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Spanish ‘Riboldi,’ ‘Seekers’ to play in Toulouse

Sector shows talent, battles downturn

Within a total of 84 projects showcasing at Toulouse’s 25th Cartoon Forum, Spain is presenting five  – over half of which are international coproductions.

By comparison, Spain presented three projects in 2013 (out of 68) and seven projects in 2011 (out of a total of 66).

Spanish projects include “I, Elvis Rivoldi” “Pirata & Capitano,” and “Soul Seekers.”

Co-produced by Edebe Audiovisual and France’s Tele Images,  “Riboldi” (52 x 11) is aimed at 9-11 year olds and stars Elvis – a hyperactive and destructive boy.

“Pirata & Capitano” (52 x 11) is a coproduction between France’s Milimages and Spain’s Vodka Capital,  featuring marine and aerial adventures for 6-8 year olds.

“Seekers” (26 x 13) is a supernatural-themed coproduction between Finland (Pikkukala) and Spain (Stor Fisk), aimed at 9-11 year olds.

Other projects at Cartoon Forum include the Spanish-Colombian coproduction “Troubling Monsters,” (26 x 7), “Isi” (52 x 11), and “Planet Play” (52 x 11).

Spain’s animation sector is renowned for its creativity but has recently suffered a general downturn – that is changing industry conditions and forcing players to seek new financing models.

Spanish animation houses that have closed down over the last 2 years include prestigious companies such as Cromosoma and D’Ocon.

Carlos Biern, prexy at the animation industry lobby, Diboos, suggests that Spain’s sector “requires greater protection from pubcasters, comparable to the support provided in leading animation production countries, such as France, Canada, Ireland, Brazil and China. There’s a need to combine commercial with educational concerns, as takes place at Catalonia’s TVC.”

Pubcasters have always played a key role in financing animation shows, but according to Edebe’s CEO, Ivan Agenjo, they have recently slashed their animation budgets. “Commercial broadcasters don’t work with us and if you jump into pay TV arena – with companies such as Nicklodeon, Disney or Cartoon Network—the competition is enormous. Our domestic market is smaller than many other countries.”

Xavier Viza, TVE’s exec producer of children programs explains that, “Our position has changed over the last few years. We maintain the same proportional effort, but our annual budgets are lower. Within our budgetary constraints we nonetheless aim to continue to provide strong support for the Spanish animation sector.”

At a different scale, the Catalan pubcaster, TVC, has been a regular source of financing over recent years in spite of the economic downturn. Xavier Romero, Head of TVC’s Children’s TV Department, states that the channel invests €1.5 million ($1.9 million) per year to produce animation series and each quarter a commission greenlights new projects.

“Animation, like the rest of the industry, is struggling to overcome the crisis,” bemoans TVE’s Viza. “Although it’s difficult to speculate on the future of funding, there’s likely to be further cost adjustments and new models of international co-production, with the emergence of new agents.”

There are currently around 200 animation producers and distributors in Spain employing around 5,000 people.

In spite of economic difficulties, the Spanish sector manages to produce between six to ten series per year, that will be broadcast over the next three years, claims Biern.

Total Spanish animation turnover in 2011 was $392 million equivalent to 0.04% of Spain’s GDP. Biern predicts that this will double by 2017, rising to 0.08%.

New financing models are slowly emerging, which are likely to be structurally significant. Natixis Coficine’s director, Christophe Vidal, states: “There has been no major change in the way animation (series) are financed. However, we have noticed lower involvement from sales agents in terms of putting up MG’s. This has forced producers to either increase pre-sales or secure gap financing. Often they’ve created their own sales arm. This has also been partly compensated by multi-territory deals with the large children channels.”

“You need to have a very strong international sector, that guarantees multiple income from abroad,” confirms Imira’s CEO, Sergi Reitg.

However, some players, such as Edebe’s Agenjo, view this as a catch-22 situation, stating: “How are you going to look for coin abroad if you can’t secure support from domestic players?”

Other business opportunities include diversification and multiplatform strategies. Stor Fisk’s CEO, Pablo Jordi, comments in relation to his project “SoulSeekers,” “This is a universe with great potential for the development of prequels, sequels and to roll out an ambitious licensing program. We want our partners to share our passion and to invest in the brand, not just in the TV series itself.”

Jordi and Veronica Lassenius pursued a similar approach when they decided to coproduce with Finland’s Pikkukala, an international hub for gaming, that focuses on digital entertainment for kids.

Jordi explains that “For independent producers, the traditional financing model simply doesn’t work. We have to think out of the box to succeed. Crowdfunding and collaboration with non-media companies which want to invest in their social presence are possible options. We like properties with long term international appeal and develop them as an animation series and games at the same time.”

Vidal counters that other “models like crowdfunding, although sometimes used on a confidential basis in feature films, have not yet appeared in animation.”

Imira’s Reitg believes that comedy, adventure and video games are the areas with strongest potential: “It’s more efficient to pursue three bigger projects rather than nine smaller ones. Small projects don’t generate sufficient industry interest. Companies have to choose whether to be big or small players. The middle ground is no longer viable.”

Coproduction is the traditional route used to overcome funding difficulties.

For example four companies jointly developed “Riboldi” and recently added a French partner.

But Biern is concerned that coproduction will undermine the Spanish animation industry, especially given that the tax breaks for animation available in other European competitors are much more attractive.

“In the future, we’ll see many more French, Australian or Canadian co-productions that have been originally created by Spanish animators and producers but the majority of the production investment will take place abroad,” he concludes.

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