Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Continuing Updrafts

Numbers keep expanding.

... As 2013 draws to a close, Adult Swim, Turner Broadcasting’s signature network for young adults, is on track to set new records with its most-watched year in its history among targeted adults 18-34, 18-49 and men 18-34, according to preliminary data from Nielsen Media Research. For the 9th year in a row, Adult Swim also will rank #1 on basic cable in Total Day among adults 18-34 and men 18-34, as well as rank #1 among adults 18-49 and men 18-49. ...

Among Adult Swim’s programming highlights, the Emmy® Award-winning original animated series Robot Chicken (Sundays, 12 a.m.) ranked #1 on basic cable across 2013 in its time period among adults 18-34 & 18-49 and men 18-34 & 18-49. ...

Adult Swim programming – including Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Robot Chicken and American Dad—accounted for 23 of the top 50 telecasts on basic cable this week among adults 18-34, and 25 of the top 50 among men 18-34, both more than any other network.

Adult Swim’s ascendance in the digital arena also continues to climb as the “Adult Swim/Funny or Die Network” ranked #1 this year in the Comscore Humor category among average monthly Unique Visitors: persons 2+ (8.6 million) and men 2+ (5.3 million). Across Adult Swim’s digital platforms, game plays overall grew by 124% vs. 2012 (Omniture, Bango, Facebook, Steam). Adult Swim mobile games reached 55 million app downloads in 2013 to date, boosted by three consecutive #1 apps in the iTunes store—Robot Unicorn Attack 2, Amateur Surgeon 3 and Giant Boulder of Death ...

Some of the above programming isn't made under Animation Guild contracts. Hell, some of the shows aren't even cartoons. But the larger lesson here isn't lost on the fine, entertainment conglomerates who employ so many guild members.

Animation sells, and sells over long periods of time.

This has been true for decades. (Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, and Fred Flintstone have been staples inside American culture for fifty years; Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny for eighty and more.) But only recently has mainstream Hollywood figured out that animation can make HUGE buckets of cash.

Until the 1990s, the smart money stayed away from cartoon features because the returns were considered meager, and the organizational headaches large. TV was a low margin sideshow. Disney could make sizable profits from cartoons, but nobody else stood a chance.

Today, that equation has changed. Television animation is cost effective compared to other scripted programming, and if initial margins are narrow, long-term cash flow is steady and continuing. Theatrical CG cartoons are far from cheap, but when even mediocre offerings make $200 million or more, then animation is a business lots of movie studios want to be in.

I started working in animation when the industry was thought of as a sleepy backwater to "real" movie-making. Spielberg was interested in cartoons, but nobody else was. Active Guild membership fell to 700 members in 1989, but the animation boom of the early 1990s soon drove union numbers higher. A lot of rising animation employment happened on the theatrical side, but television animation also expanded. Syndication, cable networks, and prime time cartoons all happened in the nineties.

Here in the 21st century, big-ticket theatrical animation is almost all computer generated because that's what audiences have flocked to see, but a major part of television animation is still hand-drawn. Cartoon distributors keep smacking up against rating numbers that are no better for CG shows than hand-drawn ones. And since hand-drawn shows cost less than their CG cousins, producers keep making hand-drawn TV cartoons.

And they're making a LOT of them. Cartoon Network is bringing new shows into being; ditto for Nickelodeon. And DreamWorks Animation will be hiring staff to make a large number of animated half-hours for Netflix over the next three years. There is (did I mention?) a simple reason for this.

People watch cartoons in ever-increasing numbers.


Nathan said...

Speaking of Adult Swim, "Rick and Morty" is just slaying me.

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