YouTube’s algorithm isn’t a friend of animation as of late. Changes announced a few years ago created a storm of protest from creators as they realised their revenues were at risk. Since then, things have failed to get better, and an analysis of the company’s method of delivering content proves that animation as an artform is not welcome on the platform.
Is the relationship between creators and fans today a healthy one? Has the new closeness made things ever more personal? Kickstarter and other crowdfunded content are coming under increased scrutiny with the biggest lesson so far being that when backers contribute money, they don’t make requests, they make demands.
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.
Animation has always had a strong creative streak with plenty of variety to it. If you didn’t like that Walt Disney was chasing realism, all you had to do was look across town to the Warner guys on Termite Terrace and see cutting edge character comedy in full flow. Today is no different; while major studios have become increasingly bland in their offerings, there are plenty of others taking up the creative mantle. Is what they’re doing worth the effort and risk involved?
Animation and comics have always been somewhat related. The latter is, after all, a more polished version of the storyboard for the former. Using one as the inspiration for the other is a long-standing practise dating all the way back to the Fleischer Superman shorts of the 1940s. Tie-ins are nothing new either, being around at least as long as shorts but only really hitting their stride with the advent of television. So how do things stand today? Well, the relationship has become ever closer and could even be considered a full-on marriage.
It took some time to process this news; as far out as it is. Last month, CNN announced that they were rebranding their other cable news network Headline News as HLN and giving it a complete makeover too. Borrowing more than the idea of a three lettered name from MTV, HLN is now gunning for the teen demos, and is banking on animation to help them grab it. The only question that is really raised is: why?
A while back, I did a comparison of three, quite different Kickstarter campaigns for animated projects. Today, we’re taking a look at three more. Again, they’re all quite different but all hope to raise enough money to fund the production of top-quality animation. They are: Bee & Puppycat, Dead Meat and Morph.
It’s been about four months since we wrote about the innovative attempt by Frederator to bring high-quality animated content to the online masses with the Bravest Warriors. With the first season coming to an end it makes sense to pay them a visit and see how well they’ve done.
As with every form of media, the numbers are extremely important and Bravest Warriors is no exception. Although it is still very early to say, the numbers are nonetheless impressive for a web series. The most viewed episode was number 3, Butter Lettuce with 2.068,624 people having watched it as of writing with the current average views per episode coming in just under the 1 million mark
The Viewing Pattern
Just as important as the viewing numbers has been the viewing patterns. Just check out the graph for the first episode, Time Slime:
Notice something interesting? Yes, it’s spectacularly linear! traditional TV broadcasts only measure spikes when each episode is broadcast, and that only occurs once a week. With the internet, viewers can watch and be measured at any time, and the chart above should be of interest to anyone in content.
The fact that it is so linear means that viewing is fairly constant. Naturally, the audience consists of new and repeat viewers, the data for which is not publicly available. However, one would expect to see a sharp slope at the beginning followed by a long plateau. That is not the case however, and suggests that people are using the freedom of the web to view whenever is convenient for them. The result is a stabler, more predictable viewing pattern.
In total, Bravest Warriors has so far pulled in over 10.6 million views. That’s awesome! How many cable (maybe even broadcast networks?) would like those kinds of totals for their shows? The best part is that number is far from final. Since the last episode isn’t even a week old, you can be certain that it will garner close to the average for the earlier episodes which is between 800,000 and a million viewers. That would put the final figure for the series at over 12 million views.
Twelve. Million. Views.
Even just two years ago, that kind of number would have been pie in the sky for an animated web series (an original one, not a one-off or a Charlie the Unicorn-like now-and-then series.) They exemplify how far the shift to online viewing has come. Remember, YouTube is barely seven years old and it still hosts a lot of cat videos.
The Future of the Bravest Warriors
What does all this hold for the future? Well a second season is a foregone conclusion at this stage, but in the broader sense, it proves that it is possible to succeed online with an animated series. Oh sure, a lot remains to be seen and the studio is keeping tight-lipped on how the financials look, but given how well the series is promoted, how well Frederator has been at getting the merchandise out and the generally positive reviews the series has received (<2% thumbs down), it’s safe to say that Bravest Warriors has been a hit.
Would you call Bravest Warriors a hit? Could it have done better? Let us know with a comment!
Perennial innovator Frederator Studios is currently firing on all cylinders as they gear up for the big push to launch their latest venture, Cartoon Hangover. In times past the studio has been a prime online outlet for animation through their Channel Frederator series’ and with a close relationship to the former Next New Networks (now the YouTube Next Lab), it was inevitable that the studio would continue to play a role close to the forefront of online video.
Which leads us to Cartoon Hangover, which is described as: “the home for cartoons that are too weird, wild, and crazy for television. It’ll have you saying “What a #$@!?* cartoon!” but in the good way.” In other words, the kind of content you couldonly get away with on the internet; veering near the edge but trying hard not to leap over it.
The channel has been around for a while but it was only earlier this year (April 2012) that it began streaming animated content. In addition to the series discussed below, the studio also actively solicited for ideas and/or completed animation; Elliot Cowan being one who dutifully complied with the request for wild and crazy content.
However, what really makes Cartoon Hangover stand out that we bit higher than other animation channels on YouTube is the fact that they are betting on higher quality content than others. What I mean is that in addition to the short, silly stuff, they are also producing a few original series from established creators with fairly high production values (at least for those with a sole online presence).
Two of the series’ in question are Bravest Warriors and Superf*ckers. The latter (based on the comic by James Kochalka) has yet to premiere, the former premiered yesterday with the episode ‘Time Slime’:
Bravest Warriors is created by Pendelton Ward, erstwhile genius behind smash TV show Adventure Time and is traditionally animated (believe it or not). The first episode is fairly funny and shares similar themes and styles to Adventure Time, but what’s interesting is that outside of it’s short length, it is hard to differentiate it from a traditional TV show. The production values are there, the plots are there and the vocal talent is there for all to hear.
This is undoubtedly deliberate; although the upfront cost is higher, the payoff is in the longevity of the series. Cartoons from the 90s are still paying dividends almost 20 years later; there is little reason to assume that being streamed via the internet will change that in any substantial way. Heck, the presence of so much old content on YouTube itself should evidence enough of that.
How will the series pan out? At this very early stage, it is hard to say (as of writing, the episode has been up mere hours but has garnered thousands of views; no stats are available yet) but Frederator are normally quite good at getting the word out through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. In this regard, they are putting their experience with the Adventure Time tumblelog to good use.
Frederator have also been busy ramping up the ancillary revenue generators with T-shirts and comics. Both are designed to engage the fans and the strategy has proven to be very successful with Adventure Time.
What will be interesting to watch is not so much how successful the show is or indeed how many views it attracts but rather how the viewers behave and indeed, what demographics they fall under. This is the silent draw of online streaming, the ability to know much more about your audience. So much, in fact, that it would make a traditional broadcaster weep. No doubt the folks at YouTube and Frederator will be paying close attention to all those views in the weeks and months ahead to see exactly what viewers are watching and how they are reacting to the show (for example, writing blog posts about it).
What will make those months even more interesting is the premiere of Superf*ckers. Although there’s no date set (yet), the theme song and heck, even the title should point out that this series has a distinctly more mature tone. With Bravest Warriors aiming for a crowd slightly older than Adventure Time, Superf*ckers aims even older, possibly starting at the mid to late-teens. The strategy employed by Frederator and Cartoon Hangover is a bold one. They are muscling in on [adult swim] territory but lack the traditional TV presence.
How Cartoon Hangover plays out is still relatively unknown, however if successful, it will provide the blueprint for all other original web series for some years to come. Here’s hoping that’s the case.
It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my very favourite animated TV shows, but it would seem that it’s in the company of many other shows that are also my favourite in that never seemed to catch on with the mainstream crowd (like Futurama, Dilbert, etc.). So why is this so? Here’s a couple of reasons why My Life as a Teenage Robot is currently undervalued.
1. The Plots Are More Complex Than They First Appear
One of the things levelled at the show is that the stories aren’t overly complex; that they’re too simple and pale in comparison to some other shows out there. Well, that is certainly the case, but it is on purpose. The show just happens to be one that doesn’t rely on overly complex stories and is none the worse for it. It’s a fun show, not an epic one like say, Avatar. There is some continuity with the likes of Vexus and the Space Biker Gang that plays out over the seasons, but the stories themselves are complex in how they are resolved. Jenny doesn’t rely on her abilities near as much as you might think.
2. A Kick-Ass Heroine Is Still Quite Rare In TV Shows
We’re starting to see more of these (Korra being the latest) but a lead female protagonist is still a rarity in TV shows, especially animated ones. My Life As A Teenage Robot helped break the mold, and with a robot at that! Jenny is a very strong character that shows how it is possible to avoid the most egregious of stereotypes and still maintain her identity (and a few laughs along the way).
3. The Strong Emphasis On A Cohesive Show Design
One of the things that initially attracted me to the show was it’s sheer focus on design. The creator-driven shows of the 90s are well known for their focus on a strong sense of design; harkening back to the cartoon modern shows of the 50s and 60s, where style was the be all and end all of a show. MLaaTR continues the trend but does so with a heavy emphasis on Art Deco. While it isn’t as strong or forward-looking as Carlos Ramos’ The X’s, it does complement the show nicely and it is great to see one of the revolutionary 20th century styles used to effectively; giving the show a modern, contemporary look but retaining the appearance of class. It’s no coincidence (or hinderence) that the use of Art Deco also echos back to the vintage cartoons of the 1930s like Felix the Cat and even more so the Fleischer Bros.
4. The Use of Colour
This is a topic that will necessitate a full post in the foreseeable future, but needless to say, the show made excellent and effective use of colour that puts it on an entirely different level compared to other shows. It’s something we haven’t really seen since.
5. The Subtle Jokes
Yes, they are in there, and they’re even more subtle than you can imagine. While this may not do much for some, it’s the fact that they are just as knowing as the more blatant examples that makes them funny.
6. The Not-So-Subtle References
Like just about every show that came along after The Simpsons, MLaaTR has its fair share of pop-culture references. These are much more blatant that the jokes but are nonetheless entertaining. Chief among them is Wizzly World and Uncle Wizzly, and all-too noticeable nod to Disney World and Walt Disney. Besides that, there are also plenty of nods to super heroes (how could there not), other TV shows (Samurai Vac anyone?) and Japan and Japanese culture.
7. The Cast
Not to go unnoticed are the voice cast. There are your usual suspects but two stand out in Candi Milo doing a great turn as Mrs. Wakeman and the late Earth Kitt who brings a surprising performance as Queen Vexus with a perfect menacing undertone.
The other day, I cam across the blog of
Steve Joseph Holt, a rather talented artist whose worked on some of your favourite cartoons from the last decade or so. Long story short, on his portfolio, I noticed that he was responsible for a couple of title cards for My Life as a Teenage Robot.
So of course, I couldn’t resist going back and looking through them all and I once again realised how awesome they really are. I mean, fair play to Fred for insisting upon them on all of his shows, and then following up with an entire book devoted to them.
Anyway, here’s 7 of the best from the entire series’ run.