Let’s Talk About Oishi High School Battle

Running on the Smosh MNC (multi-channel network) on YouTube, this live-action/animation hybrid has returned for a second season after a successful initial one (2 million+ views). So why does Oishi High School Battle seem like the kind of animation that could actually be a hindrance to the broader commercial success of online animation?

Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Oishi High School Battle”

Will FOX Succeed In the Online Arena With Animation?

Via: Wikipedia
Via: Wikipedia

It’s no secret that FOX has long been the dominant player of all the mainstream networks when it comes to animation but with audiences slipping away to the internet, what are they to do? Well, the apparent answer is to open up a new studio and attempt to compete with the likes of Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover.

The Gist of It

The Animation Guild is reporting that the new studio is currently in full swing and has about a hundred people working there at the moment. As part of the previously-announced extension of the Animation Domination block of shows into Saturday nights, the network also took the extra step of setting up a dedicated production house. (Non-union of course, hence TAG’s gripe.)

The studio is producing not only the content for the programming block (as in, Axe Cop and High School USA!) but is also busy cranking out animated GIFs such as the wonderful specimen you see below.

Via ADHD
Via ADHD

Where Things Get Interesting

Although this could be just another run-of-the-mill story about a new development in animation, where it takes an interesting turn is not where you would expect. Namely, FOX purposely kept production close to home:

Fast reaction time is another key to the ADHD approach. Instead of farming out animation work to Asian firms, with a lag time of at least six weeks, the team in Hollywood can shoot out topical spoofs to stay in the social conversation.

Fox’s toons prepare episodes well over a year in advance, said Reilly. “With ADHD, I can say something today and we can have something tomorrow.”

It’s nice in a way to see FOX accepting the need for speed in the online youth media market, and addressing it by employing talent close to home. It marks a potential bright spot in the otherwise gloomy animation industry that has had too many stories of layoffs over the past few months. Although pay is obviously not the highest, there is still potential for that to change if demand heats up thanks to a success or two.

That said, in contrast, Cartoon Hangover, instead of maintaining a studio for quick stuff, instead hires freelancers. Granted it isn’t as steady as regular employment, but if FOX did the same, they could pay animators more since the overhead of a studio wouldn’t exist.

The other interesting thing is how FOX sees the money streams:

Reilly declined to discuss specifically what kind of coin Fox is pumping into ADHD, saying that it’s not insignificant. The project will run at a “very mild deficit” for about three years before it gains ad traction, he said.

What I would like to know is why it will run a deficit for all those years. Online content has proven to be profitable already; surely it shouldn’t take an established player like FOX three whole years to make money. Of course, I’m also curious why ads are being given such weight; again, there are plenty of other revenue sources available that could suffice.

Lastly…

Before we reach the thrilling conclusion to this post; it really says something about animation as a form of entertainment that FOX sees it as the least risky way to get a foot in the door of online streaming. Can it really be that the ease of creating [quality] animation combined with its popularity among the key 18-34 demographic? It would certainly appear that way:

That noted, Reilly is convinced the model is an efficient way to develop quality content, and he’s eyeing other genres Fox might choose to replicate ADHD. “The cost structure of this stuff by its nature is different from TV,” he said. “The digital world continues to explode. It’s fun. And it has promise.”

Let’s see how this pans out. If it works, expect others to follow.

PS. Notice how FOX is about a year behind online-native efforts? Yeah, me too.

 

Amazon Bets on Animation

New business models is something that interests me. Thankfully, we’re living in the age of new business models as traditional become obsolete/irrelevant and new ones spring up to offer new delights and take advantage of new technologies. Online streaming of video content is one of these new business models. Netflix has shown that it can be easily accomplished with existing content and plenty of YouTube channels have shown some viability for original content (albeit of short length). So where to next? Why long-form original programming of course!

This remains the quote/unquote holy grail of programming. Many folks know that the internet already delivers great content but the ‘sit-up’ nature of web surfing determines the short length of the content. In contrast, Netflix has cornered the ‘sit down’ nature of traditional TV viewing. Can both ideals come together peacefully? Amazon is betting, yes.

Their Amazon Studios outfit (which I have discussed) has been soliciting ideas for a while now. At the time of the announcement, a brief Twitter discussion between myself and Brown Bag head Cathal Gaffney ascertained that the terms being offered ($55K upfront with a cut of merchandise thereafter) did not make economic sense for a traditional studio such as his.

It did, apparently, make sense for someone, because Amazon has announced [Cinemablend but ultimate link to The Hollywood Reporter, an organisation which doesn’t seem to want to cite a source] that their first animated series to be developed will be called ‘Supa Naturals’. Described thusly:

Supa Naturals is about two brash young divas whose lives revolve around shopping, and whom, it turns out, are humanity’s only hope for a defense against the supernatural.

Hmm, sounds, uh, interesting. Anyway, the fact that Amazon is willing to bet on the future with animation. Although the nature of the series is still very much unknown, I doubt it will be suitable for all ages. In stark contrast, Netflix is moving into original programming with House of Cards and a revival of the hilarious Arrested Development; both live-action.

Does Amazon see a potential that Netflix does not? Animation has proven to be an extremely popular form of entertainment that has weathered well over the past 20 or so years (in general if not on specific networks). Amazon’s sign that they are willing to take a risk with only their second announced series is surely a sign of confidence in animation’s ability to find an audience. While it remains to be seen what kind of quality the show has, if the current crop of animated content on the cable networks is anything to go by, it shouldn’t take much to get a foothold in the market.

Until then, I eagerly await the announcement of Netflix’s first foray into animation.

Frederator Aims High With Cartoon Hangover and Bravest Warriors

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.

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.

Robot 6 on Why Anime Companies Have Been Dropping Like Flies

Yoinked from: Robot 6

Admittedly I’m not really an “otaku” or into much Japanese media besides anime but thankfully a few people I know or follow on twitter are, so it’s a shout out to Faith Erin Hicks for the tip on this article.

Posted on the Robot 6 blog over on Comic Book Resources is a surprisingly balanced analysis of exactly why things in the anime industry are in a state of flux at the moment. The entire post is definitely worth a few minutes of your time, even if you’re not really into anime or manga.

The gist of it is that thanks to the internet, so-called fansubs of anime series’ are being made available (through illicit means) well before established companies or even the rights holders can do the same.

The post takes a good look at this and why certain companies (such as ADV and Tokyopop) have gone south in recent years, namely being forced to market content that otherwise wouldn’t be economically viable as well as being restricted in terms of adapting to new delivery systems.

What it comes down to is this: It doesn’t matter how much it costs you to make a product; you can only charge what the market will bear. The way out of this is to offer the iffy manga and anime at a low cost, which generally means digitally, and put the premium content onto physical media at a premium price. If people just want to get their weekly fix of some second-rate anime, but don’t want a special edition to treasure forever, well, let them watch it via streaming media, sell some ads, and make some money you wouldn’t have otherwise. This also solves the other structural problem in the anime industry, the delay in getting shows to foreign markets, because digital is obviously faster than physical distribution. Just as water seeks its own level, consumers will find what they want. The only question is whether they get it from publishers or pirates, and publishers have a lot more choice than they realize. Most of the people watching bootleg anime won’t pay $30 for it anyway—that’s not a lost sale. But put it online, throw in some ads, maybe paid memberships for the hard-core fans who want higher quality and fresher content, and now that anime is making money from new viewers.

This is the crux of the issue. The reluctance of studios and networks to adapt to the market in order to better serve consumers is the real reason people are becoming “pirates”.

The important lesson is that consumers will do what they want. You can educate them, coerce them and entice them. But at the end of the day, if they can get something that you are either unwilling or unable to provide, they will look to other means, even if it means becoming a “pirate”.

This scenario contains lessons for the American animation industry. Being as expensive and complicated as it is to produce, is it wise to stick to the old, established ways and watch as your customers leave you behind? Why are shows like My Life as a Teenage Robot only coming out on DVD now? Why are they still not online (in the legitimate sense)?

These are all questions that studios and animators should be asking themselves. Are you catering to the changing market, or are you clinging to the old ways? Is that downloaded short film a lost sale? Or is it a sign of an under-served consumer?

The anime industry is just one of many that is undergoing similar issues, they are not unique. What is interesting though, has been what anime companies that have responded have done.

Smart localizers are catching on. Crunchyroll, a former pirate site that has gone mainstream in the sense of going legit and paying its content providers, seems to be doing quite well with streaming anime. Digital Manga has formed the Digital Manga Guild, which publishes enjoyably trashy yaoi manga digitally for less than the cost of a print volume and keeps prices low by using amateur translators. Viz is making the boldest move of all, putting Shonen Jump magazine online at a relatively low price and posting episodes of the top six series in within two weeks of their Japanese debut.

This ultimately means that:

The speed scanners will still beat them to it—for now—but…..manga and anime fans are basically decent and like to support the creators. Given a legitimate, inexpensive alternative, and a bit of education, many if not most will do the right thing.

This is true of any consumer. They are all for the most part, decent. if they weren’t, we would have seen at least on major studio go bankrupt by now. Be nice to them and they will reward you in return.

The Robot 6 post concludes with this great quote:

….by charging champagne prices for a beer product, anime and manga companies are sinking their own ship, and they don’t need the pirates to do it for them.

American studios take note.

Why “Cancelling” A Show Is So Outdated In This Day and Age

Word came through the other day that FOX, after what surely must have been a long discussion (/sarcasm), had decided to swing the axe on Jonah Hill’s much vaunted animated show, Gregory Allen.

So this poses an interesting question, and it’s one that will surely have a different answer than if it had been asked the last time we had this kind of situation on FOX:

What does it even mean to “cancel” a TV show any more?

Seriously! So you “cancel” it from being broadcast on TV. Well, as my fiance would say, woop-di-freakin-do! TV (and I’m talking about traditional, OTA, satellite and cable scheduled programming here) is rapidly becoming a smaller and smaller part of the entertainment landscape anyway, why does it even matter?

FOX already hosts its shows in a couple of places online and its fair to say that a sizeable portion of their audience is watching them there rather than “tuning in” during the week.

With that in mind, would it not make more sense to simply release the episodes online instead? Just because you “cancel” the show, does that automatically preclude that you have to suddenly archive the remaining episodes never to be seen again?

No, of course not!

Why not instead just say that Allen Gregory has moved to being exclusively online? My train of thought is that at some point we’ll see a deeper connection between TV and the web. YouTube is currently pioneering the way with original series (shout out to the YouTube Next Lab) whose quality is rapidly approaching that of traditional TV and it’s only a matter of time before we see audience shifts to them. My point? If a show begins life online and become popular, it could easily be “transferred” to TV with a scheduled timeslot while remaining online, thereby capturing both audiences.

Shows could also go the other way. Say they start out on TV but don’t really find their audience, then they could move to the online world and carry on as before.

I will use any excuse to post Mo Willem's charcter designs for this show.

We’ve seen some rudimentary moves in this regard with the likes of Sit Down, Shut Up. Which, after getting canned, eventually returned as FOX burned off the episodes in the middle of the night. However, they also went up on Hulu, where it was possible for fans (such as myself) to finally see them. And apparently they’re now on Comedy Central (somewhere) too!

Just imagine what kind of online numbers they could have gotten if they had put them online straight away!

Animation is slightly trickier than live-action as they shows pretty much have to be produced before the season begins. That means that it really doesn’t make any sense to “cancel” an animated show and then pretend it doesn’t exist.

To be cliched and quote Bob Dylan: the times, they are a changin’.

The Brilliant Opportunity That Mars Needs Moms Offers Disney

Via: Mayerson on Animation

At this point, we should have all read the headlines and the aftermath of what appears to be one of the biggest flops in recent years. However, from what I have read, it would appear that things are mostly focused on the rather unnerving presence of the characters in the uncanny valley more-so than any other aspect of the movie. Rotten Tomatoes has a good smattering of both sides. It seems the story is actually pretty decent and overall, it’s not the worst film ever released. It’s just the characters are so darn fugly.

With the prospect of writing off somewhere in the region of $150 million or more, there would appear to be very few options open to the studio for this rejected project.

Such a statement is true, if looked at in the traditional sense of release windows, DVD sales, cable TV rights and so forth (yeah, broadcast networks figure in ‘so forth’ although they would take the place of cable in Europe).

What if say, Disney looked at this ‘failure’ as an opportunity? “Impossible!” I hear you say. Ah, but such failure can often force companies to experiment and explore new methods of revenue.

For example, the film’s already lost money at the cinema, and is unlikely to reap back its cost in DVD sales either. Would you not agree that this represents a great opportunity for Disney to experiment with online streaming? No, not the kind it does already, but with real, honest-to-goodness online streaming, where everyone can watch and share without restriction?

The film’s already lost money so that is now a sunk cost, they’ll never get that back, but they can focus on exposure. Again, from what I’ve read, the film isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. Perhaps it’s just because the film’s core audience has not been found yet.

Such an experiment is unlikely to cost them much and it would be useful in allowing the company to figure out where revenue can be made online. They could even play around with things. Like say, “watch Mars Needs Moms online and earn the chance to purchase a signed poster!” or something like that. There are plenty of ways of offering incentives to fans and sadly, a conglomerate like Disney has long since lost the knack of seeking out and exploiting such revenues.