Annecy: Report Outlines Trends and Challenges of Europe’s Animation

An Invaluable first-phase European Audiovisual Observatory report to be presented at Annecy Animation Fest

'Arthur Christmas'

Studiocanal, Aardman Animations, Ben Stassen’s nWave Pictures and Germany’s Constantin emerge as current drivers of Europe’s wide-audience movie animation industry, according to a pioneering study, “Focus on Animation,” which contains a wealth of pan-European and single-territory stats, establishing the base for a fuller report on the sector.

Produced by the European Audiovisual Observatory for the European Commission, and to be presented Wednesday at France’s Annecy Animation Fest, the study is a first-phase survey but still a powerful indicator of key companies and trends.

It captures a European animation industry in dynamic, if often challenging, flux. Though the authors are cautious about drawing conclusions, one driver that emerges from its figures is new market entries.

In terms of box office outside animated features’ main country of origin, “Gnomeo and Juliet,” from Kelly Ashbury (“Shrek 2”), topped Europe’s top 10 international animation movies, punching 19.9 million admissions outside the U.K., thanks to its U.S. box office. Also making the cut: Aardman’s “Arthur Christmas” (13.4 million admissions) and “The Pirates” (Band of Misfits), with 10.2 million; and three NWave pics, all directed and co-directed by Stassen: “Sammy’s Adventures” (a non-Belgium 8.2 million), “Sammy’s Adventures 2” (6.2 million) and “The House of Magic” (6.1 million). Two Constantin movies – “Tarzan” (5.4 million) and “Animals United” (4.2 million) — ranked No. 8 and 10, while “Tad, the Lost Explorer” (4.5 million) came in No. 9.

But newish players are now dynamizing the sector. Ranking sixth, but a 2015 holdover, “Paddington,” the first production venture from “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman that can be classed as animation, now ranks as the highest-grossing family film ever released by a non-U.S. studio, in this case Studicanal.

Under chairman-CEO Olivier Courson, Studiocanal, which financed, distributed and sold “Paddington,” has driven hard into family entertainment. With Studiocanal co-owning nWave Pictures and partnering with Aardman to co-finance, distribute and sell its movies on a title-by-title basis from February’s “Shaun the Sheep,” the Euro film-TV group is now firmly at the forefront of family/animation entertainment in Europe, for example, backing Annecy competition player “April and the Extraordinary World.”

The hard facts in “Focus on Animation” put Europe’s still-young toon pic production sector in perspective: 3% of Europe’s movie production volume from 2010-14, European animation punched just 2.94% of its cinema theater sales.

Despite that, Europe’s toon production levels look to be powering up, though that has yet to feed through into bigger box office. Per “Focus on Animation,” a yearly average of 50 animation films were produced in Europe over 2010-14.

“While we have not systematically examined earlier periods, all indicators show a significant increase of production figures compared to the period 2005-09,” said Deirdre Kevin, who co-authored “Focus on Animation” with Julio Talavera and Marta Jimenez Pumares. Yet, there is no clearly sustained increase in cinema attendance for European animation films over 2010-14, as compared to the five years before, added Talavera, with attendance appearing to peak in 2011.

“When it comes to European animation, a couple of blockbusters make all the difference,” Talavera said.

China can also be a gamechanger. According to “Focus on Animation,” Japan (110 movies made) and the U.S. (109) ranked as the world’s biggest animation producers over 2010-14, followed by France (47), China (42) and Spain (28). Figures were only available, however, for Chinese films on release in 2014, suggesting maybe significantly higher levels for the whole five-year-period. European animation has only “marginal penetration” in China, racking up 0.19% of total animation admissions in 2014. That said, for individual titles, a Chinese release can transform B.O. results, repping 37.7% of all non-France ticket sales, for instance, on “Minuscule: Valley of the Ants.”

The authors of “Focus on Animation,” a first-phase survey, are naturally cautious about drawing conclusions. One, however: “Despite the enormous differences from country to country, it can be said, as a general rule, that the decrease of investment by European broadcasters has forced producers to explore new sources of financing. Licensing and Internet service have become more and more fundamental for the industry.”

Another, that yes, European animation does travel better than its movies in general: Only 38.3% of European animation films’ admissions were generated in the main country of production, compared with 50% in the case of European productions of all genres. Non-European territories were responsible for 34.8% of admissions, vs. 26.3% of those for European films in general. “This, along with the high number of average territories in which animation films were released finally proves that, in general, European animation performs better and has a wider circulation in foreign territories than non-animated films,” runs an OBS Lumiere analysis in “Focus on Animation.”

That export capacity is one reason the European Commission asked the European Audiovisual Observatory to draw up the report.

“Being at the crossroad of creativity and information and communication technology (ICT), the animation industry is a very promising sector. In terms of audience, the animation is also one of the branches of the audiovisual sector with the greatest potential in export,” a European Commission source said.

“In this context, the European Commission turned to the European Audiovisual Observatory to gather evidence and collect comparable European data on the industry,” it added, pointing out that in 2014, 16% of the projects funded for their development were purely animation projects and 25% of its support to TV production went to animation content.

Focus in Animation does not shy away from data suggesting that Europe’s toon industry is still, however, a niche business, and challenged.

Per study stats, U.S. filmed animation industry overperforms in its domestic market, Repping 2.8% of the U.S. production volume, U.S toon pics took 14.2% of total admissions from 2010-14. In contrast, 3% of Europe’s movie production volume, 2010-14, Europe’s animation punched just 2.94% of its cinema theater sales. European toon movies took a 2.96% U.S. market share from 2010-14, and just three films, “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “Arthur Christmas” and “The Pirates (Band of Misfits”), repped 75% of that trawl.

Beginning with France’s Canal J in 1985, and taking off in the 1990s with Cartoon Network (1993), Disney Channel (1995) and Nickelodeon (1995), children’s channels have exploded onto the scene in Europe. Of a total 301, 217 channels are, however, established in the European Union by U.S. affiliates.

Often minority co-productions or aided by sales on Stassen’s movies, Belgium toon pics traveled best of any country in Europe, selling a very creditable average of 20.4 territories per movie. U.K. animated features traveled little – 4.5 foreign territories on average – but scored 43.5 million ticket sales, by a large margin the biggest box international box office and many times the figure for France (3.7 million).

“There may well be exceptions, but one explanation is that some countries produce lots of animation with lower budgets for production, marketing and distribution and then make a huge effort to distribute worldwide,” Talavera said.

Over 2010-14, France, Spain and the U.K. were the main producers of feature animation, accounting for 40% of all films made in Europe.

In TV production and transmission, France, along with the U.K., which is powered by CBBC, CITV and CBeebies, looks to reign supreme in Europe. France broadcast 1,671 hours of TV/feature animation on TF1, France 2, France 3, Canal Plus and M6 in 2013, per the CNC/Mediametrie. In the United Kingdom, 44.9% of animation on main TV and children’s channels was nationally produced, per “Focus in Animation.” TV channels in Spain and Germany lag far behind.