Domestic TV has been a source of comfort for French toon houses during the financial crisis. Big broadcasters have stuck by kids’ programming rather than give it up to specialized digital channels, and government-imposed spending requirements have kept the money flowing.
While digital outlets have sprouted, they’re not yet big spenders.
“You have to manage with a lower budget,” says Clement Calvet, managing director at Gaumont’s Alphanim, which is producing “Small Giant” for digital kids channel Gulli.
“If you’re very aggressive on the international market, you can still produce a high-quality show.”
Indeed, foreign markets are keeping French toon specialists in a bullish frame of mind, despite falling budgets and growing competish. “They help us bring more and more content to a market where there is less,” says Philippe Soutter, founder of sales and distribution shingle PGS Entertainment.
The sagging economy also has pushed people to find new strategies. “It takes forever to get pre-financing in place, and I develop more material than I used to because it can easily take two years to put out a series,” says topper Marc du Pontavice of Xilam, which will push its flagship series “Oggy and the Cockroaches” online towards the end of 2011. “Most come through; it’s just that you have to have more in your hands to make sure something happens every year.”
For some, greater focus is the key. “If you keep doing a limited number of shows but of a high quality, you can still develop content,” says Marathon prexy Vincent Chalvon Demersay.
Adds Calvet: “To make a difference, you have to be very creative or try to produce a big property that is already known.”
Alphanim hopes to do both, having recently acquired rights to the best-selling “Lanfeust” comicbooks while also launching production on “Pok and Mok,” a family series with green cred.
One of the biggest challenges for French animators is the growing international demand for comedy.
“Doing animation is one thing, being funny is a different ballgame,” says Chalvon Demersay. Marathon’s solution is to blend U.S. and French talent — for instance, bringing former “Simpsons” story editor Reid Harrison to Paris. “We can recreate in France pretty much the same system as in the U.S. for comedies.”
Multi-territory co-productions are another way of building legs for a product, says Soutter: “Having partners from different cultures involved in the same production will help yield better international potential.”
Some (though not all) players think that delivering toons with promise across different media is essential in the current market — a gamechanger, of sorts. “Cross-media is a way to have a strong link with the viewers, the consumers,” says Christophe di Sabatino, co-founder of Moonscoop, which has seen significant online communities develop around its “Hero 108” and “Tara Duncan.”
“Creating a long-term relationship with the audience can not only help establish a property in a territory, but also help expand it to new territories,” adds Lionel Marty, the company’s head of TV distribution.