Friday, December 5, 2008

To Market, to Market, to buy...

If you are looking to sell entertainment to children and, hopefully, a bunch of stuff based on that entertainment, you have to understand the marketplace. What are those kids buying, or more importantly, what are they watching? Technology has widened the choices for young audiences. Broadcast television, cable, satellite TV, DVDs and TiVo, video games, and the Internet has divided the audience into very fussy viewers. Children's entertainment and the venue for watching it has changed over the years and is changing faster today.

In the days when I was in that young audience, the shows I watched were all about goofy adults or animals that behaved like goofy adults. In live action it was Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy or Martin and Lewis. In animation, feature films were about fairy tale adults like Cinderella, Snow White or Lady and the Tramp. The reason for this was the film makers were trying to entice a Family Audience into the movie houses and that included Mom and Dad as well as the kids. Television with it specific "target" audiences changed that focus.

For years the pundits of television decided that their audience was going to be little boys. They came to believe that little girls did not control the program selection. Aggressive little brothers changed the channels to what they wanted to watch and the girls "went along with it". The youngest children would watch what the older kids watched and school-age viewers stopped watching cartoons once they reached their teenage years. That limited the audience from seven to eleven year old boys. The broadcasters sold a lot of toys to this audience but it didn't include many dolls. After women entered the executive levels of television and programming, the desire for "girl shows" emerged. We saw "My Little Pony", "Care Bears", "Jem" and, later, "Power Puff Girls" and "Kim Possible". The best of these shows tried for a "cross-over" audience that appealed to both genders. "Spongebob" and "ChalkZone" were good examples of these types of shows.

That was then. This is now. The pendulum has swung around to all-boy shows again. And the age group has shifted to "Tweens", kids between the ages of 11 to 14. This audience is no longer elementary school kids but not quite full-blown teenagers. With the advent of Pre-school shows, and whole Networks that cater to them, there now is a designation for every age group in the pre-adult market. This change of marketing strategy can prove to be very inconvenient for a producer that has created a show around a specific audience. This happened to me very recently.

I worked three years on developing a show around a strong, if reluctant, female heroine. It revolved around a Korean girl who was the last member of an ancient Chinese Clan of super-warriors who fought a race of alternate universe goblins. With the help of her Grandmother, and a power mask, she guards a portal against an invasion of this old evil. Created in Korea, it had to appeal to Western markets. I became involved and added western interest by having the girl be a Korean-American visiting her Grandmother in Korea when the goblins invade through an opened portal. Sound good? It was a sure sell to the Koreans who sought Chinese investment. The Chinese joined the project but wanted "Chinese content" so the Korean locale was changed to a Chinese one. The girl now became a Chinese-American child and the story had to be changed and prepared for production with this in mind. An American investor with distribution ties bought into the project late but insisted on doing some "due diligence" about what the networks were buying. The conclusion was that the current project needed redevelopment. This time the hero had to be a boy! This would have changed the whole dynamic of the series and delayed production for a year, so a compromise was arranged. A male Chinese cousin was added to the series and another power mask added. Now two hero characters had to be served and the story "bible" had to be extensively rewritten...again!

It's never an adventure if things go smoothly. Rivers change courses, passes are snowed in, alliances with local natives are re-arranged and yet, the project must continue. Adjusting to changing markets, the addition of new partners and the betrayal of alliances are all part of the journey. Experience is the factor that makes the difference in success or failure. Invest in that.


SACKS10 said...

Nice blog Larry. Very informative. I started Pixel Pirate studio to house my properties and do children's books as well as freelance animation. I could use some helpful advise.

Mad Animation Prophet said...

Hey, Sax,
Sorry I'm so late in responding. If you got stuff you want me to see that is non-yo-yo related, I'm always interested.