Monday, March 03, 2008

Why Some TV Animation Studios Are Busier Than Others

As I've related, the television side of the animation industry hasn't been super robust lately. Warners Animation is way slower than in years past, Universal Cartoon Studio is down to one series, and Cartoon Network is down from its peak.

Nickelodeon is one 'toon studio that has a pretty full slate of shows. As I walk through it month to month, I've wondered why it's busier than the others. This piece from Bloomberg throws a little light on the subject:

Viacom's media networks, home to cable channels including Comedy Central, increased profit 15 percent to $915.5 million as the MTV shows and Nickelodeon's ``SpongeBob SquarePants'' drew more viewers. Revenue gained 18 percent to $2.45 billion, reflecting higher ad sales and affiliate fees, Viacom said.

Contrast this with Cartoon Network's distant third in the cable wars, its spate of bad luck with executives dying young or leaving because of scandal over failed advertising. Or Time-Warner turning over its Saturday morning block of cartoons to an outside vendor.

If you want a flourishing animation industry, you've got to have a flourishing animation marketplace. Far more than live action, animated product withers then disappears when sales aren't robust. And it grows when profits are high (Lion King, Finding Nemo and Shrek being prime examples on the theatrical side; Scooby Doo, Fairly Odd Parents and Sponge Bob Square Pants being specimens in the t.v. section.).

Which is why I'm always beating the bass drum for animation's success in both venues. Failure smothers the industry.


Anonymous said...

Cartoon Network has a long and storied history of failure behind it. Now listen, i want them to succeed. I really do, but years ago i resigned myself to accept their idiocy and call a spade a spade. On every level they consistently miss the mark.

Whether its the Atlanta headquarters' longstanding inability to maintain just a basic programming schedule for their shows(i'm left to assume they just roll the dice each week to decide when programs will be on) to the incestuous revolving staff at their Burbank studio (whom have proven themselves to be completely pedestrian in their vision and thoroughly unfunny in all of their writing), Cartoon Network is a mess.

They have been for years and it may be a result of the chain of command being on the other side of the country in Atlanta. By many accounts they stifle all creativity and decision making in Burbank because of the higher ups paranoia. It can't continue the way it is going for long. Mind you, they aren't just losing the ratings war currently... they were losing the ratings war from the late nineties until now. I don't have the answers, but here's an observation: how about taking a risk? Just one. If you don't take risks in the entertainment industry then you're a nobody. Yes, Adult Swim is a risk - and being so it has been a colossal success (its also run out of a building completely seperate from the corporate headquarters- done purposefully). What i'm talking about is the major programming and production over there. Everything from Cartoon Network is either their own generic second pass on shows already done, or formulaic serials that have been focus group tested out the wazoo with notes forced on the director from the idiot executives in Atlanta who are taking orders from the king idiot former NYC ad executive(who wishes he was an artist) that somehow got creative control of the the shows programming.

I worked on one of their flagship shows at an independent studio(when they still funded those) and i worked for them in Atlanta years ago. The whole thing was and still is atrocious.


Anonymous said...

shite. actually, CNS has and continues to be a port in the harbor for artists who prefer to write and control their own creative destiny, sans scripts. both chowder and flapjack are created for artists so they may actually enjoy the drawing for a change. and that in spite of third place ratings. they are actually doing something more important than selling ads - they're keeping a very important artist tradition alive. their record in this area is indisputable. no other studio currently supports, trusts, and relies upon their artists in this way.

Steve Hulett said...

I've never understood the Time-Warner strategy of having its different animation pieces (CN, Warner Bros. Animation) work separately and at odds with each other.

Cartoon Network seems to regard WBA as the enemy. Or at least a nonentity.

Disney, to its credit, works to have its various animation divisions reinforce and support one another. (Sometimes known as "synergy.")

At Time-Warner, this seems to be an alien concept. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Actually Mohare...Nickelodeon does that as well. Of the ltest generation, there's Jorge Gutierrez's El Tigre, Eric Wiese's Mighty Bee, and soon Eric Roble's Fanboy. Creator driven cartoon's are still alive and kicking at Nick.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, Nick is not as creatively supportive of artists, especially in the face of the legacy that Steve and Derek gifted them - a legacy they still do not understand, nor care to understand beyond the the yellow square. It is astonishingly stupid.

C.M.B. said...

One of the bosses at CMX said it best. "Synergy is outlawed at Time Warner." For some reason Time Warner's child companies fight and quarrel and sometimes sue each other, and that's the way they like it.

Adult Swim has enjoyed success because they do practically everything on the cheap. They have done a couple dozen original shows and only one of them has been Animation Guild sanctioned, and that's The Boondocks. Every other one is/was done at a non-union studio in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York. Out of those, many are SAG sanctioned, and a lot of them have no unions whatsoever. I lived in Atlanta before coming to Los Angeles, and the wages and benefits for a couple studios were significantly below even non-union LA shops. Many of them like their jobs though, and keep going back.

As for Cartoon Network and WBA, it seems to be the other way around. Warner Bros. Television has had it in for Turner Broadcasting ever since they joined Time Warner. They even forced Cartoon Network to stop playing certain shows on Saturday mornings because it was hurting the ratings of Kids WB. It's almost like Warner wants to be the only television entity in the company, even though they have enough troubles as it is even creating new properties in the current day. While Warner could have their back catalog on the Turner outlets, they would rather turn around and sell shows like Batman and Superman to Toon Disney/Jetix. Over at Viacom, selling their shows' rights to competitors is simply unthinkable. They'd rather lock them up in a vault for ten years.

The good thing that's come from all this is Time Warner tends to leave Turner alone when it comes to creative influence. You can work on a Cartoon Network show with little stress from the suits. If you go to Disney, it's expected you'll have to deal with piles of network notes.

Anonymous said...

I would say that Adult Swim enjoys the success it has because there is nothing else like it on television. from its very inception it was criticized as a crazy idea.

"a block of late night tv with animation for adults?!? Manga, violence, nudity, and blue humor??"

it was a risk that no other network would take, but Mike Lazzo did and now he has practically created an institution. yes the shows are created on the cheap, but they didn't start with a lot of money to work with and achieved good returns so they haven't felt the need to increase the budget that much. i don't think there has ever been an example of a cheap budget making a show a success. low overhead is always welcome, but its the product that makes it a success. Bullwinkle had some of the cheapest animation in the history of television, but it was its writing that made is a smart show.

Steve Hulett said...

Adult Swim was also largely responsible (along with dvd sales) for bringing "Family Guy" back to life.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with you sir.

Let's compare the last 6 animated shows by CN and Nick


My Gym Partner's a Monkey
Ben 10
Squirrel Boy
Class of 3000
Transformers Animated


The X's
Mr. Meaty(Co-Production w/Teletoon)
El Tigre:
Wayside (Co-Production w/ Teletoon)
Tak and the Power of Juju
Back at Barnyard

If you look at these series, Half of them have reccieved a second season order, and half of them have already been cancelled. All the renewed shows were from Cartoon Network. 4 of the Cancelled series were from Nickelodeon (The X's and Catscratch have been on hiatus for about 2 years + Mr. Meaty and El Tigre both have been announced they were cancelled by their creators, and the remaining two shows just began to air and could be canelled, though I doubt it because they are based on semi-established franchises)

you can also compare the number of series running too:

2005: Nick 12, CN 9,
2006: Nick 9, CN 9
2007: CN 10, Nick 8

Nick has steadily decreased the number of original shows while CN keeps their stead and even increases. Also, for CN I only accounted for in-house productions (Eds and KND were not included).

Truthfully, CN is the busier studio, thoguh it isn't as successful as Nick though

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