But having said that, the character does illustrate how the concept of gender identification does not need to be something that is forced on individual viewers.

It is ironic that Adventure Time is, overall, heavily geared towards boys and that despite some fantastic, strong female characters, it remains that way. The fact that it includes and is proud of, a character that defies such gender logic is just another aspect to an already super show.

Does BMO represent the future? Rugnetta argues as representative of the third wave of feminism, he/she is. I, on the other hand, would contend that BMO is more of a prototype of sorts as to how such characters could work if and when they become more mainstream and how existing gender norms could be applied in equal measure to a character.

The important lesson to impart from the video and this post is that gender continues to be something that is incredibly dependent on our social upbringing and environment. While it is perfectly fine to self-identify as a particular gender, society continues to impress certain norms and expectations on individuals that are not entirely, well, compatible with the ideal of a free and open society.

While BMO is but one character in an animated TV show, he/she is groundbreaking from the standpoint that such societal pressures are just that and the character’s ignorance of the expectations associated with it, display a positive message for kids that will hopefully take root.

Why Action Cartoons Are Not On the Verge of Extinction

Yoinked from The Mary Sue
Yoinked from The Mary Sue

Action cartoons have been around since forever, and despite efforts in the 70s to kill them off, they managed to survive and even prosper. Apparently the ‘golden age’ of the action cartoon is now over, at least according to one of the producers of the latest Batman series. Over on Screen Rant, Mitch Watson had this to say:

To be perfectly frank with you, the action genre of television cartoons right now is sort of on the verge of extinction, so I’m really hoping that if people like Young Justice and people liked Green Lantern, that they’re gonna give this show a chance, because quite honestly, if they don’t go for this kind of show… and you know what? If they don’t like it, they don’t like it, but give the show a chance, because we really set out to make something that was gonna appeal to both fans and new people, and to pull back in the Green Lantern and the Young Justice people.

There’s a good bit going on there, but it can basically be split into two parts: action shows are about to disappear, and we had to compromise when it came to our show.

Ignoring the latter aspect (because it refers to his own show), it’s quite a statement to say that action shows are on the verge of “extinction”. Besides being here before, this time around the supposed culprit is purely commercial in nature. Depending on who you talk to, Young Justice and Green Lantern were canned for various reasons, but the common reason given is that it didn’t flog enough merchandise.

Now you could argue that it was a repeat of the Sym-Bionic Titan saga from a few years ago when not enough toys were sold for the simple reason that not enough were produced in the first place. However, that simply isn’t the case with the likes of perennially-popular Batman.

So are action cartoons really dying or is Wilson making an inaccurate (if impassioned) plea for his preferred genre of cartoons?

Honestly, there is little to back up his claim that action cartoons are about to bite the dust. Legend of Korra isn’t even halfway through it’s total run on Nickelodeon and since Disney bought Marvel, there’s been a ton of shows based on their properties too. If you wanted to stretch things a bit, you could say that there is also no shortage of action-packed anime emanating from Japan either.

Action Cartoons Will Never Die

Action cartoons are too important of a genre too disappear. In all likelihood, Watson is aiming his ire at Warner Bros, Turner and parent, Time Warner for their collective failure to get co-ordinated and synergized when it comes to their DC subsidiary and animating their comics.

Outside of the comic bubble, action cartoons continue to flourish and given past experiences, there will always be a demand for it. Where action cartoons could improve, is their inclusion of more female characters, but that’s a topic for another day.

How Merchandising Will Make or Break Animated Hits

Clothes-Fred Flintstone

Over on the Kidscreen blog, Scott Shahmanesh has a great post on the topic of licensing, merchandising and making the most of it when it comes to content directed at kids. While his three steps are a superb guide to the rough waters of licensing and so forth, this part is what stuck out to me:

This is a perfect example of how next to no singular form of entertainment has the impact on kids that it had less than a decade ago. New entertainment properties come and go so quickly, it can be impossible to capitalize on them by getting products on the shelves, before the craze is over. If you start while a property is hot, it’s usually dropped from the radar before products have a chance to follow. Just five years ago, a singer/dancer like Psy with the music video Gangnam Style (which had more than a billion views on YouTube) would have generated enough momentum to justify a huge merchandising program. Yet we saw only a handful of products on the shelves before Psy’s moment came and went. Kids quickly moved onto the Harlem Shake. And somewhere in between the two,we were all singing “Call Me Maybe.”

Therein lies the challenge to content creators and producers.

How Merchandising Will Make Animated Hits

Of course, we’ve already seen the beginning of what will eventually become the de facto merchandise and licensing model. For the most part, this will be the ‘on demand’ model that many online clothing outfits (no pun intended) already utilise. They focus on the intricate part of the process, namely putting the image on the cloth and by doing it locally instead of in bulk offshore, they can react much more quickly to shifts in consumer demand. End result? All the Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors T-shirts you can handle.

With the rise of 3D printing and the like, it should become possible to manufacture things like toys locally too, or at least move the easier or more time-consuming parts abroad, thus allowing companies to react in similar ways to the clothing firms mentioned above.

Another option will be to simply re-engineer toys entirely and either make them more modular, or alter how licensed characters and shows are portrayed on them. It may be a matter of going about it the Lego way; making standard pieces that are interchangeable between sets and unique character minifigs that can be made quickly.

All told, merchandising, and the ability to design, make and sell it as a show’s popularity rises and falls will be one key to success. The other will be doing it on a constantly repeating basis.

How Merchandising Will Break Animated Hits

If merchandise can make an animated hit, you’d better believe it can break them too. Besides the obvious goofs (like the infamous Little Mermaid VHS cover), there are other factors and traits of the on-demand model that could prove detrimental.

The first is quality. People don’t mind paying a bit more to have things done quicker, but all too often, quick = cheap and nobody likes to think they’ve been ripped off somewhere along the line. On-demand merchandise will necessitate a lot of people working very quickly and efficiently; all of which will cost money. Unfortunately, the temptation to skimp costs or cut corners throughout the process will be too much for some to take. One weak link is all it takes, and once word gets out, you may not have time to recover.

The second is timing. If success is determinant on your merchandise being available, anyone who misses or screws that up will be doomed. How can you mitigate for this? Well, having a plan always helps but having flexibility in the supply chain will be of enormous benefit too. One supplier already maxed out? There should be a spare with capacity ready to go. The gist of this point is, say a show gets super popular super quick, by the time merchandise is designed, tested, manufactured and ready to be sold, the moment may have already passed. It’ll be too late to fix things unless you can get a recurring property going.

Lastly, the very type of merchandise will be a critical factor. Nobody would create adult-sized T-shirts for a kids show, but what if you made the wrong kind of merchandise that fans were looking for? What then? If fans can’t get the merchandise they want, if they’re not offered it, guess what, they’ll go somewhere else, or make up their own; illegal or not. Again, a bit of planning can go a long way, and if anything, listening to and sussing out from fans beforehand can save your bacon in such a situation.

Either Way, Merchandising WILL Have An Effect

No matter how many ways you look at it, the traditional model of extracting things like licensing fees from networks, DVD makers, distributors and even merchandise manufacturers are all disappearing. In the not-too-distant future, there will also be no middlemen either. Studios will have a direct connection to their fans (or through online retailers) and they will have to be on the ball if they want to make any money. The upshot is that they can reap massive rewards if they get it right. The downside is that there is everything to lose if they get it wrong.

Like it or Not, Disney Means TV Not Movies

Disney Channel logo

No-one can deny that Disney has long meant more than just animated films. Heck, even Walt was about much more than what he is most famous for. Starting in the 1980s though, was a sizeable and dramatic shift towards markets and products that would lead the company far from its theatrical, and animation, roots. Today, Disney is a true multi-national conglomerate with a presence in just about every corner of the media landscape.

Exactly How Is Disney a TV Company?

It’s easy to forget just how small the actual ‘studio’ part of the enterprise is, but Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has this nice pie chart to illustrate things for us:

Via: The Atlantic
Via: The Atlantic

At just over 7% of the total, the studio division is, well, insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Of course that’s the entire studio sector: Disney itself plus Pixar plus Marvel plus Lucasfilm. All told, Disney could hack off its studios entirely and still do all right for itself.* As Thompson puts it:

…at its core, the Disney company draws its largest and most dependable source of income from subscriptions fees that power its cable networks … even though casual newspaper readers could be forgiven for thinking the company lives and dies by the opening weekend of its summer blockbusters.

And that’s the brilliant thing about Disney. The movie business is a rotten thing. American audiences don’t go the movies every week, so they have to be lured with egregiously expensive marketing campaigns for a handful of tentpole movies that, if they blow up, can destroy quarterly earnings for the film division and take down careers. The TV business is somewhat the opposite. The subscription fee model (wherein a sliver of your cable bill goes straight to the networks’ pockets) guarantees that cable networks get paid with or without a “hit.”

Long story short, where Disney makes its money, despite pleas to the contrary, is nowhere near its feature films. Do they [have to] make money? Sure they do, but to use some business-speak, the corporation’s ‘core competency‘ has next to nothing to do with features, let alone animated ones.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes tough love is what’s best, and in this case, I have to say that anyone who either a.) believes that Disney still has a true passion for feature animation or b.) has any serious reason for bringing back traditional, hand-drawn animation is deluding themselves. The company lives (and dies) by ESPN these days, and you can bet they will continue to sideline animation as long as that is the case.

*Of course features still count; they are after all the engine of many different parts of the empire (particularly merchandise) but the TV division is even more so. If Disney features disappeared tomorrow, there effect would be only temporary. Any argument that they are quote/unquote ‘essential’ is inaccurate at best.