Viacom launches China toons across Asia

Hourlong programming block will broadcast to 13 territories

BEIJING -- Viacom's Nickelodeon announced cable TVs first made-in-China animation platform Wednesday, detailing plans to broadcast the one-hour programming block called ChinaToon to 13 territories across Southeast Asia.

Beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 5, ChinaToon will air Mandarin-language cartoons to Hong Kong and Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines as the result of Viacom's ongoing talks with China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television.

Nickelodeon has been airing Western-made, first-run kids programming into China since May 2001, and its hit "SpongeBob SquarePants" is now widely known here. ChinaToon represents the first time the U.S. media giant will take made-in-China cartoons and help spread them overseas.

"Chinese animation is gaining immense popularity and critical recognition internationally. ChinaToon will be the vehicle to bring this unique animation genre to a wider audience," said Indra Suharjono, evp and managing director for MTV Networks South East Asia and Greater China.

Keenly aware of the decades of soft power wielded by Japanese animation, SARFT has moved in recent years to boost China's nascent cartoon industry by barring imports from Chinese TV's primetime hours and by heavily subsidizing local animators.

"As far as I know, there are no taxes in this industry," said Wang Yuanchao, vice president of Zhejiang Zhongnan Group Animation Video Co, the co-producer of "Magic Wonderland" with China Central Television, one of the two animated series Viacom acquired to christen ChinaToon.

Mei Yan, Viacom's newly appointed China chief representative, thanked SARFT's director general Jin Delong, who was unable at the last minute to attend the launch ceremony at a downtown luxury hotel.

"SARFT is really behind this program," Mei told The Hollywood Reporter before someone dressed as SpongeBob took center stage.

"Magic Wonderland" is the story of a fairy's daughter unwittingly trapped in a fight against evil. Its maker, Zhongnan, founded by Wu Jianrong in 2005, produced 6,000 minutes of animation in 2008 with 700 employees spread between its Hangzhou headquarters and Beijing studio.

Although Zhongnan sold "Magic Wonderland" straight to Nickelodeon for ChinaToon, the company has its own sales partner in Singapore. That company, Chinanimax, previously sold an historical cartoon about China's most famous admiral. "Zheng He's Journey to the Western Seas" was not chosen for ChinaToon.

After ChinaToon establishes itself, Nickelodeon will have "a wider choice of animation made and produced in China to choose from,"  Mei said.

The second title inaugurating ChinaToon is the five-year-old TV hit series "Pleasant Goat and the Big Big Wolf," from Guangzhou-based Creative Power Entertaining, a company of 150 people founded in 2004.

The show, about a clever and cuddly goat that protects her friends from a nasty wolf, first targeted 10-14 year-old Chinese, but also proved popular with younger and older kids, too, said Mandy Lau, vice general manager of Creative. The show, which has 530 episodes so far, has won two Chinese academy awards.

Hoping ChinaToon will spread local animation not only up and down in age but across international borders, Mei said, "China shares a common cultural background and values with many Asian countries. I believe Chinese animation will be well received by kids in Asia."