There’s general agreement that this is a golden age of television. But less apparent is the fact that it’s also a golden age of animation, spawned by the same subscription video-on-demand companies — such as Netflix and Amazon — that are ushering TV’s shining period.
The rise of streaming services — which are ordering season after season of animated shows for children and adults — has created an urgent demand for original content, leading to a surge in jobs at all levels of production. For now, the deluge shows no signs of letting up.
“There’s more animation work now than ever,” says Chris Prynoski, president and owner of Titmouse, an independent animation studio headquartered in Los Angeles. More than half of the programming the company is working on is for web-based platforms, including “Niko and the Sword of Light” for Amazon Studios and the upcoming “Big Mouth” for Netflix.
The content is extremely valuable to the streaming services. “Animation is a medium that works very well for SVOD,” explains Tara Sorensen, head of kids’ programming at Amazon Studios, which also collaborates with Titmouse on the animated kids’ series “Little Big Awesome.” “It’s somewhat evergreen compared to live-action content, which can age more quickly. It also travels well internationally because it can be dubbed easily.” What’s more, shows for little kids are never without viewers: “A preschool audience essentially regenerates every three to four years,” Sorensen says. “That’s appealing for us.”
Titmouse has grown a lot over the past several years as a result of the influx of shows, Prynoski says; the company has expanded to more than 500 employees. “We’re doing so much work for SVOD companies now, it’s crazy,” he says.
Titmouse produced the first animated original series for Netflix, the Emmy-nominated “Turbo FAST,” as part of the highly publicized deal the streaming service struck with DreamWorks Animation for 300 hours of programming in 2013. And with “Turbo FAST” alone, Titmouse had a very full plate.
“These shows are pretty hefty orders,” Prynoski says. Titmouse was quickly commissioned to develop more than 100 episodes of “Turbo FAST.” Soon after, DreamWorks came calling with a commission for a large order of the kids’ program “Home: Adventures With Tip & Oh.”
These are longer and more stable commitments than what’s offered by traditional broadcast TV, Prynoski notes. “Usually it’s like, OK, we’re doing this 10-episode season,” he says. But Netflix asks for 10 times that — a boon not only for Prynoski but for the team of 70 to 100 animators, storyboard and background artists, post-production artisans and others hired to work on these shows. “As an independent animation studio, it’s great to be able to project that far into the future. These are nice long runs.”
“The sheer volume of work that SVOD has created is incredible,” says Barry Ward, president of Vancouver-based animation studio Bardel Entertainment, which produces a number of programs in the genre, including several for Netflix under the DreamWorks deal: “All Hail King Julien,” “Dinotrux,” “VeggieTales” and “Puss in Boots,” plus an upcoming spinoff of “How to Train Your Dragon.” “It’s definitely changed our studio,” Ward notes. “Thanks to Netflix, we have almost double the work.”
What sets the SVOD market apart, says Ward, is not simply the quantity of content but also the quality: “These platforms are going toe to toe with the major terrestrial entertainment companies. With Netflix in particular, from day one you could tell that they were going to give television a run for its money. It was high-quality programming. Until that point, budgets for internet-based content were low, as was the quality. But now the budgets are as high or higher than what you find on [linear] TV.”
Higher budgets and higher production values mean more work for the people tasked to make that happen.
“It’s been very good for the industry,” Ward adds. “When I go to conferences, everybody has a smile because nobody is out of work. Times are good. We’re creating a hell of a lot of content out there.”
Can it last? Prynoski, for his part, sees no reason why it shouldn’t, at least for now. “Of course it’s possible that it will dry up or slow down,” he says. “But I have a 5-year-old kid, and he churns through a season of these shows like it’s nothing; he’ll watch a whole series in one Saturday afternoon, a series it took a studio like ours a whole year to produce. So it seems like there’s this unending appetite for it. There’s a lot of TV coming out and a lot more needed still. I don’t know when that’s going to change.”