Drawing attention

Seven companies leading the way in international animation.

Turner Broadcasting System Europe
Turner Broadcasting is scheduled to launch its first non-U.S. original animation production studio this month in London. The venture aims to boost its dedicated European-originated cartoons and other genres for its localized kids' channels, including Cartoon Network (now in 14 languages in 42 million homes in Africa, Europe and the Middle East). The new unit also will serve sister services Boomerang, Cartoon Network Too and Toonami. Until now, the European channels have relied on programs originating from the Burbank-based Cartoon Network Studios, including "The Powerpuff Girls," and acquired programs such as "Storm Hawks" from Canada's Nerd Corp. Entertainment, as well as co-productions with European partners. "This new studio will put me in a great position when buying programs. If you have a really good source of content internally, it puts you in a good position during negotiations," says Cecilia Persson, vp programming, acquisitions and presentation, who buys programs for Cartoon Network U.K. Finn Arnesen, senior vp original series and international development, will oversee the new studio's activities.

Nickelodeon International
London-based Nickelodeon International, a subsidiary of MTV Networks, has helped extend the Nickelodeon brand into more than 200 million homes in 171 countries worldwide. In 2005, it set up a unit designed to enable Nickelodeon's international channels to source the most appropriate products from the U.S. Additionally, this division acts as a gateway to help the original U.S. network find suitable international programs for the domestic market. For this symbiotic relationship to flow seamlessly, London-based international development vp Nina Hahn encourages Nickelodeon's different co-production partners to start their collaboration very early in the production process. "During the last year, we've tried to work together earlier," Hahn explains. "That results in better-quality products by ensuring everyone is on the same page. Otherwise, you end up retrofitting ideas, producing something that isn't creator-driven." Nickelodeon U.S. is developing its first-ever projects with Japanese companies, including a collaboration with the NHK based on Japan's popular animated character Domo-Kun. Meanwhile, Japanese animation house Polygon Pictures is scheduled to co-develop (with Nickelodeon U.S.) a program based on the Japanese graphic novel "Akihabara@deep."

Jetix Europe
Majority-owned by the Walt Disney Co., the pan-European Jetix kids TV channels and programming blocks are in 58 territories, 18 languages and more than 46 million homes. Quite an achievement considering that until June 2005, the service was mainly available under the "Fox Kids" brand name. Jetix operates a library of more than 6,000 episodes, which are distributed internationally via Buena Vista International Television. "We have a three-tier programming strategy," director of pan-European acquisitions Nathan Waddington says. "We co-produce with Disney as part of the Jetix alliance, we co-produce with other top players and we acquire on a pan-European basis." Respectively, examples are the 26-part, 30-minute series "Yin Yang Yo!" (co-produced with Disney); "A.T.O.M.: Alpha Teens on Machines," a Jetix co-production with Paris-based SIP Animation; "Oban Star-Racers," Jetix's first Japanese co-production; and the 26-episode "Urban Vermin," which was bought from Canada's Decode Entertainment.

Classic Media Holdings
One can see why U.K.-based distributor Entertainment Rights, which specializes in children's programming, has offered $210 million to buy U.S.-based Classic Media. ER has already made a name for itself with programs based on internationally established brands such as "Basil Brush," "Barbie," "Postman Pat," "Rupert Bear" and "Transformers." By merging with Classic Media, it also gains animation and other rights to the titles of more than 210 timeless classics such as "Casper the Friendly Ghost," "Dick Tracy," "Lassie," "The Lone Ranger" and its original "Veggie Tales" series. "When you're selling 'Casper' and 'George of the Jungle,' those characters have already created interest, so it's just a question of how you execute the sale," says Doug Schwabe, Classic Media's head of worldwide distribution. "But to go to a (trade) show with unbranded programs would be a real challenge, so we deal in only well-established brands." The acquisition also could gain ER its own U.S. TV network -- Classic Media has a stake in Qubo, the 24-hour digital TV network.

Aardman International
As the subsidiary of 30-year-old Aardman Animations -- the four-time Oscar-winning creator of the "Wallace & Gromit" stop-motion animation series and the U.K.-originated "Creature Comfort" shorts, which were commissioned recently for primetime by CBS -- U.K.-based distributor Aardman International has an enviable legacy. After relying on third-party distributors, its multiplatform program sales business has come in-house. Aardman International's current flagship product is "Shaun the Sheep," a Wallace & Gromit spinoff. Head of sales Alix Wiseman says the program has already been sold to numerous European buyers, including networks in France, Germany, Italy, Germany, the U.K.'s BBC and all of Scandinavia's public broadcasters. Aardman was the first animation studio to go online with "Angry Kid," a series of 50 one-minute shorts now available on the AtomFilms Web site; "Kid" also boasts more than 10,000 mobile downloads via wireless carriers in 17 territories worldwide. "We've had enormous success with our new-media division," Wiseman declares. "It's our job to make sure we can monetize the content and not just use it for promotional purposes."

Mondo TV
Italy's Mondo TV is Europe's third-leading producer of animated content after U.K.-based HIT Entertainment and Germany's EM.TV, in terms of revenue and library size. Targeting all youth categories, it has nearly 4,000 episodes in its catalog (nearly 2,000 hours), with about 50% of its income coming from television, 20% from cinema and 30% from video. But the company says it is eyeing a new role for itself as a distributor, especially in foreign markets such as France and Germany. "This is the trend," company director and board member Matteo Corradi says. "We won't de-emphasize the production of content, but we want to increasingly emphasize the distribution side of the business." Mondo TV's latest animated co-production, "Karol Wojtyla," is based on the life of Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005. The $12 million "Wojtyla" has already been signed up by a distributor in John Paul's native Poland, and inquiries have reportedly come in from 50 more markets. Moviemax, which Mondo TV recently acquired, will handle distribution duties in Italy.

Established in 1996, Ocon is a Seoul-based independent production company that specializes in 3-D computer-generated animation. Ocon's biggest title, "Pororo the Little Penguin" (co-produced with another Korean company, Iconix Entertainment), was the first Korean animated series to be picked up for a second season. "Pororo" has already been sold to several territories around the world, including the U.K.'s Cartoon Network. Next up is "Dibo," a purple dinosaur from a land where everything is made of soft fabrics. So far, "Dibo" is getting even better ratings than "Pororo," and Ocon is looking for international buyers for "Dibo" in all territories except the U.K. and U.S. "We are waiting to sell in the U.S. and U.K. (after) we've built up some success in Asia and Europe," producer Derek Lee says. "We want our titles to be more established in the world before we approach the U.S. market."