Animation Articles: May 10, 2020

A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 10th of May, 2020.

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What’s Really Interesting About the New Avatar: The Last Airbender Series

Were you surprised about the announcement earlier this week about a brand-new series of Avatar: The Last Airbender? I sure was, but outside what was discussed around the net this week, there’s a few things that make the announcement really interesting, and potentially game-changing.

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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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Copyright Shmopyright and 90s Kids’ Lust for Nickelodeon Nostalgia

If the events of the last 15 years have taught us anything, it’s that young people in particular, really don’t give a damn about copyright. What it stands for, why it exists, and the purpose it serves are so lost on the youth that they often act as if it isn’t even real. Unfortunately for one upstart streaming website, the corporate parent of Nickelodeon begged to differ, and wasn’t afraid to sue to remind them either.

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Is The Nickelodeon OTT Service Bad for Animation?

Nickelodeon is launching an OTT service. Yes, basically it’s like Netflix, but just for Nickelodeon shows. That should be an awesome announcement, right? Well, in theory, yes, it should. However the reality is different. Nickelodeon is a major producer of animation in the US, and by launching an OTT service, it endangers the future of the artform.

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No, Nickelodeon Were Right To Release The Legend of Korra So Soon After the Leaks

Writing for Forbes.com at the end of June (and escaping my attention until know), Merrill Barr postulates that Nickelodeon were wrong to alter their marketing plan for Book 3 of Legend of Korra after the Mexican arm of the network inadvertently let a few episodes from the season get loose on the internet, and are beholden to internet ‘pirates’ as a result. I say that’s poppycock.

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Nickelodeon, Kids, Junk Food and Animation

Via: Cereal Facts
Via: Cereal Facts – It is this blogger’s opinion that this cereal ought to be banned for attempting to even resemble the taste of cookies.

Junk food + kids is a controversial topic that has gained steam over the last 15-20 years as experts and governmental officials have noticed the nearly unchecked rise in childhood obesity. While lifestyle obviously plays an overwhelming role in a person’s health, it is shaped and altered by a myriad of forces coming from outside the home environment. Entertainment (as in most developed countries but especially in the US) plays a very large role in children’s lives and has been long noted for its influence on their development. Junk food and advertisement for it have long been a bone of contention between various parties as it lies within a gray area between the home and commercialism.

The Current Concern With Junk Food & Kids

Coming via Erin McNeill is an article from Ad Age that discusses the concern among US senators when it comes to junk food advertising and one network in particular, Nickelodeon.

Noting that Disney introduced restrictions last year, the senators would like to see Nickelodeon introduce similar measures:

“We’re calling on Nickelodeon– the biggest source of food ads viewed by kids– to stop the pitches for unhealthy foods like sugary cereals and sweet snacks that are powerfully promoting childhood obesity,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement today.

This is a fine wish in theory, but in practise, Nickelodeon has other ideas:

Nickelodeon responded in a statement saying it is “primary responsibility is to make the highest-quality content in the world for kids, and we leave the science of nutrition to the experts.”

While they go on to state that they adhere to published guidelines published by the Better Business Bureau regarding advertising aimed at kids, such guidelines are voluntary for advertisers and include much room for leeway on their behalf when it comes to what constitutes ‘healthy’.

The Ethical Dilemma

This topic does, of course, throw up the ethical dilemma. While junk food forms part of an unhealthy lifestyle and indeed exaggerates it, it is only half of the story. Junk food in and of itself does not make a person inherently unhealthy (it may be bad for you, but a decent exercise regime will substantially minimise the effects).

A sedentary lifestyle forms the other half, and that’s where Nickelodeon (and by extension, animation) comes in. Without the content, there is little incentive to sit and watch television. It is the constant, unending supply of content on TV that has been a significant cause of childhood obesity in recent years.

Unlike times gone past, when kids’ programming was limited to a few hours in the afternoon before the news and on Saturday mornings, kids had no choice but to either switch off or get a dose of current affairs. It isn’t hard to guess which one most chose.

Compare that to today, when kids not only have a constant supply interrupted only by commercial breaks, they don’t even have to give up the television to someone else; 70% of American kids have TV in their bedroom.

Constant programming isn’t so much required as it is mandated in order for the networks to be commercially successful, and naturally, there is always the threat that if you don’t provide something, your competitors will. Such survival is ensured by advertisers, many of whom produce foods that are unhealthy for kids.

As creators of such content, where does the responsibility end when it comes to viewer’s habits and what can be done about it? Animators and artists do not set out to create a show that will contribute to childhood obesity, but can we blame them for accepting a job for a network that does? Hardly, we all have to survive, and the actions of the masses cannot be the responsibility of any one individual or show.

The Internet as a Solution?

A reduction in unhealthy advertising is an obvious first step, but when parents remain the party responsible for what makes it into the shopping trolley, will it do much good?

Perhaps ironically, the internet may offer a solution.

Long derided for its addictive qualities, the internet may prove pivotal in the quest to make consumers healthier. That is, despite the limitless quantity of content on the internet, there is an understanding that you simply cannot watch it all, not matter how hard you try.

Discussion around the segmentation of internet content to the point that it is practically tailor-made has gained steam recently. While this obviously has concerns as far as psychology, it should also mean that consumers spend less time watching content. Once they get caught up on new programming, there is less of an incentive to continue viewing.

Kids, being the most vulnerable, could be educated to control their viewing habits and to restrict it to measured doses. While YouTube pushes continued viewing on its platform, once a framework is established for younger viewers, it should be relatively easy to restrict viewing with technology.

Such is an example where companies and government could lead the way. On demand video eliminates the need to hit as many consumers at the same time. Instead, limiting viewing time should help networks as they will retain audience but will be able to earn more efficiency from their advertising.

Concluding Remarks

The intersection of children and advertising will always be a contentious issue. Corporations and networks need to understand that sales to kids are only temporary anyway (because they grow up). Is targeting them ferociously really leading them to be customers all the way into adulthood? By all accounts, they will become customers regardless.

A more rational approach is needed to both advertising and the length of time that kids consume content; in the long run, it will benefit everyone.

For the curious, please also check out this video detailing the economic cost of obesity and why it hurts us all by Academic Earth.

Reading the Fine Print in the Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Release

 

VIa: Nickelodeon Animated Shorts
VIa: Nickelodeon Animated Shorts

Ah, the fine print. Almost nobody actually reads it, but when they do, surprises abound. Today, we’re taking a look at the recently announced Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Program; basically Nick’s effort to find new animated programming because whatever system they’ve used since giving Random! Cartoons the boot clearly isn’t working. However, we’re not interested in what kind of content they’re looking for, or even the reason why they’re doing it at all. Nope, we’re interested in the fine print, because the devil really is in the details.

What it Does Say

You acknowledge that there does not now exist, nor has there ever existed, nor will there exist, a fiduciary relationship between you and VMN. You requested this opportunity to submit your Material to VMN and you make this submission voluntarily and on an unsolicited basis. You and VMN have not yet reached an agreement concerning the use of the Material and you realize that no obligation of any kind is assumed by, or may be implied against, VMN unless and until a formal written contract has been entered into between you and VMN (if ever), and then the obligation shall be only as is expressed in the formal written contract.

Basically, we don’t have to pay you a cent until we sign a proper contract. A fair enough arrangement and pretty standard for this kind of thing.

You warrant that you are the sole and exclusive creator, author and owner of the Material, and that to your knowledge no one else has any right to the Material. You further warrant that no rights in the Material have previously been granted to anyone nor has the Material otherwise been exploited in any way. You believe your Material and its features to be unique and novel.

In other words, you are the only person who created what you submit, and you didn’t include material belonging to someone else. Again, that’s a standard thing. There’s a TON of fanfiction out there that networks won’t touch with a 10 foot pole simply because there are too many licensing issues to deal with.

The biggie (any emphasis mine):

However, you cannot and will not assume or infer from the fact that VMN will accept your offer to submit your Material to VMN, that VMN regards your Material, or any part thereof, as novel, valuable or usable. You recognize that other persons including VMN employees may have submitted to VMN or to others or made public, or may hereafter originate and submit or make public, similar or identical material which VMN shall have the right to use, and you understand that you will not be entitled to any compensation because of VMN’s use of such other similar or identical material. Subject to the foregoing provisions, VMN will not make any use of any legally protectable portion of your Material unless you and VMN have agreed in a writing signed by both parties concerning your compensation for such use, which compensation shall in no event be greater than the compensation normally paid by VMN for similar Material from comparable sources.

With this, Viacom are essentially attempting to preclude themselves from any compensation claims that arise from using an idea that is very similar to a submission. This is common for studios who might well get 50 submissions about a cat chasing a mouse. The kicker is the use of the term “legally protectable”. That is something that has to be hashed out in a court with a judge (usually) and doing that is certainly not a cheap thing to undertake. Although they mention compensation, do note that studios love to bend the rules about as far as they will go with creations and you can be sure that if you have a great idea, they will alter it just enough so that they don’t have to pay anything.

The really important clause:

You are executing this Release voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence from any source, and do so with complete understanding of all of its terms and effects, and every portion thereof. By signing this Release, you acknowledge that you have either consulted an attorney or have waived your right to do so.

Read that again because you may have missed it the first time around.

You are executing this Release voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence from any source, and do so with complete understanding of all of its terms and effects, and every portion thereof. By signing this Release, you acknowledge that you have either consulted an attorney or have waived your right to do so.

Did you get that? They’re basically telling you that if you haven’t consulted an attorney about this then you cannot do so further down the road. What that means is that if you find something about the release that you find objectionable, then Viacom (Nickelodeon) can say that you should have known better, leaving you up the creek without a paddle.

What it Does NOT Say

What the release does not say, and what is particularly troubling, is that they do not have any kind of time limit set out. In other words, nothing in the release precludes them from holding onto your idea indefinitely. They can use your idea ten years from now and it’s contained within the release that if they do “inadvertently” use your material, you have only 6 months to make a case.

That is troubling enough, but the release also fails to disclose how you can handle your creation outside of the program. Can you pitch it to anyone else in the meantime? What do you suppose happens if another studio decides to pick it up while Nick is still considering it? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before deciding to commit.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, these kinds of solicitations smack of a mix of ineptitude and desperation. Nickelodeon has easy access to many fine creators whom they can solicit from any time. Why the need to go to the general public for new ideas? I can’t help bu smell the reek of sleaziness that comes with filling people’s eyes full of stars (or dollar signs). If Nickelodeon were serious about soliciting ideas, they would be weeding the garden before looking to plant any flowers.

How To Petition for An Avatar and Legend of Korra Soundtrack

In what seems to be a regular occurrence over on The Last Airbender subreddit (yes, I am a subscriber), someone has released yet another internet petition for an official soundtrack release for Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Now this one has gained a bit more traction that previous ones in that the actual production house, The Track Team, has linked to it. So it has a bit more pedigree than previous attempts, so why does it still fail to stack up? Well, it once again makes the familiar mistakes of such campaigns.

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Which American Kids Network Online Store is the Best?

Funnily enough, it never crosses my mind that they three major kids networks here in the US actually have online stores of their own (the Hub has no store of their own, yet). My default destination for online shopping is Amazon, and not just because they have everything. So I thought it might be interesting to actually visit said stores and have a nosey around in there to see what they sell and how well they’re doing it.

Nickelodeon

NIckelodeon online shop screenshot

Starting with Nickelodeon, the homepage greets us with some featured shows, some specials some top sellers and an advertisement (because we all go to shops to buy stuff. In fairness to Nick, they’ve got merchandise for a good chunk of their shows (no Teenage Robot though) and actually go pretty far back too, Alex Mack anyone?

What they’re actually selling though is up for debate. Setting aside SpongeBob as the exception, Nick is a bit odd when it comes to certain things. For example, men’s apparel; which consists solely of skateboard decks. Yup, that’s a new one for me too. Naturally the kids apparel and toys are well catered too, but adults are going to feel distinctly left out.

Interestingly enough, Nick does have a ‘Nickelodeon U‘ section of the store that contains four pieces of apparently random SpongeBob merchandise. Yes, you can buy SpongeBob golf balls, golf club socks, a hamper and a shower curtain. Surely this wins as the most amusing thing I found on there.

The site itself is horribly difficult to navigate and is clearly not intended to be kid-friendly. It seems to be more of a token effort than something that is given serious attention by Viacom.

Disney

This one is a clear winner. Selling merchandise has been the cornerstone of the Disney empire since its foundation and their current online outlet continues the tradition. You can buy anything and everything there (including some fabulously overpriced fine art) and the company isn’t shy about leveraging the entire organisation either. You can buy Disney Channel, studio and park merchandise all in the one place. In other words, if it’s Disney-related, you can buy it. The store itself is easy to navigate and with tons of products, its possible to find something you want.

What I did find to be the interesting part of the store is the homepage itself. Take a look at it. Who’s it targeting? Kids obviously, but if you scroll just a wee bit further down the page, it becomes clear that the Disney Princess brand is being flogged for all its worth. You’ll also note that girls come before boys in the menu bar. Now that is not to say it’s a bad thing, but like Rebecca Hains, I just tend to take a dim view on how Disney targets girls in particular.

Cartoon Network

Lastly, we come to Cartoon Network, long the dark hose of the three but now enjoying either top or second billing. The network has really improved its online store over the version I visited a couple of years ago. Now instead of nothing, there is a ton of stuff, but not just any old crap.

All three networks have the now-obligatory iPhone cases but only CN puts them on the front page. Behind the facade there is a very well-designed and laid out store that could easily be navigated by anyone.

Besides the clear groupings of shows and types of merchandise at the top of the screen, the stuff itself is perhaps the best of all the networks. It would seem that Turner has gotten its act together as of late with a really good variety of products. I mean, OK, there still is the odd dodgy article and the usual toys, but how about not one, but two choices of Powerpuff Girls canteens? Or the fact that they sell stuff for a good many of the classic shows that have been off the network for maybe 10 years or more?

Of course as good a job as CN does, it could do better. Plenty of the shirts that are available elsewhere aren’t available here. So anything in Hot Topic or WeLoveFine isn’t there. A loss for sure on CN’s part because as good as their stuff is, the most exciting stuff is being done away from corporate control.

Overall

Overall, the winner in terms of range is clearly Disney. However in terms of actually creating a great looking shop that will appeal to their audience, Cartoon Network is on top. The loser in all of this is Nickelodeon, although they sell so much through traditional channels, they are likely not as worried as they should be.