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Terry Thoren • Vibrant Animation
The new key players in American market

by 

Copyright Cartoon, the European Association of Animation Film Cartoon Master Postdam, Germany, November 2005

Terry Thoren is CEO/President of Vibrant Animation, a leading, diversified, global entertainment company developing and producing high-quality feature films, television series, web episodes, mobile phone downloads and DVDs in all genres in animation. Formerly Thoren was Chief Executive Officer of Klasky Csupo for 11 years.

Do you think today animation is too violent?

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Yes, I see violent images in animation films these days. I think we, as producers, have a responsibility about what we put in films because animation is able to communicate with all cultures and all age-groups around the world. The message we convey with our content is incredibly important. I remember one evening when my children were little after telling them a goodnight story, I turned off all the lights and played a beautiful piece of work by Tchaikovsky and I asked each child to give me their vision of what they saw when they heard the music. I surprised to hear them say “I see a bunny rabbit and its jumping out of the bushes and I see a commando. And the commando blows the bunny rabbit’s head off and the bunny rabbit runs without a head into the stream and the commando come and blows it up again”. I was thinking maybe Bambi coming down to the stream, girl Bambi meets boy Bambi… That was eighteen years ago. Imagine these kids growing up today with video games and all the images of people killed in video games.

What are the most successful animated films in US?

The following tables give a brief presentation of the theatrical film market in the USA:

3 Animated Films Released in 2003 :

7 Animated Films Released in 2004:

7 Animated films released in 2005

How do you split the audience?

There are four quadrants: 0-12, 12-18, 18-35, 35 and older. When you make a film in America, like the Incredibles, Finding Nemo etc, you are looking to hit all four quadrants of your audience. And that’s why films like the Incredibles and Monster Inc do so well: it’s not just parents taking their children to the movie theatre at the weekend, it’s also a dating crowd on a Friday and Saturday night and senior citizens because they are universal experiences. Some films like Brother Bear aim at two quadrants and gross 50-80 million or less. The highest grossing movie of all time was Shrek 2 and it was animated. The trick was they marketed it as a movie first, it happened to be animated but they sold it as a movie.
It’s not easy year after year to produce successes like the Incredibles, Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo. It doesn’t mean that every animated movie that hits all four quadrants will be a huge success. It’s all about the script, about the characters.
Some films coming in 2006 are a new Ice Age, Disney will do Fantasia, Dreamworks will do Flushed Away and Over the hedge. Fox has Yankee Irving, Paramount has a CGI Barnyard. Pixar moved Cars to next summer to get more matinees.

How many animated films are produced by majors and how many by independents?

There aren’t many by independents, it’s dominated by the majors and distributed by the majors. There is no system any more for independent distributors. There are some independent films which will be released next year.

How important is the release date?

It is critical. You have to secure theatrical distribution. Choosing a good play-date is very important. Animation is very play-date sensitive. But there are other windows where you can sneak up on the majors and still get a good piece of the market share.
It’s about expanded film promotions and cross promotional tie-ins. It is important to maximise all digital media. Tie-ins, like the Burger kings. How you align yourself with your cross promotional tie-ins also says what your movie is. Sometimes it is better not to have the tie-in. Stand out in the crowd.

How the family entertainment market changed?

The family entertainment market has seen huge changes. In the US, DVDs are huge. Within the next 18 months, the movie release, the DVD release and the VOD release will all happen on the same day. Most theatres that do well will be destination theatres, they will have a restaurant and café. State of the art surround-sound, 3d projection, and there is a new technology coming out called 4D. Soon it will be interactive, with a sensor you will decide if the hero lives or dies.
One of the great strengths of family movies is that they can be distributed in a wide and growing array of markets including theatrical, DVD sell through, broadcast television, cable and video-on-demand (VOD) pay TV, international markets, and emerging markets.
The many markets available provide unprecedented opportunities and flexibility for the carefully nurtured release of family films.
These factors have combined to create significant business opportunities for new animation feature films and continues the recent trend of the strongest market segments being the family entertainment areas, especially for home DVD sell-through and international distribution. In addition, family films have strong ancillary markets that are not generally open to non-family films.
Films considered family entertainment have always been a reliable and consistent segment of the overall entertainment market. According to Michael Medved in his book “Hollywood vs. America”, films rated G, PG or PG-13 have significantly outperformed “R” rated films in terms of box office. They also generally have more merchandising opportunities. From 1996 to 2004, the average per film domestic box office gross for each rating classification was as follows:

    Rating Gross
  • G $75.3 million
  • PG $60.0 million
  • PG-13 $50.3 million
  • R $30.3 million

G rated movies (all audiences) are the most successful. Average gross is 75 million and the average gross for an R (some nudity and violence) is 30 million. G rated films are more likely to succeed on sell-through. Kids will watch a G rated movie again and again.
In the summer 2005 everything was a sequel or from a TV show. Hollywood executives are protecting themselves.

How is the reality of the American industry Box Office?

American domestic theatrical admissions have held steady at approximately 1 billion per year for the past two decades. In the most recent full year of 2004, domestic box office receipts reached a new all-time high of $9.4 billion, up 74% from the box office levels of ten years ago in 1994. In 2004 the top movie was the animated film Shrek 2 which generated over $440 million in domestic box office alone, in addition to significant overseas box office revenue and merchandising revenue for this property.
So far in 2005, worldwide home DVD and box office revenues accounted for an estimated 58% and 28%, respectively of the worldwide feature film revenues, with home DVD (rentals and sales) continuing to increase its percentage share. The remainder was represented by television sales (19%), including pay-TV and pay-per-view TV, theatrical sales to the syndication market, and other smaller markets that represented less than 5%.

How big I the DVD market?

80% of all US households own DVD players. Movies account for 90% of DVD sales and rentals, totaling $8.6 billion in 2004 alone. DVD sales have become a critical element to the profitability of films. The annual sales leaders are usually family oriented films, with animation companies leading the way. For example, it is estimated the domestic operating profit contribution to DreamWorks from the 12 million “Shrek 2” DVDs shipped thus far is approximately $443 million, with expectations of $300 million in profit from the international market.
The next generation will be hard drives. It’s happening fast, hard drives will be sitting next to your TV set. All the content will be controlled by the Yahoos and the AOLs etc, they will be the new means of distribution.
Advertising and promotion of a theatrical release is the key element for a DVD success. More and more, the theatrical release of an animated movie is an advertisement to drive all the other media. Positioning and running the four page ads and doing your publicity, drives your merchandising, your licensing, video games, the chance of a TV spin-off, all comes from the theatrical platform. For quality animated features, the global DVD and ancillary markets are so valuable that a wide theatrical release on 2500+ screens requires a large theatrical advertising budget in the $35 to $50 million range.
A movie made in three years time, the way it will be released will be completely different. But it’s still about the script, the character design, the quality of the writing.

How big I the TV and cable market?

Cable television now accounts for about 50% of American consumer spending for visual entertainment. Approximately 60.5 million American households subscribe to cable TV. Digital cable provides hundreds of channels, many of which provide 24 hours children’s animated programming, among them Nickelodeon, The Cartoon Network, The Disney Channel, Toon Disney, ABC Family Channel, Boomerang, PBS Kids, Nicktoons, and Nick Jr. Cable TV continues to grow.
Pay-Per-View (“PPV”) is the exhibition of movies and events to individual cable subscribers on demand, on a “pay-per-view” basis. Pay per view is the future in homes. And networks control a shrinking proportion of TV. They are no longer the power base. While previously attracting only a fraction of home DVD spending, PPV is fast rising to become an important digital market. Since families are the most likely consumers to stay at home for entertainment, this trend bodes well for family films.
Broadcast networks control a shrinking portion of television market share, but their purchase of first-run films continues to be strong, and “first time on broadcast TV” can still be an influential advertising hook. Syndication has become a major force in broadcast revenues. Syndication is a particularly lucrative market for commercial characters established in other mediums. Characters like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Rugrats have made the leap to superstardom through syndicated television, and revenues from syndication alone can be substantial.

How important are the international markets for US films?

International markets are a growing source of revenue for American productions. Currently, revenues from international markets represent approximately 26% of all revenues for American films. The number of broadcast TV stations in many overseas countries rose sharply in the last twenty years, due mainly to relaxed government controls of broadcast systems. The multiplex theater boom has also extended worldwide, increasing demand for product in general and American films in particular. DVD sales remain strong overseas, especially where cable or satellite TV has been slow to arrive.
The universal appeal of animated films gives them an advantage in international markets. Animated characters cross cultural boundaries far more easily than human characters with fewer problems in dubbing and other technical issues. The emergence of Eastern Europe, Russia, India and China as potential markets represents vast new audiences for entertainment.
Re-releases of animated films have emerged as a potential source of significant revenue. Since 1986, re-release of classic Disney films have generated in excess of $400 million in domestic box office revenues. DVD sales of re-released classics also benefit from the awareness generated by the advertising campaign to support the theatrical re-release.
Animation is more likely to be re-released on DVD than live action. Like Fantasia. They have longevity. Ancillary opportunities are better than live action.

Do European animated features have a chance to penetrate the American market and what would be the conditions?

Yes, European animated features do have a chance to penetrate the American market as long as they remain in tune with the American audience.
Some example films are Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit, Valiant and the upcoming Weinstein Media film Hoodwinked.
It’s all about story, story, story and characters, characters, characters!!!

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