The Pearls Of Wisdom Hidden In A Going Bust Notice

Word has come through that anime distributor T3 has shut down. While their release stating as much is long and very thorough, it contains many important quotes that allude to the many, many difficulties and problems that one can face when running a business, especially one devoted to the troika of content, distribution and the internet.

Here’s a few choice quotes (with a summing up at the end) that are well worth pondering (any emphasis is mine):

Each day we struggle with clients that come to us with various films and television projects where we painstakingly spend hours uploading, encoding, and preparing clips in our submission to the various television networks only to learn later that our clients may have “borrowed” a Willie Nelson song and/or where even classical music and Top 40 tracks are used widely in promo reels without the required licensing in place.

Similarly we have additional daily challenges when we spend hours in pursuing the sale or licensing of a project that requires the same level of effort only to learn that there’s not any E&O insurance in place and/or when our clients forget or don’t take the time out to register their intellectual property and works with the Library of Congress.

Beyond licensing, copyrights and related issues, each day we deal with other headaches that include: HD vs. SD, 4:3 vs. 16:9, countless hours of FTP uploading (only to have it fail and start over again), a dizzying array of encoding protocols, resolutions, network quality guidelines, color correction, audio levels, streaming bitrates, and hours upon hours of editing clips, sending video emails, database updates, revisions of show treatments/show bibles

Perhaps more telling is the following:

If it sounds daunting it is, and all along we wanted to make clear that we would leverage existing technology where possible – and we have spent literally hundreds of hours in vetting out various Online Video Players (OVP) and pay-per-view streaming platforms.

Our daily challenges and that of our clients are further evident by the speed in which convergence in the marketplace is taking root – and we find that our clients have poorly prepared for straddling the gulf that is the “lean back” television marketplace with that of the “lean forward” online viewing offered in portals and websites where content must be prepped for tablets, i-Phones, and screens and operating systems of all types.

Today there is time-shifting, place-shifting and so many other elements in play that if you’re a television producer or filmmaker, you need to get your head around the fact that your audiences are everywhere and your content needs to be prepared, licensed and readied for viewing in just about any viewing environment.

Further, social media and promotional advertising is not enough as each project needs marketing, legal, and all sorts of help in getting your film and/or television project picked-up. Again, trying to do this given our limited resources has been a recipe for failure, and one of the reasons that there are so few companies like us that perform on a success-based commission structure.

So what is there to learn from this besides the fact that handling entertaining content is an infinitely tricky business?

For one, T3’s difficulties are likely fairly common throughout the industry, they are not alone in their headaches. Issues such as licensing and copyright are so important and are yet so often ignored/abused that you end up with a situation like this, where a company is spending more time trying to obey and adhere to the rules than they are actually making money.

Animators have to be aware of this, especially if in a small studio environment, but especially when creating your own, independent stuff. If a legitimate company like T3 couldn’t hack it, there isn’t much hope for you either.

T3’s closure notice is full of indications that the landscape for media (particularly video) consumption is rapidly changing and you’d better be prepared to change with it.

 

Cy Schneider on Children’s Television: How 20 Years Really Is A Long Time

The book is dedicated to Walt Disney, the greatest Pied Piper of the all.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up Cy Schneider’s book, ‘Children’s Television’ at a used book sale. I didn’t know much about it and I certainly hadn’t heard of the author, but it seemed to have some stuff about animation in it so, for the money, I figured, what the hell.

Long story short, it was a fascinating book to read. Not so much for what it says but for how dated it now appears. Published in 1989, this book was released right on the cusp of the last animation revolution, and it shows.

That same year, The Simpsons debuted on FOX, which irrevocably altered the perception of animation among adults; no longer was it the sole preserve of children. Not long after the three original Nicktoons burst onto the scene and the bar for animation was raised yet again. Nineteen eighty-nine also saw the release of The Little Mermaid, which heralded a new age for animation at the cinema as well.

In most aspects, this book was outdated even before it was published. It was written for the status quo and just could not foresee the dramatic changes that were literally months away. With that in mind, it does provided a great look at what the industry was like and is useful as a yardstick for how far it has come.

First of all, who is Cy Schneider? He was an advertising man who was instrumental in creating the first set of commercials that appealed directly to children, he successfully launched and developed the marketing  for Barbie and he also was on board when Nickelodeon was launched. What is notable about his career is that he was consistently involved in the area of children’s programming, which is why he wrote the book.

Children’s Television is intended as a guide to the industry for the uninitiated but seems to offer tips that are aimed at would be professionals. There are chapters on the history of children’s television, how television affects children, how to communicate with children and the licensed character. The last chapter is titled “The Boom Years” but it talks mostly about Schneider’s predictions on the future of the business, most of which are more related to the industry itself and the technological developments rather than the content.

In the first chapter, Schneider asserts that children’s television is first and foremost a business. This is sobering because we all like to think of it as a good-natured, well-intentioned industry that provides entertainment for kids but in reality, it is a business. It is a theme that is often repeated throughout the book and is hammered home that businesses will seek out the most economically efficient answer, not necessarily the right one, even when kids are involved.

Perhaps no difference is more striking or noticeable than the shift from shows based on existing toys to original characters. In addition to the seismic shift to children’s cable channels, the relative lack of licensed cartoons today is indicative of the change in attitudes among executives. The book contains plenty of references to the likes of He-Man and G. I. Joe who are held up as models of the new era and how they can represent the same aspects of quality that original characters can. Hindsight shows that that is not the case and that networks have come to value the fact that original characters can put much more money in their pockets than licensed characters can.

Playing into this is the parallel change in the characters of children’s TV shows. While Schneider talks at length about the ‘noble savage‘ who has populated children’s (in particularly boys) stories for over a century. He does offer some tips when it comes to characters that are generic at best. I would like to focus on his tips for girl’s heroines, which he offers in the following five characteristics:

  1. The are young, either children or girls, seldom women.
  2. The are innocent. Feminine but never sexual.
  3. They are usually pretty, clever and gifted.
  4. They have high morals and exemplary behaviour.
  5. They are admired by adults as well as children.

These attributes can pretty much describe any female lead in any cartoon prior to the 1990s but they are rather vague.

The book devotes an entire chapter to the various “do-gooders, politicos, pedagogues and assorted other axe grinders” who inhabit the cultural landscape. The chapter is little more than a rant against these various groups and only attempts to see their point of view in a very token sense. Seeing as it is written by a guy whose career depended on such programming it is understandable why such ‘interference’ in his business would cause his blood to boil. Why it is included, I do not know, but it makes for interesting reading and does emphasize the point that you can’t please everyone.

Overall the book is worth sussing out, if only to gain a perspective on how much children’s television has changed and improved over the last 20 years. It has also made me eternally grateful for the vast and varied choice of animated programming that we have today, and how healthy competition in the business has promoted the steady upward increase in the quality of the programming.