Jeffrey Katzenberg has big plans for the smallscreen.
The DreamWorks Animation chief (and 2013 Mipcom’s Personality of the Year), who has successfully launched such hit film franchises as “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Madagascar” and “How to Train Your Dragon” and is ready to unleash a slate of new toons with sequel potential, seeks to make the company a more active player in TV.
While DreamWorks already has spun off characters from “Madagascar,” “Panda” and “Dragon” into their own shows on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, the company is a making a more concerted effort to step up its TV efforts — using digital platforms to its advantage as it does.
“We are moving very aggressively,” Katzenberg said this summer as he unveiled plans for the company to become less reliant on films as its main source of income. “Television is a transformative line of business, and we expect going forward it will be a significant source of revenue.”
In fact, DWA’s expansion into TV is expected to generate $100 million in revenue for the company this year and at least $200 million in 2015 and beyond, representing around 30% of the company’s gross profit margin, same as its film biz.
Its $155 million acquisition of Classic Media last year was seen as a way to not only turn characters like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Lassie, Waldo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle and Mr. Peabody and Sherman into films, but also exploit them through consumer products and TV shows (the way many had been introduced in the first place). Classic Media’s TV biz is expected to generate around $50 million this year.
In May, DWA purchased Brian Robbins’ AwesomenessTV, a successful YouTube network of more than 74,000 channels that has attracted 21 million subscribers (mostly teens) and spun off a series on Nickelodeon.
The following month, DWA expanded a previous relationship with Netflix into an exclusive multiyear deal providing more than 300 hours of new kids programming — the largest first-run deal for original content in Netflix’s history.
And in July, DWA tapped longtime Nickelodeon programming vet Marjorie Cohn to head up its television department, working closely with former colleagues Mark Taylor and Peter Gal, who oversee TV production and development. Classic Media founders Eric Ellenbogen and John Engelman lead DWA’s international TV business.
Katzenberg considered Cohn’s hiring an “incredible coup” for the company and one that will make the rollout of more TV shows a regular part of DWA’s business as it looks to put its characters in front of more families around the world.
The Netflix deal alone will make DWA’s programming available in 40 countries where the streaming platform operates. And it needs Cohn to now oversee the content that gets produced. A separate five-year deal with Germany’s Super RTL, that begins in September, will have DWA supply the kids channel with more than 1,100 half-hours.
Katzenberg especially sees services like Netflix as a way to control more of its TV business. He ended a pay-TV distribution deal with HBO early in order to puts DWA’s titles on Netflix. Digital deals like that are not part of DWA’s current distribution pact with 20th Century Fox, which began releasing the studio’s toons with March’s “The Croods” and July’s misfire “Turbo,” which DWA still believes can find a following through a Netflix TV show. (“Turbo FAST” starts streaming in December.)
“Turbo” serves as a case study for how Katzenberg views TV.
By seeing a character on TV, kids are more likely to be interested in toys and other consumer products related to the property year-round, not just when a film is playing in theaters. Shows also keep characters alive for fans in between a film’s sequels. Naturally, the sale of the shows themselves also puts more coin into the company’s coffers.
Katzenberg has always had an interest in getting DWA into television. In 2004, the company produced the animated “Father of the Pride,” based on a family of white lions that performed in Siegfried & Roy’s Las Vegas show. NBC aired the show during primetime for just one season.
But the relationship with the network turned the Peacock into a home for animated holiday specials based on “Shrek,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Madagascar,” “Panda” and “Dragon.” “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” was the last to air, in 2010.
The studio continues to produce the films as direct-to-home-video releases, which have become a healthy revenue stream.
Katzenberg will discuss the TV industry Oct. 9 in Cannes, while accepting his Mipcom honor. But the message is clear.
“As we’ve mentioned in the past, television is a key part of our growth and diversification strategy for the company,” Katzenberg said in a recent call with investors. “Today, television is a transformative line of business, and going forward we believe it will be a substantial and consistent revenue generator for the company. The developments in our television business are clearly changing the profile of DreamWorks Animation.”