Monday, October 5, 2009

The value of your work...

Oh they love stirring the shit over at Cartoon Brew. Recently, Amid posted his thoughts on Frederator finally paying for animation videos to be shown online (or indeed anywhere else they choose, such are the terms). Kudos to both Cartoon Brew and Frederator for paying at all.

Because, for the most part, our work is worth nothing. Not a thing.

Short films don't make money. $50 can at least buy a few beers to make up for that year of hard labour. People say they bring exposure, and that can be true, but then what?

One major thing people don't seem to realise is just how little broadcast television makes. Let's say you got a show off the ground and made it entirely yourself. What is the value of your work?


Or, quite possibly, somewhere in the negative.

It's different for every channel of course. I've seen some broadcasters in the world pay around $500 for a 26+ episode series. Sometimes, it may go into 4-figures. That's pretty cool, eh? You could sell it to almost every territory on the planet at that price and not make back the production costs. But that's at least some value.

Some channels pay nothing.

If I remember correctly, Treehouse usually pay nothing for show and expect to share in merchandise rights. Recently some UK satellite dedicated children's channels have been offered money to air shows. I don't know yet if any have been aired on that basis but I imagine it's not an uncommon scenario.

So the distributors of the show actually pay the broadcasters, who are swimming in ad revenue. It's a win-win situation for the broadcaster.

But is it a win for anyone else?

It puts the value of series work in the negative.

It also reinforces, as you can see from that Treehouse deal, that the only way to actually make money from broadcast children's shows is in the merchandising. Which means that the shows are, in effect, advertisements. Just like advertisements, broadcasters are paid to air them and they are designed with a single purpose in mind - to sell products. To you and your children.

This is nothing new, of course. We grew up with glorified ads like He-Man and the like. It wasn't so bad in the preschool end back then. Now, the youngest of children, right down to babies, are being targeted. Oh, and it's worth a mention that every study on the planet shows that television viewing under the age of two has a detrimental effect on the child's development. Nevertheless, there are dedicated producers of content for babies. Trying to sell product, like everyone else.

I've just started David B. Levy's book, Animation Development, From Pitch to Production. So far, it seems really good. But it seems to take 193 pages, whereas I can give you the best pitch advice in one sentence - create toys and give the broadcasters your merchandising rights.

That's what it comes down to.

So the value of actual show creation? Providing entertainment that is good for children? Well, that's worth nothing. Sometimes less than nothing. But create a good toy line and extended ads? That's where the money the is.

Something doesn't quite sit right with me about that. I think it comes down to what I said a long time ago on this blog and it seems appropriate once more -

If you do not have the best interests of children at heart, you should not be in this business.


Red Pill Junkie said...

What's the solution, then? To try to do what that Veggie Tales dude was aiming for —having your own distribution channel?

Bitter Animator said...

I don't know that there is a solution at this stage. This is money. It's the way the world runs.

Alternative distribution is an option but whatever channel you go through is unlikely to get noticed, being dominated by the Nicks and so on. And, because this situation has set the value of television product in minus figures, actually getting stuff made in the first place is only possible through public funding.

And maybe that's one way of at least putting a dent in things - better funding schemes for local product that is relevant to their audience and aren't just some thinly veiled ads.

There has been legislation in some countries limiting the amount of advertising to children, which I think is great, but that also contributes to the problem in a way because broadcasters can't make as much money with ad revenue. Hence toy ads being dressed up as shows that pay to air.

A complete shift to DVD, direct digital distribution and pay to view methods would be a positive thing because it would mean the audience (parents) would be paying for the actual product their children enjoy, rather than it being up to ad revenue or merchandising to make the money. For people to actually pay for what they watch would completely change the rules.

But, with generations of ad-subsidised 'free' television and now with piracy being so rampant as to have created the perception that entertainment has no value, I think that's too big a shift to hope for.

I don't know what the solution is. I'm not sure there is one.