Going digital and finding audiences

Since the Ottawa International Animation Festival first launched 30 years ago, the North American animation industry has shifted gears from producing for TV and film to creating customizable content for many screens, including broadband, iPods and mobile phones. And the 2006 OIAF looks to guide the delegates through this new media landscape.

Since the Ottawa International Animation Festival first launched 30 years ago, the North American animation industry has shifted gears from producing for TV and film to creating customizable content for many screens, including broadband, iPods and mobile phones. And the 2006 OIAF looks to guide the delegates through this new media landscape.

Even though upwards of 20,000 people are expected to attend the public festival, Sept. 20-24, the third annual Television Animation Conference (Sept. 20 and 21) is reserved for industry players to share experiences and review trends.

‘Since it was launched… we’ve tried to keep it a fairly intimate affair so that everyone can hang out at a friendly, comfortable event, and that’s the tone of the whole festival,’ says OIAF director Maral Mohammadian.

As in previous years, TAC’s 200 spots sold out early, so to accommodate more attendees this year, the event moved to a slightly larger venue at the Chateau Laurier, where Mohammadian anticipates about 250 industry types will take part in the panels and discussions.

OIAF newcomer Michael Ouweleen, senior VP of programming and development at Cartoon Network U.S., will kick off the conference with a keynote address in which he hopes to give positive reinforcement about digital rights. He didn’t want to reveal too much about his speech, but he’ll touch on industry-wide concerns that the new multi-screen environment will fragment TV audiences beyond anything measurable.

He says more competition from broadband and wireless programming can actually raise TV’s game, and relates what’s happening now to when cable networks originally began proliferating the airwaves.

‘This is a huge opportunity for many voices and for things to be more experimental. Just look at television in the States now: there are so many great, inventive television shows because the marketplace is growing,’ he says.

‘Who in their right mind would have broadcast something as crazy as Harvey Birdman had there not been 60 niche broadcasters?’ he adds, referring to the series he exec produces, about a long-forgotten superhero’s second career as a lawyer. A recent episode of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law will play in competition at OIAF.

There’s also the panel Cartoons on the Go: Tomorrow’s Media Landscape. Speakers include Ryosuke Aoike, executive producer at New York’s Frederator; Steve Billinger, SVP at Cookie Jar Entertainment; and Fred Siebert – the man behind the preschool Nick Jr. series and podcast Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!.

Since the kids demographic is increasingly distracted from television by mobile phones, broadband and video games, producers are looking to be wherever kids are to keep their product relevant.

‘In the past, producers only worried about who was watching our programs,’ Billinger says. ‘With mobile, we need to be concerned with where they’re watching and what else they might be doing.’ The panel will explore emerging digital technologies and how the industry can work with a fragmenting and changing audience demographic.

TAC’s remaining panels will look at emerging toon trends, such the animation-loving adult demo in Not Just for Kids, featuring Linda Simensky, senior director of children’s programming at PBS; Bardel Entertainment president Barry Ward; and Caroline Tyre, acquisitions manager at Teletoon. A case study by Nelvana on its developing Ruby Gloom series will explore how an alternative T-shirt design for tweens and teens evolved into a cartoon.

Roundtable discussions about the costs of creating in HD, and the business model for producing animated features, are also in the offing. The Fast Track session returns this year, with scheduled ‘speed-dating style’ nine-minute meetings with top broadcasters and producers.

Issues currently facing Canadian production will also be addressed in a panel called The Future of Commercial Canadian Animation. Executives will square off to analyze the future of this country’s toon industry. Scott Dyer, executive VP of production and development at Nelvana, joins Ed, Edd, ‘n’ Eddy creator Danny Antonucci from a.k.a. Cartoon; Madeleine Lévesque, Teletoon’s director of original production; and Bonita Siegel, director of development and production at Corus Entertainment. The panel will be assessing Canadian animation’s ability to compete on the world stage if tax credits or required conditions of licence spent by the broadcasters were to disappear.

The conference’s country spotlight this year is Brazil. The Latin American industry has been ramping up its toon output recently, mainly doing short-form advertising and service work for Walt Disney, MTV Brazil and its regional Cartoon Network. A delegation of about 20 toon makers will be heading to Ottawa for the event to discuss future creative and financial collaborations.

A panel on coproducing will feature speakers such as Beth Carmona, president of TVE Brasil; Patricia Burns, VP of international production at Nelvana; and Celia Catunda, partner at TV PinGuim, who will discuss how the budding territory can learn from Canadian producers to create long-form series.

Mohammadian says highlighting Brazil was initially sparked a couple of years ago when a TAC attendee from Rio de Janeiro’s 2Dlab struck up a conversation with an exec from Montreal producer GalaKids at one of the conference’s social events. Today, these two companies will be speakers at the copro panel and are in the early stages of development on a new, as-yet-unnamed series.

ottawa.awn.com