The Pitfalls Of Amazon Studios’ Animation Strategy

Amazon-Studios

Amazon Studios is the retailer’s original content division that has been covered before here on the blog because it appears to have some merit to it even if it’s far from perfect. Announced just recently is the news that they have officially sanctioned five new animated shows to move forward with the production of pilot episodes. The notable thing about them is that they are all aimed at pre-schoolers; none will appeal to a kid who can appreciate the summer holidays. So what kind of pitfalls can the Amazon Studios animated series’ present for the would-be hit maker? Let’s take a look.

Only One Episode Of Each Is Being Made: The Pilot

It’s tempting to think that Amazon Studios has announced five different series, but they’ve actually only announced five different pilots. That’s a big difference and one that’s clearly aimed at keeping costs down. The downside is that they’re only producing one episode that may not be very good at all. Pilot’s are test beds, proofs of concept and a chance for executives to see how a show might play out for real. Pilots serve a valuable purpose, but here, it’s hard to see why they are treated so heroically.

No details are given as to whether these pilots will even see the light of day as far as the public is concerned. One would hope that they will be given trial runs with mainstream audiences to see how well they resonate with them, but you can never be sure. Plenty of pilots have been buried never to see the light of day. while conversely, they can also be jaw-droppingly awesome and yet still fail to get picked up.

They Picked the Toughest Market Segment

Yup, pre-school is the hottest market segment as far as animated shows go. Everyone is in on the act from monstrous conglomerates like Disney and Viacom to independent studios run by husbands and wives. Of all the ages of people to create for, why did Amazon choose this one to focus on?

Would it not be easier to aim for older kids or teenagers instead? One would think so, and yet the company has so far only announced one pilot for that audience. Were there really fewer ideas submitted? Hardly.

It’s Not Quite As Lucrative As You Would Expect

That’s not to say that Amazon Studios won’t make a lot of money through pre-school shows (it will), the problem is that pre-school shows have pre-school audiences. Once they reach a certain age, they leave and never return. Related merchandise sales also stop, and it becomes necessary to constantly market to new entrants.

This can become problematic when you realise that pre-school shows themselves have a terrifyingly short lifespan. Sure Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer have been around for ages, but the vast majority of pre-school animated shows don’t tend to bridge generations very well. Part of the reason is that child psychology and parent’s demands are continuously changing. For example, in my day, there was much more of an emphasis on entertainment whereas today, it’s seriously difficult to get a pre-school show made and out there if it does not contain a significant amount of educational content.

So with such a limited audience, won’t that limit Amazon’s potential to make money from the series? The answer is yes, because unlike Disney, Viacom et al, Amazon does not also have animate shows aimed at older kids. The result is that once they “graduate” from their pre-school shows, there is nothing for them to transition to. Now bear in mind that at this point, such circumstances are circumstantial; Amazon can afford to wait before it announces shows for older kids, yet the fact remains that it is foregoing those audiences now.

Netflix is Still The One Amazon Studios Has To Beat

Although Amazon is focusing on creating original content, pseudo-competitor Netflix already has a large headstart. Sure they lack the original programming, but they have a massive library to draw upon. More so than that, they have become synonymous with the words “online streaming” and have a commanding lead over Amazon in the public’s mind. Netflix is also available on more platforms, already has a dedicated kid-friendly service (so Mummy and Daddy don’t have to play the progamming for the child) and has all the programming for the young audience once they get older.

Conclusion

I’ve lauded Amazon’s initiatives before and they’re logic remains solid for the most part. (I won’t go into the differences between their ‘pilot’ strategy and Netflix’s ‘all-in’ approach.) Their decision to aim for pre-school audiences remains a mysterious one. No doubt they will be drawing upon their vast amount of data on sales of toys to help them finesse their approach.

Would you rather see Amazon make an animated series for older viewers? Let us know with a comment!

A Kickstarter Campaign Too Far?

Randall Monroe just could not have gotten the timing of yesterday’s XKCD comic any better:

Yes, this comic is relevant to today’s post as I recently discovered over on the animation subbreddit, a campaign to do almost exactly what the XKCD comic above purports to do; that is, use Kickstarter to raise money for a pitch of the real product.

The campaign in question is being initiated by Daran Carlin-Weber whose currently (?) an animation student in Pennsylvania.

Being the smart lad that he his, there’s a trailer/promo pitch for the campaign:

So it’s actually pretty good, in fact it should be something that is right up a network’s alley given the right circumstances. Described thusly:

“Summer Rec” follows the lives of the college-aged staff at a dreary, under-funded, suburban Meadowlark Recreation Center. It specializes in its “Summer Rec” program, something supposedly fun for ages 4 to 14, weekdays from 9 to 4. The target demographic would be the Adult Swim viewing crowd. It’s loosely-based* on experiences I had as a counselor at a recreation program in High School.

Daran’s got his ducks in line with the description in that he knows who he’s aiming the show at. Again, that’s a good start and with a pitch video, Daran’s got a heck of a lot further than a lot of people get with pitches (in that they don’t even get off the drawing board). In addition, we’ve also got a rundown of the cast as well as what the pilot episode will be about.

So with a well thought out concept, cast, pitch video pilot script and animatic, why on earth is their even a Kickstarter project at all? Weeeeeeeell, that’s where we get to the sticky part:

“Summer Rec” is a passion project I’ve been working on for over 2 years now and I’m hoping with your funding to be able to give back to the people who made this project possible for me to produce. Those fantastic folks would be my voice actors, my musician, and my co-writers, who have given me their invaluable time and talents for free thus far. I dunno, I think they’re pretty worth it heh.

Well, now that part is fair enough and throwing a bone to your friends when they’ve given you a hand is a grand thing to do. Except it’s not generally something you would ask strangers money for. Moving on:

Also, I am in a bit of a pickle. My trusty computer that has stuck it with me through years of animating finally crapped out on me and I am in desperate need of a new computer. I have been animating the pilot on my girlfriend’s computer for the last couple months and you can just guess how thrilled she is about that. Heh… hmm

Soooooooo, he needs a computer, and the Kickstarter funds will provide it, right? Ehhhhh, no. Not that there is anything against him getting a new computer, we’ve all been there at some point. It isn’t a fun experience and it really can throw a spanner (or wrench for the Yanks) in the works. However, again, it’s not something that you would solicit funds for. Props for the honesty though.

All the additional money will go towards things such as submission fees to film festivals, ASIFA memberships, producing presentation DVDs and also, funding us personally taking the pilot to the 2012 Ottawa International Animation Festival and Television Animation Conference. All additional money will go towards making sure this is the best damn pilot it can possibly be!

So the money will basically fund the cost of pitching the thing. Again, this is a fair enough assumption. Being in the hills of PA that are shockingly close to where the future wife is from, pitching a TV show in person is going to require some travel/effort/money on his part.

However……

I’m having a seriously difficult time justifying my support for a number of reasons:

  1. Why ask for money after the fact? There’s some perfect pitch material already made! And a little bit more effort (and a few dollars) could get a really nice pitch packet/bible made.
  2. The wonders of the internet means that you don’t necessarily need to travel in order to make pitches. OK sure, it helps, but getting eyeballs on your content should be your number one goal. The more people that are aware of your idea, the easier it is to improve it and hone it for a real pitch.
  3. Speaking of which actual animation is waaaaay more advanced than most networks look for in a pitch. Again, it helps, but most studios/networks like to see either a pitch bible, or in Frederator’s case, storyboards. The extra effort looks good, but isn’t a guarantee of a pickup. having said that, it can hone your animating skills.
  4. Running a show takes a lot of effort, ability and trust. Networks unfortunately don’t tend to give unknown entities a budget and a crew and a promise of delivering a show. John K. was a seasoned animator and Nickelodeon still couldn’t get him to deliver episodes on time.

So I can’t back this project. It’s a Kickstarter project too far. It’s a superb idea and a great concept and is proof positive that Daran has real talent but $7,500 to fund a new PC and travel to Ottowa? [deep breath] No, sorry.

Daran wants to work for Titmouse though, and he seems like a perfect fit for the studio. Do any Titmousers (Titmice) out there know of any openings or where he could even submit his reel? If so, perhaps they could get in touch with him and give him a leg up.His resume is here for the curious.

In the meantime, check out Daran’s final school film, Cheromanchequois and Daran, if you read this man, check out my buddy Dave’s book Animation Development: From Pitch to Production. It tells you all you need to know about getting a show off the ground. You can even find it at the library!

 

 

 

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