Industry Report: Focus: Asia & Oceania
Thailand takes advantage of Asian animation boom
by Suchit Leesa-nguansuk, FilmContact
18/06/2010 - Unaffected by politics, local producers are increasingly going global. The animation industry is apparently one of the few markets to remain unaffected by the political turmoil in Thailand.
Boasting plenty of potential and a portfolio of successful projects, Thai animation entrepreneurs are reporting skyrocketing growth.
A number of successful stories came out of the MIPTV 2010 industry event in Cannes, France, in April, in both co-production and licensing sales, with 10 Thai companies attracting business worth at least 860 baht.
Thai delegates who attended the event did so with the support of the Department of Export Promotion and the Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa).
Thai animation and related industries are still in the formative stages, though, but expect strong growth next year as they pave the way for a major presence in the global market, said Dr Jirayuth Chusanachoti, Executive Producer and Director at Shellhut Entertainment, owner of animated TV series Shelldon.
The company has already signed a contract with Singaporean counterpart Tiny Island to co-produce Shelldon in stereoscopic 3D, which can display 3D without wearing glasses. The project is worth 650 million baht and is expected to be finished in 2012.
In this agreement, the Singapore partner will cover production and Shellhut will be responsible for content, story, design and project management.
The Thai company is also on the lookout for media partners to expand into Japan and China by offering a profit-sharing model.
Dr Jirayuth argues that the company's productions should foresee technological trends and preparing content to suit rising markets, for example mobile internet, social media and 3D TV.
"At MIPTV, we displayed Shelldon in 3D TV, which attract an audience and may have secured us a potential technology partner in France which is research the 3D field," he said.
"We have always intended to make this TV series for the global market, but start with the domestic market," Dr Jirayuth continued.
"We expected this show to generate only 0.6 percent of our overall revenue, but sponsorship has pushed it up to 20 percent.
"However, 80 percent [of this show's revenue] comes from outside Thailand, with licensed broadcasting in 109 countries, including the US and France."
Dr Jirayuth continued that the company is aiming to complete Seasons 3 and 4 of Shelldon with Channel 3 by the end of next year and will expand to launch short video clips on mobile phones, which will be promoted over social networks, to generate extra revenue.
Despite the fame of its flagship show, Shellhut is not a big team, with just 20 employees covering the core work and production and distribution being outsourced.
Dr Jirayuth espoused the value of not trying to do everything in-house so as to cut costs, because the long-term strategy must be taken into consideration; in other words, one must think of the animation's potential as a package - not just as a TV series but also as an opportunity to produce spin-off films, games, merchandise, and so on. The more diverse the markets an animation can be applied to, the greater the chance of success.
Different levels in the global market
Sopita Thammasungkeeti, Managing Director at HomeRun Entertainment, which produces the 4 Angies and Dogga Doop cartoons, said international buyers are looking at a combination of quality, medium and value, so producers should not imagine that only high-cost animations will sell.
She added that animation sellers can be divided into those who offer a complete product package and those which co-produce or outsource aspects of their work.
HomeRun Entertainment has already sold broadcasting and download licenses in India and a number of Middle Eastern countries and is in negotiations with 10 other nations, including China, Malaysia, Italy and several in Latin America.
Sopita suggested that the Thai market can gain strength if various animation companies can team up and offer their productions as a package to international buyers, rather than negotiating for individual companies or shows.
Furthermore, she suggested all Thai animation companies could come under the umbrella of the Thai Animation and Computer Graphics Association, or Tacga, which could serve as the initial contact point for the international market.
Kriengkrai Supornsahasrungsi, General Manager of Imagimax Studio, said the company has already signed a co-production agreement with Elite Animation in Malaysia for a project worth 100 million baht.
This is the first time that Imagimax has built it own intellectual property from scratch, having previously focused on outsourcing because of limitations in budget and experience over the past ten years.
"Continuity in the animation market helps to build trust,while network connections and familiar faces help buyers to feel more confident," he said.
Pre-teens a growing market
Tiga managing director Sittichai Rujipasakul said demand for animation is quite high in the world market, especially among pre-schoolers, and medium-price work (which costs 2-5 million baht) may be ideal for Thailand to sell overseas.
The selling price, though, will differ country by country. Tiga has signed contracts with India and several countries in the Middle East and Europe.
Sittichai said it is important for animators to gain an understanding of their target buyers before a trade show, and for all potential leads to be followed up afterwards.
"In the past, Tiga has focused on importing copyright licenses, but is now building Thai cartoons for domestic broadcast on Channel 7 and ThaiPBS and expects to enter a fully international market this year," said Sittichai.
Umparin Boonsinsuk, Marketing Director at Byte in a Cup, which owns licensing and merchandise rights for The Salads, said the characters were designed for pre-teen viewers.
Pre-teens are keen consumers of merchandise, which generates a lot of interest in the foreign market, said Umparin.
Dawadee Charnpanichkarn, Managing Director at Urbanice, which is a representative production house, said many Thai production studios are not keen on marketing, so his company decide to enter into that side of the business.
The company presents a portion of the work at the pre-sale stage, an approach which secured a co-production deal for Ampawa, an animated film by Beboyd CG which has garnered interest from Toon Zoon in the US, which will be responsible for the script, and Fast Media Connection in China, which will co-produce with the Thai arm. The project is worth around 3 million US or 100 million baht.
There are three levels of audience for animations, ranging from pre-schoolers aged two to three years old, older pre-teens, and teenagers not over 18 years. So the market needs a variety of content across different formats and channel such as TV, film, game, mobile, and so on.
There are also niche markets. For example, dark cartoons for the adult market are of interest to countries which have specified channels and timeslots to broadcast such content.
Dawadee has also noticed that in the animation market, the buyer is less concerned about the impact of politics in Thailand - they are only interested in whether the quality and content of Thai animation fits their needs.
For example, Middle Eastern buyers ask for lots of volume at value price due to those countries having more consumer variety in terms of content and channels, while China is asking for more fresh original contents.
Asia the rising animation star
Sipa International Marketing Manager Dr Piangpen Toommanon said Asian animation is growing well because the economic recession in the US and Europe is leading buyers to look into alternative producers with lower costs. Japan, which has traditionally dominated the industry, is also facing higher costs, making it less attractive.
In 2010, Thailand's animation industry expects to be worth 14.2 billion baht, up from last year's value of 13.1 billion baht, and aims to export over 28 percent of its productions.
The agency will receive less budget this fiscal year, but it retains trade delegates and will focus on targeting export or co-production markets as it is considered that Asian animation is experiencing a boom time and Thailand should not miss the opportunity.