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!

How To Fix The Reasons Why So Many Shows Suck

Image used solely because of the corniness of Barney & Friends

Via Entertainment.wikia.com

Josh Selig over on the Kidscreen blog has a post entitled “Why So many Shows Suck“. He’s referring to pre-school shows mainly mind you, and his points make for good reading. Here’s the list, but I recommend reading his post for the rationale too:

1)  Too Many Cooks.

2)  Copycats.

3)  Laziness.

4)  Niceness.

Given these four points, clearly the best way to fix pre-school shows would be to tackle each point in turn.

Starting with the first one, too many cooks only really applies to complicated shows. In other words, one based on a property owned by one company, being developed by another and being actually created by yet another one (the studio). Add in a broadcaster and you really do have a lot of people trying to bake on pie.

At issue here is a lack of trust on the part of everyone. The people actually creating the show need enough room to be creative, but must be able to rely on specific instructions from the company they are doing the work for. Strictly speaking, if a studio isn’t directly contracted to a network themselves (a la Brown Bag and the likes of Disney Junior) then the network should be able to trust that the resulting product will be of acceptable quality.

Sadly there isn’t a lot you can do about copycats. People are, how can I put this nicely, idiots, and if they see a success, they will try to replicate it. The nice thing is that they make it obvious they are risk-averse. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it also makes it clear to anyone and everyone that someone was too chicken to try their own idea. Original ideas that succeed also tend to pay the highest dividends; something to always keep in mind.

Laziness is all over the place. It’s existed in entertainment since day dot and is unlikely to change any time soon. All I can say is those who actually put in a good effort are almost always rewarded.

Niceness is not a negative quality in a production. Far from it, it is desirable by too many people who have to go without it. Having said that, there is no reason why there can’t be a hierarchical production structure that isn’t also nice. Believe it or not, you can turn down people’s ideas and make them feel good about it. Walt Disney was a master at this (most of the time) and it worked wonders for him. There’s no reason to be nice for the sake of it only to see the project suffer.

The Wall Street Journal on The War Between Disney and Nickelodeon Over Pre-Schoolers

Thanks to Cathal Gaffney for tweeting this interesting article from the Wall Street Journal. You might want to grab a cup of tea (or coffee) before you read it. I’ll wait.

Back? OK, good.

The point of the article is that Disney and Nickelodeon differ on how they think pre-school children should be programmed for. Nick believes firmly in educational programmes whereas Disney is soon to switch to more story-based shows. The article makes it out like the two are locked in an epic battle for eyeballs that have absolutely zero purchasing power. Although that is not telling the full story, is it?

Of course not. it’s made quite clear that parents are the real ones being courted. Yes, there are the Jesuit ideals at work (get them young and they’re customers for life) but the networks seem to be pandering to parent’s wants even more. As is pointed out, there has been a shift in what parents desire for their kids. A decade ago, they wanted them to be well educated, now they want them to be happy.

What I think is that as parents, they should be spending more time with their kids! Why? Well, the programming may have a lot of educational content, but as pointed out in the article, the top advertisers during said programmes are the fast food and toy companies. Now there is nothing wrong with that, per se, however knowing how much TV kids in the US seem to watch, it can’t be a good thing.

Something that I admit kind of floored me was that 40% of Nick Jr’s viewers watch between 8-11p.m. What the #$%^(*&? When I was that age, I was lucky to stay up past 8, let alone up to 11!

I am not trying to disparage the idea of educational, pre-school TV shows, I did after all, watch Sesame Street religiously for years until I went to school.However, I also watched plenty of Postman Pat and Thomas the Tank Engine too. The point is that I enjoyed a good mix of programming, it wasn’t skewed heavily in either direction.

On the other side of the fence are the networks, who will come up with the relevant facts to prove that their content is beneficial, such as this from the article.

“Jake and the Never Land Pirates,” a new series launching in February, follows a group of kids who get into adventures with Captain Hook. Even though Hook is a bad guy, Jake still invites him to play at the end of the episodes, an important social lesson, Disney says.

Yeah right. From my own recollection, kids on the playground will heed their peers when it comes to including and excluding other kids from play. I did it and I was on the receiving end of it too and all the time I don’t recall using what I saw on the TV as a guide as to my behaviour.

Well, I take that back. once I told another kid to “get lost” as in an Oscar the Grouch way and man, did I get hauled up to the teachers desk, from where I had to make a very, very public apology to the entire class. I learned my lesson after that experience!

What worries me most is that the whole point and benefits of pre-school programming will be lost in the scramble to win parent’s affections and dollars. Responsibility for a child’s upbringing should rest with the parents. Networks are in the unenviable position of having to balance the need for high-quality programming with the need for earnings from advertisers. So far they’ve done relatively well. Should a war break out, we all know who will suffer the most.