Tuesday, July 15, 2008

One Percent

TV channels are suffering from declining audiences. That puts financial pressure on them to increase their viewership, which means that niche programs are often abandoned in favour of others promising larger audiences.

Like it or not, the children's audience is considered a niche that broadcasters have been abandoning for years. Some, like NBC, have abandoned it completely while others (Fox, CBS) have just leased out their children's timeslots rather than bother to originate programming themselves.

I recently spoke to a Canadian studio owner who said to me that while there are quotas for how much Canadian content a channel must broadcast, there's no requirement that the Canadian content be new. As overall audiences shrink (and the world heads into a recession), there's lots of incentive to avoid commissioning new children's programming. Here's an article from the Telegraph in the U.K. about the British situation.
There are 26 channels available to satellite and cable viewers that specifically cater for children. They include Cartoon Network, which shows the popular US-made cartoon Ben 10. However, the number of original and native programmes has plummeted. One per cent of the 113,000 hours of children's programmes broadcast last year were new commissions made in Britain.
The situation in Britain is complicated by a ban on junk food advertising during children's programming. That's undoubtedly good for children's health, but not so good for animation artists' bank accounts.

These pressures have also affected budgets. I heard from the same studio owner that producers are attempting to get half hour shows produced in China for $25,000. That price is only for the visuals, not scripts, boards, audio tracks and post-production, but I commented that in the 1970's in New York, Zander's Animation Parlour would get $30,000 for the visuals of a 30 second commercial. Commercials always had higher budgets per minute than the shows they interrupted, but it's hard to imagine how any studio could produce 22 minutes for $25,000.

Disney's recent live action successes have also reduced the amount of new TV animation being produced. The big question is whether this situation is temporary and will improve or if we're seeing the a permanent change in children's TV.

This might be a good time to be pitching puppet shows.

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