‘Animals’ series toons up for January premiere

One of the most ambitious European animation co-productions yet attempted, the $11 million “Animals of Farthing Wood” series is set for a pan-American launch in January.

The 26-episode, 26-minute series will be broadcast in all 16 countries whose pubcasters have committed to funding the project. Combined audience per episode is estimated at about 60 million.

The series is the brainchild of the European Broadcasting Union, the professional association of national broadcasters. Thirteen episodes have been completed.

The project was first bruited in 1987 by the EBU’s Working Party for Children and Youth, which proposed a major European toon co-production. By late 1988, German pubcaster WDR’s proposal to shoot a series based on the Colin Dann novels was accepted.

Series tells the tale of a group of animals who find their habitat destroyed by bulldozers and have to embark on a perilous trip to a distant nature reserve.

Unveiling the series pilot, Anna Home, who heads EBU’s Youth Working Party and is children’s programming topper at the BBC, called the project “an outstanding achievement in international cooperation and management.”

Twenty national broadcasters co-financed the series, while the animation work was split between French studio La Fabrique and British toonsters Telcimagination.

Under the terms of the co-production agreement, the 20 broadcasters invested according to a points system worked out by the EBU–based on the country’s size, their potential audience, etc.

“Each broadcaster invested a percentage based on the number of points it had and revenues from sales and merchandising will be in line with the initial investment percentage,” explained Home.

The co-production, per WDR’s Enrico Platter, who exec produced with the BBC’s Theresa Plummer-Andrews, enabled broadcasters to acquire high-class animation that individually they could not have financed. “The cost per network is about the same as if they bought a U.S. series or a Japanese series,” said Platter. “The difference is that the networks would have probably got three years of rights, but with ‘Animals’ they have unlimited screening rights for 30 years.”

In addition to revenue from international sales, the 20 co-financiers will have access to coin brought in from merchandising, book publication and video deals.

Worldwide licensing of products to accompany the series is being handled by BBC Childrens Intl.

“We hope that with TV sales and merchandising deals we will recoup the $ 11 million budget,” said BBC’s head of licensing and merchandising John Howson. “When the EBU networks see that they can make money out of this kind of venture, it should encourage them to try it again.”

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