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Tuning In: Capitalizing on Different Media for Success in Asian Animation

With Asia being the hotspot for the world's animation both in terms of output and consumption, reaching a wider and more diverse audience through different media has never been more relevant. Two keynote speakers and a panel of four animation experts gave their views on where cartoons are going in Asia at the Hong Kong Filmart's Seminar on the Asian Animation Industry, entitled "The Global Development of Media Convergences and its Impacts on Asian Animation: Opportunities and Challenges" held on the morning of 21 March.

Leading the discussions was keynote speaker Mr Sander Schwartz, President of Warner Bros. Animation from the United States. Warner Bros. has achieved global success with its timeless collection of characters and the best part is that, unlike live actors, they don't age and don't complain about the quality of their scripts. Although the company has produced some films using CGI, he did not anticipate the technique ever displacing conventional 2D animation. "Asia has some of the best animation in the world and the world wants to see it," he said. "Animation travels better than any other form of entertainment."

Instead of products with a quick payoff, however, Mr Schwartz believed that animation's longevity is suitable for characters and stories with a 'long tail'. For example, he cited Fantasia, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Star Trek as products that performed poorly when first released, but had slowly built a cult following over time to eventually generate big business. "The long tail can be powered by the Internet," he explained. "There is increased accessibility to content. There is infinite shelf space, and affordable distribution." He stressed that the keys to success were a quest for quality, unique characters, creative distribution such as using licensing and merchandising as marketing tools, and concentration on good writing.

The second keynote speaker was Ms Wang Dan Yan, the Deputy Director-General of the General Editorial Office for the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television (SARFT) from mainland China. She believed that China's animation industry was at crossroads right now, and that cooperation between different forms of media was a global trend that should be exploited more. "Animation has an eight year history in Chinese broadcasting," she said. "It has successfully absorbed new technology and is moving towards globalization. The industry is entering into a new phase and expanding to encompass merchandising as well."

The government is providing a favourable and agreeable environment for animation with recommendations to support SMEs, tax incentives and training for talent. For example, the industry in Huangzhou offers a special fund of RMB$1,000 for every one minute of animation produced; if the program is broadcasted by CCTV, the funding is even higher. Huangzhou has been very active in promoting animation, and held its first animation festival last June. With over 200 different animation programs on the air all over China today, television stations are encouraged to broadcast animation with additional commercial time incentives. In addition, television and mobile phone animation is a new way for different media to collaborate. "Whoever is able to move quickly with lessons learnt will succeed in this industry," Ms Wang added. "The bottom line is that after the past year and a half of hard work, China's animation industry is poised to enter a new era."

Following the two keynote speakers, Mr Harris Tulchin moderated a panel of four mainland China and Hong Kong-based speakers on the animation industry as they saw it today. An entertainment, communications and multimedia lawyer, he was excited by what he currently saw in the Asian animation industry. The first to voice his views was Mr Y.T. Chin, the Chairman of Asia Animation, a one-stop shop that provided production, distribution, promotion and derived merchandise. He hoped that China could produce more original animation instead just working on finishing foreign products. "There is less profit, and in the end, the animation is the property of others," he said. He believed that animation needs a lot of nurturing in China, and cooperation with other Chinese partners is critical, and must be kept transparent, fair and just.

Ms Chen Wen, the General Director, Toonmax TV of Shanghai Media Group, said that her company currently had 13 television and 11 radio channels targeting audiences across all age groups. "Our productions are of a very high quality and represents China at an international level of standards," she said. Meanwhile, Thomas Gray is the CEO of Imagi International Holdings, an American company with a Hong Kong studio that specializes in productions with a previous track record, such as an animated version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from live action. "China will be one of the biggest resources for talent in the future," he said. "The work ethic here is second to none." Lastly, Mr Jin Guo Ping is the Chairman of the Board for IDMT, a Shenzhen subsidiary of a Hong Kong company that specializes in 3D productions. Involved in training, productions and digital broadcasting equipment, he is optimistic about the market in China. "Lots of people are fond of animation in China, and we are starting to see original stories developing," he said.

For press enquiries, please contact Ms Rochelle Lewis at 2584 4403.

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