Disney, Nick, Netflix, No?

This is an interesting story, an analyst called Todd Juenger has come out with a report about children’s programming, and one of the key points he makes, is that both Disney and Viacom (owner of Nickelodeon) should limit the amount of programming they give to Netflix. The problem as he sees it is that Netlfix, which is sans ads and allows users to cherry pick what they watch. is a threat to both companies’ existing business models:

 His advice for entertainment companies is to be cautious about how much kids programming they make available to the online video streaming provider and in which windows. “We remain firm in our belief Viacom and Walt Disney should limit their content availability on Netflix,” Juenger wrote.

As big a no-brainer as it is, it’s still amazing to see this kind of recommendation being made. Yes, it is a threat to the existing business model, but it also represents opportunities for new revenue streams, or even attracting new audiences to existing properties. I can tell you right now that if Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t on Netflix, there is only a slim chance that I would have even tried to watch it. Now that I have, I plan on buying all the DVDs. Yay new revenue for Viacom!

Instead we get a recommendation to partition content into individual companies’ services, not unlike Disney’s Keychest. Hardly a practical solution. I’m old enough to know that the internet didn’t really start firing on all cylinders until people discovered a world outside the walled garden that was AOL. Online viewing should not be going in the opposite direction.

Criminal Enterprise or Under-served DVD Market?

Often the scourge of the entertainment industry, so-called “pirates” are often singled out as the single greatest threat to its very survival. The usual brush used to tar them paints them as high-level criminal enterprises with highly sophisticated money-laundering operations and connections to real criminal activities such as drug running and prostitution. Back in the day, they mainly produced counterfeit DVDs and video tapes but have since moved into cyberspace and make use of zombie computers to support their networks.

All this ties into today’s post insofar that the decline of DVDs as a medium for content distribution has also meant a decline for these enterprises. Much can be said for the move into cyberspace but many a fan knows the difference between, say, The Pirate Bay and a dodgy website crammed with ads and a suspect video player requesting you download “special” codecs in order for it to run. This is a lesson I saw my brother learn the hard way with approximately 8 hours of his life that he’ll never get back spent cleaning up the resulting mess.

Yet people continue to buy DVDs. My theory is that streaming works fine for people who simply want to see something, but when it comes down to the stuff they really like, the concept of ownership is very hard to substitute. With that in mind, TV shows and films continue to come out on shiny plastic discs for people to watch at their leisure. Which leads us to the impetus for today’s post:

Yes, this is the entire series of Avatar: The Last Airbender available in a complete boxset. Now most American fans will have their suspicions immediately aroused because they know that the series never came out as a single boxset; only as three separate “books”. This is all before you notice the non-latin text adorning the back cover or the notable lack of a Nickelodeon logo.

This boxset retails for $30 on eBay (no, I won’t link) whereas the official season sets retail for about $30 each. That’s a huge difference in price. Where does that difference come from and why does that matter?

The first thing the studio will say is that these DVDs don’t include the cost of the show. That is true, but the way networks and media companies are structured, that’s only the half truth. The cost of the show is borne by the network itself, who then license it to their home video arms for DVD distribution. Those licensing costs aren’t cheap and make up a decent proportion of the official sale price. Second is the fact that this boxset is being sold direct from the far east, also the point of manufacture. There is no middlemen a la distributors or the distribution arm of Viacom, another source of expense as they take their cut. Lastly is the retailer themselves. Amazon knocks about $9 off the list price which in essence represents the extra efficiency they’ve managed to squeeze out through their distribution and sales systems. Anyone else (traditional retail outlets included) will absolutely stick to the $39.95 retail price because anything lower will eat into their profit margin.

Now you could argue that these knock-offs are missing the special features like making-of videos, commentaries etc etc. but they are simply the icing on the cake for most fans and die-hards. Would the average consumer be willing to trade off the loss of the extra features for a 66% discount? I’d hazard a guess that most would.

So in reality, these knock-off DVDs are less of a representation of criminal enterprise as they are an under-served market at the hands of inefficient interests. Nickelodeon could no doubt sell a series boxset for $30, if it wanted to. However with so many fingers in the pie from manufacturers to distributors to retailers, there are an awful lot of vested interests who would rather see high-priced individual boxsets that prop them up rather than a product in the consumers best interests. Much the same in how Maryland vineyards can’t sell their products online because distributors put up a political fight to keep their 35% take.

So where does that leave the above boxsets on sale today? In a gray area unfortunately. Yes they are for sale and do represent good value, but they are unofficial. Money generated from their sale (and you can guarantee that there are profits being made) are not flowing back to the rightful people or corporations, regardless of the political stance you take on content and copyright. That is clearly not right or fair, but then neither is the rigid, inflexible nature the DVD market and requisite distribution operations.

Animation could benefit greatly if superb series such as Avatar were allowed to be sold at the level that the market demands. A lot of free-wheeling economics I know, but if you thought the series was popular now, how much more popular would it be if a lot more people could own and experience the show that they love.

While it’s easy to dismiss all fans as freeloaders, you’ll be glad to know that on the reddit thread discussing the set, the original poster was actually admonished for buying the set, and fans went even further to severely downvote the post with a link to where they bought it. So it’s not simply a case of fans willing to break the rules for a cheap deal, they really do care about the show and do prefer to go through official channels. One post even pointed out that simply downloading bittorrent files caused less damage to the creators than buying actual, physical discs from shady overseas operations.

All in all, a tough case to analyse and an even tougher one to rationalise. Fans should be catered to, and clearly barring the unnecessary costs imposed by the network and distribution channels, someone has found a way to profitably sell DVDs for far less. Fans would benefit and clearly Nickelodeon would benefit too, however in this case, they receive not even a penny. Sure it’s breaking the rules, but it’s a lost sale in the real sense, and any businessman worth his salt hates to see money pass him by because of his own actions.

When Nickelodeon Made A Netbook

I’m in the market for a netbook at the moment and while perusing the local eBay, I stumbled across something quite peculiar, this:

Via: Dell.com

Yup, that’s a Nickelodeon-branded Dell netbook, which you could only tell if you were familiar with the green slime that the network does its best to remind you of at every opportunity.

What I thought was interesting though, besides the slime, was that it’s just an ordinary netbook!

So what did consumers get for their extra $50? They got a customized GUI and a year’s subscription to McAfee parental controls. A good deal? Hardly.

Never mind that such netbooks are now being sold as ‘rare’ and so forth. Did they sell well for Dell and Nickelodeon? It’s hard to say. Branding computers to kids has always been a risky business. Disney have been at it for years and have been known for products like this:

Via: PCMag

Yuck!

Amusingly enough, Apple managed to inadvertently appeal to kids with their iPad, and that’s when everyone realised that it all came down to software not hardware. All of which makes sense as computer games and the like have been a marketing tool for decades.

So why do studios and networks continue to push hardware? Higher profit margins perhaps? Or is it just the lure of having a perpetual impact on the consumer, one that remains no matter what software is running on the machine.

It’s a tough call, but I know that games tend to foster nostalgia whereas hardware is often relegated to the rubbish pile.

7 Reasons That My Life as a Teenage Robot is Undervalued

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

The Return of Raggedy Android - note the Hubley reference

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.

UPDATED: The Wall Street Journal On Gender And The Legend Of Korra

Updated at the bottom.

Via: The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal is the straight man of American journalism. It’s supposedly “above the fray” of other news organizations that would rather concern themselves with celebrity gossip than real news. Of course all that is less true now that the Journal is owned by the same person whose made a killing muckracking others, but that’s beside the point.

What IS the point is that they currently have a very nice write-up of the new Nickelodeon series Legend of Korra. (The direct link to the WSJ is here, but for the proles among us, I recommend going to Google News and searching for “The Next ‘Airbender’ Gets Older, Wiser and Adds a Feminine Touch” in order to get the full text).

While the article provides a good overview of the new series and its origins in Avatar: The Last Airbender, what makes it stand out is the deceleration that while this series is more girl-friendly than the original, male viewer numbers won’t be affected:

According to Nickelodeon, the median age of “Avatar” viewers is 12.8 years old, and the audience is roughly 65% male and 35% female. Mr. Konietzko said Nickelodeon tested the new series and young boys readily accepted the show’s female hero. “You can’t say it’s gonna fail when there aren’t that many things to point to in animation like this,” Mr. Konietzko said. “Luckily, Nick was brave enough to let us do it.”

Now in fairness to Nickelodeon, they’ve been a bit more progressive than others when it comes to the whole matter of female-led shows with the likes of My Life as a Teenage Robot being a great example. The paragraph above flies in the face of conventional traditional “wisdom” which states that boys won’t watch a show with a female lead. While I think  that is pure bunk, it nonetheless was on Disney’s mind when they altered their film from Rapunzel to Tangled.

Perhaps the best indicator of things to come though, is in this quote, which sums up very nicely the current trend in movies:

“Korra” has been in the works for years, but Mr. DiMartino said that with the success of “The Hunger Games” movie and the coming Pixar film “Brave,” which both feature strong female leads, “The time is right in the cultural zeitgeist for all these female heroes to come out.”

I can’t wait to see them when they do  🙂

Update: Megan over at Forever Young Adult has written a very enthusiastic post about the series that did a good job of confirming that I should catch this show. On top of that, she had this to say about Korra herself.

Guys, Korra is a kick-ass heroine to be reckoned with. She’s strong, brash, and stubborn. But she’s also kind-hearted, fun and brave. You will love her almost instantly. Plus, when was the last time you saw a show that had a non-white 17 year old girl (albeit, animated girl) as its lead? And when was the last time you had a YA girl as a lead in something that wasn’t (at least originally) exclusively marketed toward YA girls?? It sounds so pathetic, but THIS IS THE SHOW I’VE BEEN DREAMING OF. This is the kind of show you should watch with your daughters AND sons because it’s important for them to have an awesome young woman to look up to and emulate and/or admire. And it’s great for us olds, because I know I always want to read about/watch cool ladies, 24/7/365! Also, look at those guns! You should watch the show for her guns alone.

While it comes close to going over the top, it is nonetheless a great description of the main protagonist and why there is so much to like about her. I certainly hope we see more series like this one promises to be.

The Modifyers

Chis Reccardi and Lynne Naylor are two of my very favourite artists, so you can imagine how excited I was when I learned that they created a pilot for Nickelodeon that sadly, so very sadly, went un-aired and un-picked up

Thankfully, said pilot can be seen online, and if you haven’t seen it already, be prepared to utter some words about Nickelodeon that probably aren’t not suitable for public broadcast.

http://vimeo.com/9383918

A Look At Nickelodeon

Sorry Viacom, as someone whose getting ever closer to becoming an old fart, I have a tough time accepting change for the sake of change.

As a joke, I thought about titling the post, “The SpongeBob Channel” but that wouldn’t be completely accurate even if it is uncomfortably close to the truth.

The yellow one has done well for the channel and it is still quite hard to believe that he’s been around for a full 10 years. He seems to remain fairly popular but it must be said, he’s drifted dangerously close to the cabre of shows that use “DVD specials” to stick around past their best by date.

Of course Nickelodeon does have a lot more programming than SpongeBob, and like Disney, it utilises multiple channels to broadcast them. Besides the main channel, Nickelodeon also has ones for the pre-schoolers (Nick Jr.), the teenagers (Teennick) and it’s library of old cartoon shows (Nicktoons).

Focusing on the main channel, Nickelodeon shares an idea with Cartoon Network in that its programming changes in the evening. The difference is that Nick at Night is aimed at a far broader audience than [adult swim].

Like Disney, Nickelodeon airs a mixture of animation and live-action. Current shows include T.U.F.F Puppy, The Adventures of Fanboy and Chum Chum, Winx [check] and more than one offshoot from a DreamWorks film (think Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda).

Nickelodeon was (until very recently when it lost to the Disney Channel) the clear winner when it comes to audience numbers and it managed to do so by not chasing any particular segment. It didn’t go exlusively for boys or girls but it has played safe with programming that appeals to both genders and laughed all the way to the bank.

Nickelodeon also has huge brand recognition that even Disney can’t match and they have been very good at having their well-oiled marketing and merchandising machines continually backing up hit shows.

The only area where Nickelodeon has been a bit weak is getting their older content out on DVD or even streaming. That is changing as I see more and more old shows work their way onto services like Netflix. They’ve also improved access to more recent stuff too, T.U.F.F. Puppy is now available to stream or buy via Netflix and Amazon.

Overall, Nickelodeon may have lost the crown, but it is still the best overall network. They may not have as much animation as Cartoon Network or the vast libarary of Disney to draw on, but they more than make that up with the quality of their shows. Something they are surely aware of, and work hard at as a result.

My Life as a Teenage Robot Now on DVD!

All three seasons of one of the most underrated cartoons of the last decade are now on DVD through Amazon. At $19.99, they aren’t the cheapest, but seeing as this show is well overdue for a release and that DVD is in the twilight years of its existence, you should consider it a worthwhile investment.

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

How Not to Get Your Favourite Show Un-Cancelled

 Via: Fred Seibert on Flickr

While there are a few cartoons could be said to have re-ingnited my passion for animation, one had a bit more of a profound effect than others. And while My Life as a Teenage Robot may have lacked the smarmy humour of SpongeBob Squarepants, it is nonetheless a great show. I mean, who doesn’t like seeing a robot girl kick ass within a universe where Art Deco is the prominent architectural style?

The series lasted just about three seasons on Nickelodeon before the network decided that it would not be ordering additional episodes. Officially the reason given was the low ratings however I would argue quite strenuously that having the show’s timeslot bounced all over the schedule couldn’t have helped matters either.

As is (almost) inevitable when a show gets canned, the fans (not I) reacted in the manner that is most common for TV shows; they created a petition:

To:  Nickelodeon

Petition to Save “My Life as a Teeanage Robot” from Cancellation. Note: My American-English is not good because I’m Italian…

“My Life as a Teenage Robot” is one of the most underrated Tvshows on Nickeloden. This TvShow is about a robot, Xj9 (a.k.a. Jenny), who wants to be a normal Teenage girl, hang out with friends etc. Brad Carbunkle is Jenny’s best friend. He’s your average high-school student; Brad’s younger brother, Tuck Carbunkle is often scared by robots, but he likes Jenny as a friend. Jenny’s “mother”, Nora Wakeman, is one of the best characters in the show: plus, she’s voiced by Candi Milo, she’s great.
Since Jenny was built to protect the Planet Earth, there’s an evil-alien empire, the Cluster, who wants to take over our world. The Cluster Queen, Vexus, is Jenny’s arch enemy.

“My Life as a Teenage Robot” won a few Annie-Awards too.

OK. I’m just saying this, WE MUST SAVE “MY LIFE AS A TEENAGE ROBOT”. It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation. We want a 4th Season. Alternatively, since the 3rd Season will be (maybe) the “Final Season”, I think we all need a “Series Finale” (Jenny & Brad ending up together, for example…).

If you are a fan of the show, sign this petition. If you don’t like Jenny and you don’t care about her, please sign this petition equally, because we need your help too. Alternatively, you can try to help the show with other petitions or sending E-mails to Nickelodeon.

Note: There are other awesome Nick-Toons who are going to be cancelled: “Danny Phantom” and “The Fairly OddParents”. Nick will just never learn.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

Now in fairness to the guy (or girl) English isn’t their first language so let’s cut them some slack for that. However, this petition still makes all the rudimentary errors that most fans make when crafting petitions so we’ll judge it on those.

Firstly, it completely and totally neglects to speak directly to the network. It reads as more of a plea than an attempt to persuade the network to change its mind. Anyone can call a show “underrated” but in the network’s mind, if it has hopes and dreams for viewership numbers and the show doesn’t make them, the show is considered “underperforming” and might be costing the company money as a result.

Secondly, giving a description of the show’s characters is superfluous at best. The network knows which show you are talking about and the only time such descriptions would ever be called for is when the letter discusses a show on another network.

Only in the third paragraph do we see the first hints that the show is worth saving in that it won a few Annie awards. A prestigious accolade in their own right, but the letter fails to tie those awards to anything meaningful. such as say, having an Annie-award winning show in your portfolio will draw more astute/affluent animation fans to your network thus increasing revenues on it and other shows alike.

Then there’s this line:

OK. I’m just saying this….

Well of course you are, that’s the whole purpose of the letter! It also alludes to the belief that the network doesn’t know what the letter is about, when in fact, if it were an actual letter, would probably be in the bin by now.

It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation.

While this statement may be true, it does nothing to further the cause. Upset fans of a cancelled show mean nothing to a network unless they can prove conclusively that their upsetness will affect the networks other properties. For example, if, when the show was cancelled, the fans also stopped watching other Nickelodeon shows and buying related merchandise, then the network would have a concrete reason to bring the show back. Saying your merely ‘upset’ will have no bearing on the network’s quarterly results and thus will be deemed irrelevant to the discussion.

However then we get to this line:

We want a 4th Season.

A flat-out demand! Well heck, I want a million dollars but it sadly isn’t going to happen any time soon. This line also comes off as being brash and unsympathetic to the networks position; something that you should be trying to achieve as much as possible.

The second to last paragraph pleads for anyone and everyone to sign the petition whether they like the show or not. Now this is problematic for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that it seriously blurs the lines between who really wants the show back and who’s just singing it for shits and giggles. Secondly, such practices make it extremely difficult to trust the numbers. For a show with as devoted a fanbase as MLaaTR, it’s likely that they aren’t too far off the truth. However, the fact remains that if there is any uncertainty in the data, more often than not they are presumed to be faulty and will be excluded from any formal analysis.

The last paragraph is more of a side note that states that other shows on Nickolodeon are being cancelled as well but it is the last line that’s the killer:

Nick will just never learn.

That one line single-handedly destroys the entire argument for the letter because it states that the network is doomed to repeating its ‘mistakes’. Why is this a problem? Well the whole purpose of a petition letter for a soon-to-be-cancelled show is to enlighten and persuade the network to change it’s ways in the hope that it will be more careful about cancelling shows in the future.

Bluntly stating that it “will just never learn” implies that the network is too stupid, dumb or ignorant to listen to advice. Which begs the question of why then, should it listen to this petition? If you already think I’m dumb, do you really think I’m going to value your opinion and judgement on matters? Of course not, you called me dumb!

Overall this is a pretty typical fan response to a hard business decision that plays on emotions rather than corporate common sense. A truly efficient letter would see the signatories sympathise with the networks need for viewers in order to keep ad revenue up and would emphasise the many ancillary benefits that the show brings to the network in terms of viewers for additional programs, merchandise sales, etc. Such a letter would do much to encourage the network to retain the show based on its actual merits, not the perceived ones.

This letter, for what it’s worth, isn’t all that bad, I mean, it did garner a few thousand signatures, many with individual responses to the show and how much it was loved. However, when it comes to influencing some executive in some far corner of Viacom’s vast headquarters in New York, it has zero potential and that’s why it’s not going to bring My Life as a Teenage Robot back from the dead.

People I Respect: Fred Seibert

This is the fifth and last in a series of posts in which I explain why I respect certain people in the animation industry and why you should do the same.

 Via: Flickr

Four years ago, if you asked me who Fred Seibert was, I would have given you the blankest look in the world. Of course, that was before I moved to the States and had the time/energy to actually indulge my passion for animation.

If you were to look back at the animated TV landscape of the last thirty years, a few names are apt to stand out: John Kricfalusi, Matt Groening and Klasky-Csupo are just a few. These, however, are the exception and even then, only one could legitimately claim to not owe his success in any way to Fred.

How so, well, Fred is often cited as the first employee hired by MTV. His experiences from that time make for good reading as he was right smack in the middle of a developing cable media revolution in America. After his stint there, he partnered with Alan Goodman to form Fred/Alan and in so doing, was promptly hired to lead the re-branding for Nickelodeon. The results of said assignment was the beloved “splat” logo that lived for 25 years before being replaced.

After that he headed west and took charge of the venerable Hanna-Barbera studio in Hollywood. There, Fred began steering the studio more towards creator-driven shows and the use of the cartoon short as a medium for discovering and developing popular series. Such instincts served him so well that they were repeated in the Oh Yeah! and Random! cartoon series that Fred produced as part of his independent studio, Frederator and resulted in at least 5 shows getting picked up. The latest being the gobsmackingly good Adventure Time.

On top of this, Fred has been at the forefront of the current media revolution, partnering with Tim Shey and others to create Next New Networks. An organisation that has spearheaded the creation of original content specifically for the web. With more than a few solid hits under their belt, the outfit was acquired by YouTube as part of that company’s drive into the original content business.

With more careers than I can ever hope to have, for being someone who is consistently looking forward, for loving cartoons and for being an avowed fan of jazz, Fred Seibert is someone I respect.