This kinda got lost in the “from the internets” post yesterday, but I think it merits a second look. The Case for Kids Programming: Children’s and Youth Screen-Based Production in Canada – 2009 was released this week, a study commisioned jointly by the Canadian Film and Televison Production Association , the Shaw Rocket Fund and The Alliance for Children and Television. In it we are shown some stats regarding our industry.
Here are the bullet points indicated in the article I read (I haven’t yet read the whole report):
Children’s and youth audio-visual production peaked at $389 million in 1999/00, and declined in the following years to a ten-year low of $257 million by 2007/08. That’s a drop of 138 million in 8 years. Between 1998/99 and 2007/08, the average half-hour budget of a Canadian television production in the children’s and youth genre dropped by 14%, from $275,000 to $236,000. To be internationally competitive, budgets need to be in the range of $300,000 to $350,000. So, in almost the same period of time, the average udget of a production dropped by $39 000. They’re also telling us that most shows being produced outside of Canada fall in the 300 to 350K range and that we can’t be competitive unless we’re spending the same dough (although that last bit may be editorialising on behalf of the writer of the article).
And, on to of that, direct public funding for children’s and youth production dropped to only $87 million in 2007/08, the lowest level in ten years. BDUs and private sector sources partially filled the breach, however the study says policy makers need to invest more in this genre to remain viable in the global multi-platform world. So, out of the 257 million spent, 87 was directly public funding. Leaving 170 million of that production dough coming form other sources. I’d be curious to see how that figure breaks down. How much of that is license fees? DO license fees from the CBC or provincial broadcasters like TVO count as public funds?
Now, here’s where I chime in. Ok, I’m not happy to see less money being spent. Sure, I’m with you there. And yeah, I’ve seen the quality of programming fall in some cases where budgets have dropped. But really, is Caillou, done in Flash, for 40K less per episode, any worse or better that Caillou pre-Flash? I think it’s more about where the money is spent. I just saw a pilot for an animated series, fully-animated, in Flash, by a ridiculously small crew, for a ridiculously low budget. You know what? Best piece of animation made for television that I’ve seen come out of Canada in years. Budget had nothing to do with it. The people involved, the production model, this made the show what it was. And those involved were paid properly for their efforts.
To be fair, there’s a disparity here between the drop in budgets and the drop in money being spent on production. 14% less for the budgers, while around 34% less being spent overall. Does that mean that buyers just aren’t buying as much kids programming? Are less shows being made? That would seem to be the idea. But the fact is, our shows remain competitiv, regardless of budget. Canadian productions are getting picked up all over the world, we see that every wek when another studio announces another sale. The Total Drama franchise is huge in the US.
But yes, our industry is hurting, the numbers are down. But don’t lose faith. Make good programming and people will notice. I know a producer who has a show he wants to pitch. It’s his show, so if it hits, he stands to make some serious coin. He makes a good wage now, but intelectual property is like real estate, and he knows it. Now, he’s been hesitating to go ahead with it. He has some artwork by a specific director, but what he really needs is a few minutes of animation, a mini-pilot, to sell this thing properly. But he doesn’t have the budget to pay for it. Now, he already got this talented fellow to do some art, and the producer is not one of these folks who will keep asking you to work for free. So he’s stuck. He could go to a studio he has a relationship with and they could fire something out. He could sell it, pocket some cash and get a season of it on the air. But this fellow undrstands that he needs to pair the right people with the right project. He wants this director, because with him at the helm, he could have a bonafide hit. He understands talent and is not interested in poluting the airwaves with just another half hour of animated programming. So, for lesss money, better spent on the right people, he’s willing to wait. He’s taking a responsible attitude about his creative property.
What this has to do with dwindling budgets is tangential at best, I’ve just had production models on my mind lately.
In a nutshell: Lower budges suck, but are not a scapegoat for lower quality. Canadian programming still competitive. Spend your money well. Make good cartoons.