Animation Articles: May 3, 2020

A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 3rd of May, 2020.

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More Tough Choices Ahead for Independent Animators

This time last year, I speculated that the ‘You’ part of ‘YouTube’ was about to become as irrelevant as the ‘Music’ part of ‘MTV’. As it turns out, that speculation has turned out to be correct. Unfortunately, the future looks even more gloomy for independent creators for an even more troubling reason.

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Animation is Finally a Commodity. Now What?

It took long enough, but animation is just about everywhere you, and (among younger generations at least), is immensely popular. Many have long looked with envy at Japan with its ubiquitous anime and pined for a similar scenario in western markets. Their prayers may have been answered, but the reality is far from expectations. Animation has become a commodity, and with that it has lost its special place in the minds of consumers and fans alike. The question is, what happens now, and where does the industry go from here?

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TV Animation Is About to Dive Off a Cliff

The production of animated TV programs has never been greater. All three kids channels have full slates, numerous cable networks have their own shows, and FOX continues its long tradition of animated programming on Sunday nights. It’s a good time to be an optimist, yet it’s never been more important to be pessimistic about this sector of the business, because it’s about to go barrelling over a cliff.

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The Compelling Reasons That Will Make You a Fan of Hatsune Miku

If we’re being honest, even I wouldn’t have believed that headline if it was written even six months ago. Clearly being only vaguely aware of who Hatsune Miku is wasn’t enough and it took a proper introduction before I ‘got’ her. Of course there’s a lot of appeal to the character of Miku herself, and that forms the basis for many young fans’ devotion. That’s not what makes her appealing to me though; it’s the concept and execution of the character’s role, and what she represents from a business standpoint. To put it simply: she’s the future.

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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.

YouTube Shoots Self In Foot!

YouTube_logo

Although rumours emerged just last week, it appears that YouTube has wasted no time whatsoever announcing that they are creating paid subscription channels for the site. For the low low price of 99¢ per month (or higher) you can subscribe and presumably be the first to see new content by the requisite creators.

How Do They Shoot Themselves In The Foot Then?

Well, that should be an obvious one, shouldn’t it? YouTube’s bread and butter has been videos that are free. Imprisoning them behind a paywall essentially makes them no different to plenty of other services out there such as cable or Netflix. Why would you give money to YouTube when you can give it to those instead? This is especially so when you are either a) already paying for them and b) they offer all your favourites rather than just ‘new stuff’.

The Fallacy of ‘New Content’ on YouTube

Naturally, the argument goes that you’re paying for the latest and greatest content. A fine point of view except that said content is also competing with everyone else that’s giving it away for free, on the same bloody site no less!

The sad truth that many people have yet to accept is that given the choice between paying for new content and searching for older content that’s free; the latter will win out 90% of the time. Netflix has built their customer base through offering older content, not through the likes of original content like House of Cards. The only reason they did begin producing new stuff is because they reached the natural limit with existing content, leaving the only way to expand though original material.

YouTube has no such limit, users already upload hours of new content every second and show no sign of slowing down. The site has also been massively profitable for YouTube for many years (although exact figures are hard to come by). Besides, how much revenue can Google even hope to reap from offering these paid channels? Even with a million subscribers, you’re talking a few million dollars a year; a pittance compared to the billions that ads bring in.

So What Is The Point

Well, that’s a hard one to nail down. Google clearly doesn’t really need the money, and it’s already failed twice in the past in getting consumers to pay for videos, so what does that leave? Why legacy players of course!

Yes, existing media companies are the ones who are apparently excited about this development (if judging by this list is anything to go by). There’s the Jim Henson company in there as well as, disappointingly, Sesame Workshop. In an ironic twist, animation seems to be over represented on the list of creators looking for the lazy way to make money. Long story short, many established creators have indicated to Google that they would engage more with the site only if there was some sort of paid subscription model.

All in all, the gist is to get people to cough up for something they can get for free somewhere else; a decision that has been, and still is, an unwise choice.

The Alternative for Animation

Do alternatives even exist? Sure they do! Beside the many different ways that creators can make money from their content, David OReilly suggests another one, Vimeo’s tip jar.

He raises a good point. Viewers are not averse to paying for content, just being forced to do so. Plenty of animators have found new and innovative ways to make money, be it from selling T-shirts, selling commissions, making personal appearances and what not.

For independents and small studios, it’s important to remember that subscription models only work well when the audience is extremely large. Otherwise, they act as a barrier to spreading your brand and audience.

Cartoon Network Still Letting Down Adventure Time Fans

glitch is a glitch 1

glitch is a glitch 2

glitch is a glitch 3

A good while ago, we wrote about how Cartoon Network was letting down its own fans by restricting the online streaming on their site to cable/satellite subscribers only. Unfortunately, that still appears to be the case, and the network, along with its hit show Adventure Time is all the worse for it.

Why???

The reason is simple, fans can’t [legally] view the latest episodes when they want to. If you don’t have a DVR or a cable subscription (as I don’t) then you’re basically out of luck. Besides torrents, there are plenty of site that will stream the latest episodes and they are only a Google away.

And This Hurts People How?

Well, David OReilly created an episode of Adventure Time that was broadcast last night and subsequently attempted to melt the internet but was fortunately unsuccessful. That said, plenty of fans in the hours afterwards attempted to view it and were out of luck.

Cartoon Network doesn’t have it on YouTube and their aforementioned full episode streams on their website aren’t open to everyone. The result? Fans willing to dilute their own viewing experience by accessing crappy streams. As OReilly himself notes:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/davidoreilly/status/319153082984452096″]

Fans, so pious is their love for Adventure Time that they would rather watch a shitty compressed stream that isn’t even the right colour than wait for Cartoon Network to rerun it. Nobody gains from this.

The Kicker to The Whole David OReilly/Adventure Time Saga

The kicker to all of this is the fact that nothing can be kept offline any more. Heck, the episode was even leaked prior to its airing on the network itself. Sure, Cartoon Network realise they have a winner, but they also fail to realise that with such an explosive show, they need to be on top of handling it when it goes off.

With a big event like this, attention and demand will be concentrated at around the time that it is first made available. You can capitalise on that, but only if you are ready for it.

How does Cartoon Network gain from people watching illegal streams? They don’t! Plain and simple. However, that being said, there is no logical reason for them not to offer legal streams on their own sites or YouTube channel. How many views could they have gotten if the episode was available immediately after it was broadcast? Half a million? One million? More?

Given the recent success of Bravest Warriors, it’s fair to say that the Glitch is a Glitch episode of Adventure Time could easily be at over a million views by now (<24 hours later). Anything that Cartoon Network could have gained from those views is gone; either spread amongst the streaming sites or lost to unauthorised downloads.

How To Counteract It

What really irks this forward thinker though is that they could counter it so, so easily. They could simply put the episode up on YouTube for 24-48 hours for starters. They could harvest views on their site without necessarily damaging the ratings of reruns later on. They would gain the exposure and potentially drive more people to check out the older episodes which, thankfully, are now on Netflix.

They could also have it available to buy. Again, no sign of that less than 24 hours after broadcast.

Where’s the associated value-added merchandise that we discussed just the other day? Why is there quite literally nothing except the episode available except for the tidbits that David OReilly himself has been posting and tweeting about? The man knows a thing or two about nurturing fans and its sad to see his expertise being completely ignored.

The entire saga should be used a lesson so that people can learn how not to react when something this big hits the internet.

What Does The VCR Helping Anime Mean For Animation Today?

2001-vhs

Over on Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research blog is a post by Fred Patten that discusses in much detail how the rise of the VCR actually helped anime and animation as a whole. The impetus comes from a talk by Walter Lantz:

“In 1975 animation was a dying art! All the theatrical animation studios were closed except Disney, and by 1975 even Disney was moribund. Animation for TV was all toy and cereal commercials, and was so bland that nobody but little children watched it. The very few festivals of animation were glorifications of the past, attended mostly by animation veterans and cinematic scholars, not the public. Then in 1975 the first home video cassette recorders came out. They took about a decade to become widespread, but suddenly the public was asking TV stations to show more classic cartoons so they could record them to watch whenever they wanted. Movie studios and whoever owned the rights to old cartoons found that there was big money in putting them out on video. The first video releases of old prints were later upgraded to remastered prints with original title cards. Today new animation features are being made because the studios know that they can make as much or more from video sales as from theatrical screenings. Animation that hasn’t been seen in decades is available again, and permanently for whenever anyone wants to see it, not just when its studio re-releases it theatrically or on TV. The animation industry was just short of dying when the first VCRs came out; now it’s bigger than ever!”

What kind of lessons can we glean from the above statement?

  1. Technology improved access to old animated content
  2. Consumers demanded said access to the content
  3. Once access was granted, money started to flow.

What kind of parallels can be drawn with the digital revolution of today?

One of the hot topics at the moment is access to older content and how simply throwing them up online isn’t seen as being a viable option for many studios. Classic Looney Tunes shorts and Disney feature films are tough to come by online (although some of the latter are on Netflix) and the quality of the public domain films available on YouTube is all over the place.

Yes, it is possible to see the animation that isn’t online, but that was the case back in the 1970s too. It’s that the ease of access hasn’t kept pace with technology. Whereas before you would have to obtain a copy of the actual film, today, you have to obtain a copy on DVD. While the latter is far cheaper and more convenient, it nonetheless must be done.

Time is the real factor here. Why expend time trying to find old animated content to watch when you can watch something that is instantly available? That is what we have in common with the scenario Lantz illustrates.

How What Worked Then Will Also Work Now

Funnily enough, the improved access that worked then will also work today. What the studios realised was the the [monetary] value wasn’t so much in the content itself as it was in how it was packaged and sold. Today, that is still the case but we have moved away from valuing the content itself to valuing what comes with it. Essentially, old content sold today must be in value-added form.

Here’s the transition:

  • VHS: Selling the content itself in a package that permits anytime viewing
  • DVD: Selling the content in a technology that permits the inclusion of content extraneous to the original film (commentaries, features, direct access, etc.)
  • Internet: _____?

Actually that last one isn’t as blank as you might think. Sure we are still using the content, but with the internet, we can access it anytime (and from anywhere), with any additional features/commentaries we desire. So what can possibly be used to entice people to pony up for it?

Well, the short answer is, you don’t. The structure of the internet means that it is better to give the content away for free. Sure you can use DRM to lock it down, but there have already been too many examples of either compatibility/access issues with DRM content. The worst of which comes when the DRM servers are deemed too expensive to keep running and are switched off leaving paying customers in the lurch.

That’s a scenario you want to avoid at all costs and the easiest way to do it is to keep access to the content free. But if you can’t charge for that, what can you charge for? Well, that’s the current challenge that’s facing many studios and networks.

One option is to rent it a la Netflix but you can’t rely on that as the “per view” rate is stupidly low and unlikely to ever bring in serious money. Nope, instead you have to use smarts and figure out what you have that is scarce.

In the case of older films, there isn’t really a lot of scare stuff out there, so what do you do? You make some of course! Merchandise is the first thing to come to mind and if it is done right, you can use the content itself as the engine for your merchandise empire.

Secondly, people like to have a sense of belonging. Disney’s D23 is proof of the kind of corporate fan club that is detestable but also successful. They charge a membership fee but in return deliver a lot of things that fans value. Things like a regular magazine, discounts on merchandise, and opportunities to attend exclusive events. All of these do cost money, but they drive repeat business and help drive the overall Disney brand.

What Old Cartoons Could Benefit?

Where is our Looney Tunes club? Why doesn’t Betty Boop have something to draw fans together besides being on clothing lines? Felix the Cat appears on fine art costing thousands of dollars but nothing that fans can share with each other?

These are all questions that could be answered through the steps discussed above. Keeping access to old animation and cartoons is the only way to ensure that they are still enjoyed. VHS may have brought animation back from the dead, but that doesn’t mean its soul won’t die instead.

What would you do to bring fans of old cartoons together? Let us know with a comment!

Where Bitcoin Could Feature in Animation’s Future

Via:  The Bitcoin Wiki
Via: The Bitcoin Wiki

Looking to the future is a theme of the blog, and with this post, we’re taking a bit of a larger leap than normal. Bitcoin is a digital, distributed P2P currency that is slowly gaining prominence. Not sure what Bitcoin even is? Have a read of this introduction and the FAQ before continuing or just watch this animated video:

Why Will Bitcoin Become Useful?

What’s wrong with the currencies we already have? Well, nothing in particular if we’re being honest. However that doesn’t mean that they are perfect. In fact, existing currencies erect obstacles to the free flow of money around the world and in the context of entertainment like animation, that will become a restriction on growth. Here’s some reasons why Bitcoin represents a possible monetary future and why animation could benefit from it.

Future digital markets

We’re right in the middle of the seismic shift in content viewing. Traditional models are out; new ones like Netflix and YouTube are very much in. That’s great right? Well yes, yes it is. However while viewing habits are moving towards the 21st century, the monetary systems that support them remain stubbornly in the 20th century. If we are moving towards a digital model for consumption, shouldn’t we also move towards a digital model for payment?

Trans-national Consumer Demand

National boundaries have long been used by traditional broadcasters and distributors as a barrier to to truly free enterprise. Even in Europe where these barriers have been removed (even currency ones thanks to the Euro), content is still sold and licensed on a per country basis.

The internet has long been a borderless platform. The content therein is available anywhere at any time and it is this aspect that has made the internet so successful as a technology. As content moves more and more online, it will also disrespect national boundaries. Yes, the likes of Netflix, Amazon and iTunes continue to use geolocation, but this is more as a form of market restriction at the behest of corporations than for any technological or economical reason.

In contrast, sites like YouTube thrive on being as freely available as possible. Many other services (like Facebook and eBay) do too, and in many ways, traditional currency models restrict their ability to find success.

Pros

Now let’s take a look at some of the benefits that could be associated with Bitcoin as far as animation creators and producers are concerned.

It’s Borderless

As mentioned above, Bitcoin crosses all borders. This has the advantage of removing the need for converting one currency into another. If you live in the US and you earn money from someone in France, one of you must convert the amount and pay resulting conversion fee. That’s lost money for either party. Bitcoin would eliminate conversions and their fees making international commerce much more efficient.

It Makes Payments Easier

It’s tempting to assume that what is accepted practice in your country is also accepted practice in others. A good example are credit cards. They are widespread in the US, but are much less common in other countries either for cultural or economic reasons. As such, many of the platforms and services that animators and producers rely upon here may not be available internationally. PayPal has an international presence, but they are not everywhere. The same goes for Apple, Amazon and Netflix.

With Bitcoin, all you need is a computer and internet access and seeing as they are viewing animation through those already, there is no need for additional equipment. Kiss PayPal goodbye! Transaction fees do exist within Bitcoin however, but there is no such thing as a free lunch, and you can be sure they are less than what many banks and credit card companies currently charge.

It’s Secure

As a currency and protocol, Bitcoin’s security relies on verifying transactions and cryptography. Essentially that means that transactions must be verified before they are considered ‘accepted’ and each user has unique encryption keys to ensure that only they have access to their Bitcoins. At the most basic level, Bitcoin operates as a sort of virtual cash rather than any kind of account.

Cons

Nothing is perfect and Bitcoin does have a few disadvantages.

Not Widely Understood/Recognised By Consumers

As of writing (February 2013) Bitcoin remains very much on the periphery of the business environment. It has yet to achieve widespread recognition beyond technology circles and has extremely small penetration in mainstream society. This obscurity renders it somewhat unstable as far as its value and likely will until it becomes more widely used.

Fortunately, as Bitcoin becomes more popular, it will become more stable and this con will diminish in importance.

No Legal Status

At present, Bitcoin has no legal status. This does not mean that it is illegal, rather it means that it lacks legal recognition either in law or in court. Facebook credits similarly lack legal recognition yet they are the only method of purchasing things on that social network and widely accepted by its millions of users.

The User is the Security Risk

While the Bitcoin protocol and networks are secure, weak spots remain with the user. If they do not take adequate steps to secure their private key, it is possible for someone else to acquire it and transfer the Bitcoins associated with it. Consider it like leaving your front door unlocked and someone coming in and stealing the cash in your wallet. This is an inherent risk with any currency although there are steps that you can take (if receiving money from customers) to minimize the possibility it could happen to you.

A Theortecical Bitcoin Scenario

Consider this scenario: someone in a far off country sees your short and wants to throw something in the tip jar. How can they do that today? If they don’t have a credit card at all, they are SOL. If they do, it may be difficult or even impossible for them to give you money. To go one further, the platform your video is on may not even handle monetary transactions at all. Would you expect a cheque from them instead? Of course not.

That is how things work today, and while there usually are platforms in place, they are extremely convoluted and time-consuming. Consider the alternative: the user above can instead transfer funds in Bitcoin form to you from their internet-enabled computer directly to you no matter where you are. There are no conversion fees that are skimmed off and the funds are available to you almost instantaneously.

Your film can now be seen and enjoyed by anyone around the world with no upfront (merchant or service) fees on your end to worry about. Isn’t that awesome? More money for you, right?

Now think about the merchandise you can sell using Bitcoins; think about how you can take advantage of local manufacturers to sell that merchandise locally instead of shipping it internationally. Wanna sell T-shirts in Turkey? There’s no point in shipping them from America is there? Instead, pay a local manufacturer in Turkey with your Bitcoins whose value you know and reap the rewards when they are sold.

Conclusion

It’s still very early days for something like Bitcoin and it remains to be seen if it will ever catch on. That said, it’s an interesting technology and one that could benefit media consumption in conjunction with the internet. It is something to keep an eye on.

Cyanide And Happiness Opt Out of Old Model For Animated Show

Via: Cyanide & Happiness
Via: Cyanide and Happiness

For those not familiar with Cyanide and Happiness, it’s a webcomic that often focus on black comedy and sardonic humour with a distinct hint of questionable morals. The series is a collaborative effort and has become one of the most successful webcomics since its launch in 2004. As with many creative properties of this nature, a move beyond the static world of comics and into the dynamic world of animation is a natural one that has been on the cards for some time. The difference is how the creators approached it and what they learned from the process.

The Traditional Route

Initially, the creators (Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin and Dave McElfatrick) ventured down the traditional avenue for developing an animated project: they talked to some TV networks. This tried and trusted method has been used by countless people since creator driven shows came back into vogue just over 20 years ago. As a result, this seemed like a sensible option. As Rob outlays:

…it feels kinda natural for us to get back into animation, because we all started out as amateur animators when we were kids. Because of that, over the years we’ve built up a wealth of ideas that don’t really work as comics; they need to be animated.

However, what the group discovered as they jumped through the many negotiation hoops was that the way networks operate and how the web operates are entirely different. As Kris explains:

We walked away from the first two due to rights and creative control issues.

As you may be aware, when a network acquires the show, they assume control over it. The vast majority of the time, they will hire the creator to ensure that his or her vision makes it to the screen. This arrangement benefits both parties and almost always passes without incident. However, anyone who is familiar with the saga of Ren & Stimpy and John Kricfalusi will know that creators are merely an employee on their own show and can be removed by the network for almost any reason.

The C&H guys weren’t too comfortable with this. They inhabit a realm (the internet) where the creators have complete and total control over what they create (although not necessarily how it received or distributed.) Not liking the idea of losing control, they have started to look at alternatives to this traditional route.

The Alternative Route

As with many similar projects over the last year or so, haute couture site Kickstarter is mentioned as the likely platform from which they will launch the alternative series. Although that aspect is an indicator, it is what they hope to actually produce:

We’ll be using Kickstarter to raise money for production. We firmly believe the entertainment industry is changing, and the Internet will eventually become the only way people watch shows.

This route will involve raising funds, deciding on what exactly to produce (length, no. of episodes, etc.) no details of which are available yet. Nonetheless the move represents only the latest in a wave of properties that have become popular on the internet and have shown a reluctance to relinquish some of the freedoms that the platform offers.

Via: Cyanide & Happiness
Via: Cyanide and Happiness

Why Their Decision is Significant

While it is tempting to brush off the C&H decision as merely the latest in a long line of internet phenomenons whose creators are unwilling to bend to the demands of traditional business models, that isn’t the case. The decision to go the alternative route was not rushed by any stretch of the imagination. Rob:

The four of us traveled to LA twice, and spent many more days in phone calls with over a dozen networks. A few of the discussions got pretty involved, lasting months and even years.

And Kris:

…we’ve been negotiating a Cyanide and Happiness TV show with a cable network for a while now. What you guys may not know is that this is actually the latest of three TV show talks we’ve been in. We walked away from the first two due to rights and creative control issues. We thought that we could settle those issues in the third deal, but things didn’t quite work out as we hoped.

Today, we are letting you all know that we’ve officially walked away from this TV deal as well, for similar reasons as the first two.

Oftentimes web success stories receive a bit of a drubbing for their propensity to misunderstand traditional models, but not the C&H guys. To their credit, they understand where the networks are coming from:

Every single one of these deals, after much back and forth, eventually came down to the same basic problem: Television networks don’t want to take much risk when it comes to new shows. Nor should they have to. It’s entirely their investment; we’re just the writers. This manifests itself in a lot of scary ways when you read a typical TV contract. Stuff like giving up the rights to existing characters in order to feature them in the show, no final say on what gets removed or changed, even potentially being fired as writers from our own show. Not to mention the fact that good shows get cancelled all the time.

What is interesting though, and something that they picked up on while undertaking the entire adventure, is that they realised that what the networks were attempting to produce and what the C&H guys felt they needed to produce were too entirely different things:

As Rob notes, TV networks undertake a significant amount of risk when it comes to a TV show. They must invest a lot of time, money and resources and the payoff will not become known until vast amounts of all three have been spent. In a capitalistic society, risks like those are generally undertaken with the acknowledgement that whatever rewards (or pitfalls) that are to be had belong to the person or entity undertaking the risk.

That’s a fair arrangement that has underpinned the nature of business in free economies since day dot. The C&H guys simply discovered the entertainment version and what it entails, read: giving up the rights to your creation.

What makes their decision significant is that they also realised that they don’t need a traditional network to get an animated Cyanide and Happiness series off the ground (Kris):

We’re starting to realize that TV as an industry just isn’t compatible with what we want to do with our animation: deliver it conveniently to a global audience, something we’ve been doing all along with our comics these past eight years. That’s just the nature of television versus the Internet, I suppose.

Why You Should Pay Attention

The developments that are about to happen would be significant anyway, but you should pay particular attention to them for the following reasons:

This WILL Set the Pattern For Future Projects

Plenty of people have run successful [animated] Kickstarter projects. Plenty of people have created successful animated web series. However, we are about to see how someone can successfully leverage a successful existing property into a Kickstarter project into a web series.

What the C&H decision will do is cement the pattern for creators wishing to create their own animated series. Plenty of animators are trying their hand but few consider the following:

  • the need to be a goal-oriented creator
  • the need for a fanbase to build with
  • the knowledge that a demand for an animated series exists
  • the huge amounts of energy needed to create a series

With a successful campaign and series, expect many to mimic Cyanide and Happiness. My money is on creators needing to (not having to, needing to) develop a fanbase prior to attempting an animated series. Even those that have pulled off an entirely new series, such as Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors have not been shy about leveraging any connection to an existing, successful property and its fanbase (in this case, Pen Ward and Adventure Time.)

Fans

Networks have been clever at leveraging fanbases to drive ratings and merchandise sales but when it comes down to it, few actually respect them. Consider delays in getting DVD boxsets out, issuing takedowns to fan creations and actively blocking access to online streaming. Yup, networks love fans, but only for their money.

In contrast, the Cyanide and Happiness guys practically love their fans. As Kris explains:

We firmly believe the entertainment industry is changing, and the Internet will eventually become the only way people watch shows. Especially the people that make up our awesome fanbase. The Internet is already the largest network, available when you think about it. Why go anywhere else?…..The prospect of doing an uncensored, unaltered Cyanide and Happiness Show and giving it directly to the fans is an incredible opportunity. We’re really excited to see how far we can take things.

Look at that! They actually considered their fans in their decisions. They anticipated that if all their fans are already on the internet, why go to TV just because?

That represents the other facet to the emerging internet generation: the desire not to alienate the very fans that support them. Take heed, because fandoms created on the internet have been known to desert their favourite things when they feel they are being unnecessarily trodden upon. Digg is (and should be) the poster child for this.

Audiences

Lastly there is the audience itself. It’s widely acknowledged that they are moving not so much online as they are acquiring content from the internet. The television set remains the dominant screen when it comes to consumer’s entertainment source but how the content gets to that screen is changing.

Services like Netflix, Amazon, Boxee and others are shifting audiences away from a schedule-based viewing regime to an on-demand one that conforms to consumer’s unique schedules. A Cyanide and Happiness show broadcast on a cable network may have had the potential to reach millions, but if the show’s fans mainly congregate online whenever they choose, it is quite unlikely that they will switch to tuning in at a particular time.

The decision to remain online serves the needs of the C&H audience and won’t hinder the show’s ability to reach new fans either, seeing as the people most likely to start watching are already online. Sooner or later, those new viewers that reside on the fringes will be brought into the fold.

What this proves is that it is foolish to chase after an audience you only think you need. This consideration of the audience beyond the fanbase will dictate how and where new web series’ emerge and proliferate. This is the biggest one to keep and eye on because it is, as of 2013, the only one that does not have a recognised strategy behind it.