Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Middle Kingdom Marches On

The trade press informs us:

... In its latest foray into the fast-growing Chinese entertainment sector, the film unit of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has partnered with upstart animation studio Light Chaser Animation to co-finance and distribute its debut film, Little Door Gods.

Light Chaser was launched in Beijing in March 2013 by Gary Wang, founder of Tudou.com, which was bought by rival Internet video company Youku.com in a $1 billion stock deal in 2012. Wang has said his ambition for the company is for it to be China's answer to Pixar – a boutique studio "creating world-class animated films with a Chinese cultural touch."

Inspired by Chinese folklore, Little Door Gods tells the story of two guardian spirits who return to the human world to stir up some fun trouble and bring modern non-believers back to the old ways. Although the budget was not revealed in Tuesday's statement, estimates ranged from $15-$30 million when Light Chaser was pitching the project earlier this year. The film was completed in August and will be released in China on January 1, 2016. ...

China has made progress in creating animated features that the Chinese movie-going public wants to see. But the question, "Can China make features that a world audience will love?" remains an open one.

If Light Chaser aspires to be "China's answer to Pixar," then Light Chaser better have its own John Lasseter (or Walt Disney?) on tap. Because it's not enough to own a studio. You need to have a Top Kick who knows how to make audience-pleasing movies. So good luck with that.

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The Job Action Thing

Apparently the subject of a possible contract strike two years hence is coming up in current WGAw elections:

When the WGA’s current contract expires in May 2017, it will have been almost 10 years since writers last struck the film and TV industry. Negotiations for a new contract won’t start for another 18 months, but the topic is taking center stage in the the guild’s ongoing officer and board elections as those elected will represent film and TV writers in the upcoming negotiations with producers. Gearing up for tough talks, WGA candidates are already talking about the need for a “viable strike threat.”

Incumbent board candidate Patric Veronne, who as president led the guild’s last strike, wrote in his campaign statement that the guild should start preparing now for another walkout in 2017. “Leverage in collective bargaining,” he wrote, “is most effectively built through the careful development of a viable strike threat, applied by a thoughtful and strategic board of directors. Thus, this should be the focus of, and the most important work to be performed by, the board you select in this election.” ...

Strikes have their uses, but they are always a double-edged sword.

When the Animation Guild was wrestling with the AMPTP in contract negotiations three years ago, we held a meeting that had 250 members in attendance. There was a lot of discussion about what strategies to take, and the subject of a labor strike was bandied about. Some dual card holders (WGAw and TAG) spoke at length about the 2007 WGA strike, and how they didn't think it had gained, after all the dust had settled, live-action writers a whole hell of a lot.

I participated in the 2007-2008 WGA strike a bit, walking the picket line in front of Universal on multiple days, but I'll be frank. I didn't have skin in the game, I was just a body on the picket line, helping out.

For the folks who did have an investment, certainly the ones I've talked to, there's divided opinions on how worthwhile it all was. My opinion is, the strike was helpful in getting New Media under union jurisdiction, even though the studios used the strike to roll back over-scale deals. And even though the Directors Guild of America rolled in during the writers' strike and pretty much set the template for the side letters for SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) that followed.

Still in all, I can see where the Writers Guild is going with this; New Media has played a larger and larger role in the way the public receives its movies and tv shows, and the day will come when the DGA, WGA, SAG-AFTRA and IATSE demand that "New Media" has wage parity with all the other delivery pipelines. A strike might well be the only way to ultimately get it.


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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Marvel Two-Step

Micro-managers sometimes wear out their welcome.

After what one source describes as "several years of frustration," Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has pulled off a reorganization of the vaunted film company that has him reporting to Disney studio chief Alan Horn as opposed to the infamously micromanaging Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter.

Feige, the architect of Marvel's transition from a flailing comic book company into a film powerhouse that was sold to Disney for $4 billion in 2009, is said to have vented his unhappiness to Horn and Disney CEO Bob Iger earlier this summer. The reorganization was put into effect last week, according to sources.

I hear tell that Mr. Perlmutter is a wee bit difficult to deal with. And now it appears that Kevin Feige has appealed to a higher power. Or two.

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The Animated Productions Among Us

Add On: Kindly note that this post is being continuously updated as studios call and members weigh in down below in comments.

From time to time we put up a roster of teevee shows and theatrical features being made in the Southern California area of Cartoonland. We try to be reasonably comprehensive, but we're constrained by

1) A reluctance to list stuff that hasn't been announced (although we screw up), and

2) A lack of total knowledge.

Feel free to chime in with things we've missed. And be aware that we might be taking things down as we get e-mails and phone calls from studios that don't want something up on this part of the internet, even though the offending titles are up on other sections of the internet. (There are very few secrets). ...

LOS ANGELES PRODUCTION WORK

Bento Box

Legends – multi episodes
Bob’s Burgers – multi episodes ...

Cartoon Network

Power Puff Girls – multi episodes
Ben 10 – multi episodes
(Above shows = high international demand.)

Regular Show – multi episodes
Adventure Time -- multi episodes
Stephen Universe – multi episodes
Clarence – multi episodes
Royals – multi episodes
Uncle Grandpa – multi episodes
(Additional unannounced shows in development for multiple distribution platforms.)

Cosmic Toast (non-signator)

La la Loopsy – multi episodes

Disney Television Animation

Star Vs. Forces of Evil – multi episodes
Mickey shorts – ongoing.
Mickey and the Roadster Racers (CG show) – multi episodes
Tangled – multi episodes
The Lion Guard – multi episodes
The 7D -- multi-episodes
Unannounced fairy tale -- development
Pickle And Peanut – multi episodes
Future-Worm! – multi episodes
Duck Tales – multi episodes
Billy Dilley's Super Duper Subterranean Summer – multi episodes
Wicked World – multi episodes
Sophia the First – multi episodes
Puppy Papers – multi episodes
Elena of Avalor – multi episodes

(Wrapping things up (so far as we know): Wander Over Yonder; Gravity Falls; Penn Zero)

DreamWorks Animation

Kung Fu Panda 3
Trolls
Puss in Boots 2


(Other jams and jellies in development).

DreamWorks Animation TV

Croods – multi episodes
Vegie Tales – multi episodes
Peabody and Sherman – multi episodes
King Julien – multi episodes
Dinotrux – multi episodes
Puss in Boots – multi episodes
Unannounced projects – multi episodes
Dragons of Berk – multi episodes

Film Roman – Starz

Spiderman – multi episodes
Mega Man
Simpsons – multi episodes

Fox TV Animation

Family Guy – multi episodes
American Dad – multi episodes

Hasbro

Rescue Bots – multi episodes
Transformers: Robots in Disguise
Micronauts (2D series)

Illumination Entertainment

Some feature story work done in L.A.; production at the MacGuff studios in Paris.

Marvel Animation Studios

Newer Super Hero project
Avengers Assemble – multi episodes
Guardians of the Galaxy – multi episodes

Nickelodeon

Pinky Malinky
Shimmer and Shine
Pig, Goat, Banana, Cricket
Loud House
Harvey Beaks
Sanjay and Craig
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Breadwinners
Spongebob Squarepants
Fairly Odd Parents

(The above are multi-episoded, in various stages of work.)

Paramount Animation

Multiple Feature Projects in Development

Six Point Harness (non-signator)

Hollow Gauntlet

Shadow Machine (non-signator)

Bojack – multi episodes

Sony Pictures Animation

Smurfs
Medusa
Superbago
Emoji


(There are various projects in and out of work at SPA. Popeye, for instance, has been on and off, on and off. Don't know where the switch position for that project is right now. And please note that Sony Imageworks, SPA's production arm, departed the Culver City campus for the Free Money in Vancouver a couple of years ago. The Sony Imageworks campus in CC now houses pre-production only.)

Starburns Industries

Rick and Morty – multi episodes
Animals – multi episodes

Stoopid Buddy Stoodios (non-signator)

Robot Chicken
Bratz
Lego Scooby Doo
WWE Slam City


Titmouse* (Robin Red Breast)

TurboFast – wrapping 2nd season
Fancy Bastards – pilot (waiting series pickup)

Universal Cartoon Studios

Land Before Time
Alvin and the Chipmunks


Walt Disney Animation Studios

Moana
Gigantic
Frozen 2
Wreck-It Ralph 2


Warner Animation Group

Ninjago
Lego Batman
Lego 2
Billion Brick Race

(and various)

Warner Bros. Animation

Scooby Doo Wild West
WWE Meets Jetsons
Wabbit
– wrapping up
Bunnicula – multi episodes
Justice League Action – multi episodes
Mike Tyson Mysteries – multi episodes
Teen Titans Go! – multi episodes
DC Girls (online show)
Green Eggs and Ham (online show)
(Unannounced shows in development.)

Wild Canary

Miles From Tomorrowland
Sheriff Callie


And of course there are various non-signator* studios out there: Moonscoop, Renegade, ADHD, Rough Draft, etc. If you know what's going on in these places, feel free to comment. (As we said up above, we are only semi-comprehensive.)

Add On: We've already made some corrections to the above, adding a show and dropping a show. We'll note what's said in comments -- most TV work in Southern California encompasses pre-production (writing, designing, storyboarding, animatics) and post-production (editing, sound, etc.) Production work is (mostly done somewhere else, but a few shows have been known to do some production work in L.A. Disney features are largely produced in Burbank-Glendale-L.A., while DreamWorks Animation (feature) outsources some work while still doing a sizeable chunk of production in Glendale.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

An Over-Abundance of Free Money?

Some people across the pond, they aren't too happy.

... A report disclosed that more than 50 European Union grants were handed out to media production companies making documentaries, films and even cartoons – including some with a slant that promoted the work of the EU.

Projects funded by the Creative Europe initiative, backed by the European Commission, included a film about a climate change activist and an animated series about alien squirrels. ....

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers Alliance, said: “Another day, another prime piece of evidence that Brussels bureaucrats simply do not understand the value of taxpayers’ money.

"Considering the myriad problems facing the European Union, you would think they'd have something better to do than subsidize cartoons about extra-terrestrial squirrels," Isaby said. “Blowing more than a million pounds on grants to fanciful animated adventures, pro-European mockumentaries with B-list celebrities, is totally inappropriate and, frankly, contemptible." ...

Contemptible, you say? So, like, what's wrong with alien squirrels? ...

But actually, my blood is boiling. When the government gets into the habit of showering free money on private companies, it's usually the taxpayer that gets hosed.

I mean, it's one thing to spend billions on behalf of the wealthy owners of professional sports teams, building fancy new stadiums so that the Haves can have more, but come on already. That's big league sports for Gawd sakes! And totally deserving of our tax dollars.

But why are a bunch of garlic eaters subsidizing cartoons? Isn't that communistic?

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International Box Office

Pure animation is somewhat less dominant this week, but there remains plenty of hybrid candidates.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)>

Terminator Genisys -- $23,600,000 -- ($409,294,045)

Minions -- $14,900,000 -- ($1,018,900,000)

Inside Out -- $10,900,000 -- ($715,625,000)

Ted 2 -- $9,300,000 -- ($190,200,000)

Fantastic Four -- $6,800,000 -- ($144,463,098)

Jurassic World -- $3,900,000 -- ($1,636,700,000)

Pixels -- $5,200,000 -- ($184,234,964)

Ant-Man -- $1,500,000 -- ($368,986,000)

Monster Hunt -- $4,500,000 -- ($375,000,000) ...

The trades tell us:

... With a global cume through Sunday of $409.5M, the latest pic in the Terminator franchise is benefitting from a strong China run. ... [and] now has an $82.8M cume there. The weekend was worth $23.6M in total with $23.4M from China. ...

Minions, which marched past $1B last week, was given a hearty buongiorno in Italy where it bowed No. 1 with a huge $8.5M to become the biggest opening weekend for an animated film ever in that market where it has a 77% share. ... That brings the cume overseas to $694.1M. Combined with the U.S. total of $324.8M, the worldwide cume is $1.02B. In other milestones, Minions overtook Ice Age: Dawn Of Dinosaurs’ $690M yesterday to become the 3rd-highest-grossing animated film of all time internationally. ...

[Inside Out] crossed $700M during the past week worldwide and added Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Singapore to the toon’s territories this frame. With $10.9M more from international play, its global total is now $715.63M after 11 weekends. ...

Ted 2 grossed $4.7M at No. 2 (behind Universal’s own Jurassic World) and 9% above Ted. In Mexico, it was No. 1 with $1.8M. The total weekend dowry is $9.3M in 45 territories for a $109M cume. ...

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Show Creator's Auction

Sam Simon, one of the godfathers of The SImpsons, who passed away last Spring, will be raising money with his art pieces:

... Auction house Sotheby's is planning to sell memorabilia and fine art from the collection of the late Sam Simon, one of the most influential creative forces in modern television. Simon, who died from colon cancer in March, was best known as co-creator of the Fox animated comedy, "The Simpsons," the longest-running sitcom in American television.

The wide-ranging collection of vintage pop-culture memorabilia includes a signed poster promoting the 1974 Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight. That work carries a pre-sale estimate of $1,500 to $2,000. Sotheby's estimates the total sale will bring in upward of $10 million. ...

The centerpiece of the sale is a painting by American muralist Thomas Hart Benton, entitled T.P. and Jake, depicting a young boy and his pet dog. The work is expected to raise $2.5 million.

"Each piece in Sam Simon's collection embodies a central theme: The ability of art to tell a story," said Andrea Fiuczynski, Chair of Sotheby's West Coast. ...

Mr. Simon made a LOT of money from the success of The Simpsons. What's staggering to think about is Mr. Simon's ex-sive is a millionaire because of a divorce settlement that gave her a slice of Sam Simon's Yellow Family earnings.

The auction should be worth attending.

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Shorter Jurassic World




Never saw the big screen original, so I do hope that this covers the major plot points.

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The Weekend Steeple Chase

For the first time in a long while, no animated feature graces to Top Ten.

WEEKEND DOMESTIC BOX OFFICE

1) Straight Outta Compton (UNI), 3,142 theaters (+117) / $3.85M Fri. (-53%) / 3-day cume: $12.59M (-52%)/Total cume: $133.48M/ Wk 3

2). War Room (Affirm/Sony), 1,135 theaters / $3.87M Fri.*/ 3-day cume: $10.2M / Wk 1
*includes $600K of Thursday previews

3). No Escape (TWC), 3,355 theaters / $2.41M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.61M / Total cume: $9.68M /Wk 1

4). Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (PAR), 3,095 theaters (-347) / $2.18M Fri. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $7.58M(-34%)/ Total Cume: $169.7/ Wk 5

5). Man From U.N.C.L.E (WB), 2,706 theaters (-967) / $1.24M Fri. (-44%)/ 3-day cume: $4.2M (-42%)/Total cume: $33.9M/ Wk 3

6). Sinister 2 (Gramercy/Focus), 2,799 theaters (+33) / $1.38M Fri. (-70%)/ 3-day cume: $4.16M (-60%)/ Total cume: $18M /Wk 2

7). Hitman: Agent 47 (Fox), 3,273 theaters (+12)/ $1.14M Fri. (-64%)/ 3-day cume: $3.87M (-53%) / Total cume: $15.4M /Wk 2

8). The Gift (STX), 1,934 theaters (-369) / $830K Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $2.85M(-33%)/ Total Cume: $35.65M /Wk 4

9). Jurassic World (UNI), 1,239 theaters (+665) / $786K Fri. (+194%) / 3-day cume: $2.79M (+195%) / Total cume: $642.8M /Wk 12

10). Ant-Man (DIS), 2,016 theaters (-290) / $777K Fri. (-33%) / 3-day cume: $2.73M(-33%)/Total cume: $168.8M / Wk 7

11). American Ultra (LG), 2,778 theaters (0)/ $808K Fri. (-62%)/ 3-day cume: $2.537M (-53%) /Total cume: $10.23M/ Wk 2

12). Minions (UNI), 1,976 theaters (-250)/ $660K Fri. (-39%)/ 3-day cume: $2.33M (-39%)/Total Cume: $324.1M / Wk 8 ...

Meantime, the Minions fun-fest clears another marker. It's taken in $682 million internationally, more than double the $321.9 million it grossed domestically.

Inside Out is a major hit, but Minions is gargantuan.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Wartime Geisel

The work of Dr. Seuss while he was on detached duty, away from being Dr. Seuss.

... [Theodore] Geisel had published his first children’s book as Dr. Seuss — “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street’’ — in 1937, but it was his work as a political cartoonist for a left-wing New York tabloid newspaper called PM that led to his being recruited by Capra, chairman of the Army’s motion picture unit, to head its animation department.

“He [Capra] had used animation in his ‘Why We Fight’ series to get GIs to listen to lectures about politics,’’ said film historian Mark Harris, whose excellent book “Five Came Back’’ inspired the TCM series. ...

Army Capt. Geisel scripted a series of raunchy adult cartoons designed strictly for military audiences. ....



These shorts have tell-tale signs of the Warner Bros. animation crew's busy hands all over them. But of course, there were a lot of animators in the army, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney's seasoned warriors, being two of them.



As TCM host Ben Mankiewicz says: "They were made to entertain adult males while they were being warned about things like gonorrhea."

Turner Classic Movies will be screening lots of these shorts in coming weeks. And of course they're always available for your viewing pleasure on the ubiquitous YouTube.

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BuzzFeed: The Boys Club

One more take on the state of male/female hiring in animation industry:

Inside The Persistent Boys Club Of Animation

... Women make up only 21% of working [Animation] guild members in 2015, and out of the 584 members working as storyboarders, only 103 are women, according to the Animation Guild. One could point approvingly to animation schools as a harbinger of change — last fall, 71% of students in the California Institute of the Arts’ famed character animation program were female, the Los Angeles Times reported. However, that same school year in its Producers Show, which screens the “best” student work, more than two-thirds of the films shown were by male students, in a year when men made up less than one-third of students in the program. Furthermore, women outnumbered men in the program in 2012, 2013, and 2014 — and yet in each of those years, men still outnumbered women in the Producers Show. ...

Women who have worked in animation for anywhere from a few years to six decades talked to BuzzFeed News about how things have gotten better — and how they haven’t. ...

The Animation Guild supplied Buzz Feed with the ratios of men to women in various parts of the animation business, but were unable to break the industry down egarding race, since we keep no records.

Women have been making slow but steady inroads in various classifications since the early nineties. but there is still a ways to go. The cartoon biz is similar to its live-action cousin: There's an institutional tilt toward males, and it will likely persist for some time. When you have Top Dogs who are more comfortable working with men, men predominate.

As we've noted before, Jeffrey Katzenberg has been one of the few studio heads who has hired women in key creative position for a long stretch of time. Until Disney released Frozen, DreamWorks Animation was the only studio that had women helming animated features.


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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cartoon Process Explained

... in five fast-moving minutes. "Pixar in a Box."



The technology is ever-chainging (no pencils or paper or cels or paint anymore) but the molding of characters, gags and stories remains remarkably similar over the years.

Does any of the overview directly below look familiar? From a little animation studio (not Disney) some years ago:



Not Pixar in a Box, but Fleischer in Florida. (And look! They made storyboards even then!)

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Guild Members Ratify New Agreement

The members of The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, have ratified the new 2015-2018 contract, which the Guild negotiated with animation studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) from June 29 to July 1st of this year. The Guild, though one of the West Coast production locals in the IATSE, negotiates separately from the IA’s west coast bargaining unit. Percentage-wise, the Animation Guild’s overall ratification vote ran 68% higher than in 2012.

The new collective bargaining agreement includes 3% annual wage increases to contract minimums, a 10% pension increase, and 30% increases for contribution hours under Animation Guild’s unit rates. Additionally, a new pay structure and higher benefit contributions were negotiated for freelance Timing Directors.

Add On:

The members have spoken. We had higher voter participation in the contract ratification than three years ago. Something like 50% higher.

One of the reasons this contract was approved by a goodly margin was, animation has the wind at its back. Animation is doing huge business across every platform: Theatrical features. Subscription Video on Demand. Cable networks. Broadcast networks. And animation continues to be one of the most profitable corners of the motion picture industry.

With cash flows as wide as the Mississippi, it's hard for companies to argue that they need relief. To their credit (for once), they didn't.

-- Steve Hulett



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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Goings ...

In the latest executive shakeup at DreamWorks Animation, the Glendale-based studio said Michael Francis is stepping down from his role as the company's chief branding officer.

Francis, a former president of J.C. Penney who has overseen all of the company's branding, licensing and consumer products divisions since 2013, will leave his job at the end of December, DreamWorks Animation said in a statement.

His duties will be handled by Jim Fielding, the current head of global consumer products and former president of Disney Stores. Fielding also was a longtime senior executive at Claire's Stores. ...

And comings ...

Eric Coleman has gotten a title bump to Senior Vice President, Original Programming and General Manager, Disney Television Animation; Jonathan Schneider has been promoted to VP, Strategy; Aaron Simpson has joined the company as VP, Development; Shane Prigmore has been appointed VP, Creative Affairs; and Bonnie Lemon has joined the company as VP, Production. ...

Simpson joins Disney from Mondo Media where he served as Head of Development and executive-produced Fusion TV sketch series Like, Share, Die. He has also produced animation for Warner Brothers, Kids WB, Jib Jab and Sony...

Lemon joins Disney from DreamWorks Animation where she most recently served as production executive on feature films including Kung Fu Panda 3, How to Train Your Dragon 3 and The Penguins of Madagascar. ...

Animation execs are much like animation artists, they bounce from studio to studio, chasing after the newest gigs.

Very similar. Except that the Veeps make more money than the artists, writers and technicians who create the work.

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Frederick B. Avery

On this day, thirty-six years ago:

August 26, 1980 - Director Tex Avery dies after collapsing in the parking lot of Hanna-Barbera.

Two weeks before he was asked by a friend why he was working in Hanna & Barbera. Tex laughed:" Hey, Don’t you know? this is where all the elephants come to die!"

-- Tom Sito

You look around the internet, you find that Avery passed away from liver cancer, or lung cancer or ... something. And maybe he died at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Burbank and not Hanna-Barbera.

But two things are clear: He died on this date, and he had a large impact on American animation.

Tex was a key player at Leon Schlesinger's studio, helping to mold Bugs, Elmer and the rest into the characters we know today.

Tex turned out dozens and dozens of classic shorts at M-G-M through the 1940s "Red Hot Riding Hood" is the godmother of Jessica Rabbit. The Raid termites, the (politically incorrect Frito Bandito, thos were his.

Tex created commercials during the Eisenhower fifties. The Raid termites, the (politically incorrect) Frito Bandito, those were his.

And he died after a two-year stint at Hanna-Barbera, the studio where many veteran animation hands, not cut to the mold that Disney required, went to work.

"I was as ignorant of his genius as I suppose Michelangelo's apprentices were oblivious to the fact that they, too, were working with a genius."

-- Chuck Jones

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Record Breaker

The crystal ball, apparently, is clear.

When Disney revives the long slumbering Star Wars franchise on December 18, The Force Awakens will take the global tentpole opening to a history-making high. How high? Many are already predicting a record $615M worldwide opening. ...

In a digital world where screen counts can be increased at a last moment’s notice to meet theater demand of walk-up business, a record opening of $300M stateside and $315M abroad is possible for Force Awakens.

Ordinarily I would be skeptical of one of our fine conglomerates counting its hens and roosters before they flap into the global marketplace. But since Star Wars I, Star Wars II,, and Star Wars III made boatloads of money, it's a relatively safe bet that J.J. Abrams' offering Will perform as well or better.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

BASIC AGREEMENT RATIFIED

The IA locals that comprise the bargaining unit for the Basic Agreement, have spoken.

Members of 13 Hollywood locals of the IATSE have ratified a new film and TV contract. The deal with management’s AMPTP, which was reached in April, provides for 3% pay raises in each year of the three-year contract, as well as what the union is calling “major improvements” for members working in new media.

Covering some 43,000 workers, the new pact also calls for employer contributions to the union’s pension plan to increase by 18 cents per hour worked in each year of the contract. Pensioners who retired prior to Aug. 1, 2009, will also receive two extra pension checks on or about November 1 of each year of the contract so long as the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan remains on sound financial footing.

For the first time, employers will also make contributions to the union’s Entertainment and Exhibition Industries Training Trust Fund, which provides safety training for motion picture workers covered by the contract.

“The new contract represents significant gains and continued security for the welfare and livelihood of the members it covers,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb. ...

TAG ain't in the bargaining unit referenced above.

The Animation Guild was kicked out of the Big Room 32 years ago and ever since has bargained its own contracts separately. (This was because of two animation industry strikes over three years. The second one, which occurred in 1982, was long and not pretty. For some reason, the AMPTP was annoyed, and decided it didn't want us at the party anymore.)

If you want to know what we achieved in our June-July negotiations, which happened a couple of months after the Basic Agreement talks wrapped up, go here.

The vote on TAG's Collective Bargaining Agreement ends tomorrow, and we'll report on the results Thursday.

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Kids' Streaming

Work under TAG's contracts keep growing. This explains a lot of it.

... U.S. digital video penetration among children ages 11 and under is expected to jump to 74% by 2019 from 68% in 2013, according to research firm EMarketer. At stake will be millions of dollars in subscription fees for streaming services that have the best offerings. ...

One reason why children are a target audience is because they are natural binge-watchers, prone to viewing the same episode over and over. Parents, who once sat their kids down in front of DVDs, are discovering that streaming services offer more varied programming and are more convenient in a pinch.

About 20% of TV content (both acquired programming and originals) on Netflix and Amazon is aimed at children, according to SNL Kagan data from October 2014. Hulu, which has only dipped a toe in creating originals for kids, has a smaller slice of the pie with just 5% of its library consisting of licensed children's shows. ...

"Kids are growing up straddling the computer, tablet and smartphone," Naomi Hupert, senior research associate at the Center for Children and Technology, said. "All these technologies are relatively new, and how we see kids use them is still new. It can be sort of overwhelming to think where it can go from here, but we're still in the beginning stages."

Content providers keep discovering that animation is

A) A continuous kid pleaser.

B) Relatively inexpensive to produce.

C) Ever green.

And of course:

Animation Still Decade's Most Profitable Movie Genre: SNL Kagan

... Judged just by genre, average revenues for the decade’s 101 animated films ran 108.4% ahead of costs. DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek 2 led the category with a 462% margin. The 71 sci-fi/fantasy films had a margin of 108.1%. Fox’s Avatar is the winner here with revenues 554% ahead of costs. ...

Deadline is talking about theatrical animation, but the smaller screen variety is also profitable. And one overlooked tidbit, that sci fi movie they talk about? Avatar?

It's mostly an animated feature.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Fourth Installment

Touching.

Like most people, I'd assumed that Pixar's Toy Story series was done and dusted with the heart-wrenching third film tying up, what was at the time, a neat little trilogy. ...

But no. ...

Katie Granger, the author of the above, clearly has just fallen off the turnip truck. Or been hit in the head with a blunt object. Or is five years old.

Because series that make major money are never done. No matter what the producers say at the time.

They're bringing back Duck Tales for gob's sake. Spongebob Squarepants and The Simpsons and Scooby Freaking Doo, they have no end to them. I won't burden you with the silly-ass rhetorical question of "Why?" You know damn well why.

These titles make hundreds of millions of dollars for their respective studios. The Simpsons are up in the billions, and all the early stakeholders, who were on board when the Yellow Family was nothing more than three-minute interstitials on The Tracey Ullman Show, have long-since become independently wealthy.

No conglomerate leaves money on the table if it an help it. So no matter how many uplifting platitudes Mr. Lasseter may unspool about Toy Story 3's "completeness," there is still the matter of more money to be made.

Don't misunderstand me. Artistic ideals have their place. But commerce is what drives the Tinseltown train.


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The Fading Borders

... between live-action and animation.

Turning Frances McDormand Into Elephant Is New Territory For VFX Studio

... On HBO’s four-part limited series Olive Kitteridge, Shade VFX designed various animals for the project, including snakes and birds — “expanding character creation abilities really quickly,” CEO Bryan Godwin says — one of the most discussed moments in the series was the elephant scene, when one of the main characters experiences a hallucination and sees McDormand’s title character as an elephant. ...

“We settled on an Asian elephant because it had a little bit of a softer look, a little bit of a smaller head and could be a little bit more feminine than other varieties,” ....

Shades of Dumbo. (Note the video at the link.)

But the movie differences between CG animation and the real world continue to shrink. When an HBO series builds animated creatures into the presentation, using the same hardware, software and skill sets that go into making Frozen or Inside Out, the elding of two formats is complete.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Eternal Cartoon Website




In the mid 1990s, Warner Bros. Feature Animation released its first ... and most successful ... feature. It was a hybrid specimen named Space Jam, and a website was created to help promote it. ...

... The Space Jam website didn't exactly blow up online when it was launched, but studio execs also didn't care. The film raked in just over $90 million by the end of its theatrical run in North America, as well as another $140 million or so overseas. It remains, to this day, the highest-grossing basketball movie ever made. Jordan and Bugs had carried the day and the site was soon forgotten, just another relic of an evolutionary moment in early web design, when code that couldn't load fast enough through a 56K modem wasn't code worth writing.

The site lay more-or-less dormant for the next 14 years. But that changed for good in late 2010, when the Internet, exponentially bigger than it was in 1996, rediscovered the site – almost entirely unchanged from its initial launch. It was reborn as a viral sensation, the web's equivalent of a recently discovered cave painting. We laughed at the site because we couldn't believe anything was ever designed this way, but also because it still existed. It remains one of the most faithful living documents of early web design that anyone can access online.

Today, the Space Jam site's popularity has outlived almost everything to which it has been connected. The Fifth Avenue store shuttered in 2001. Both stars of the movie's stars made forgettable exits in 2003 – Jordan with the Washington Wizards, Bugs with Looney Tunes: Back in Action. And every person directly associated with the site's creation has now left the studio.

But the site lives on, aging for 19 years but free from influence, to our enduring delight. ...

Space Jam was born out of chaos ... and more than a bit of desperation.

In the middle 1990s, Warner Bros. set up a new animation division to compete with Disney's feature unit. The studio was headquartered on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, and had a rocky beginning. The facility had a sizable staff developing a number of projects, most of which studio chief Bob Daly was less than totally thrilled.

One project after another was reviewed by Daly, then rejected for being not quite right. People were sitting around collecting large salaries and twiddling their thumbs. Morale was sagging. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Ivan Reitman (producer/director of Ghostbusters and a host of other comedy features) brought in Space Jam a project developed under his Northern Lights shingle.

The picture got a greenlight from Warners and a release date of November 15, 1996. Ivan R. was slow reviewing designs and color setups, but new studio head Max Howard (fresh from Disney) understood that the production had to kick into high gear if it was going to hit its release date, less than a year away.

And all of a sudden, things got moving. Multiple studios were set up in Glendale, Sherman Oaks, and outside the country. Crews were working six and seven day weeks, month after month. People were sleeping under their desks in Sherman Oaks and Glendale; additional sub-contracting studios clambered above to get the work done. Space Jam ultimately made its release date, but it was a close thing. The movie did good business statewide and performed well overseas. making the WB a nice profit.

SJ was really the last hand-drawn hybrid film of its type that made good money. Cool World from Ralph Bakshi was a flop, even with Brad Pitt, and the Bugs Bunny followup Back In Action under-performed at the box office, despite energetic direction of Bugs and the gang by Eric Goldberg.

Today Space Jam (the movie) is a fading memory of the way things were nineteen years ago, when hand-drawn animation still had punch at the box office, so it's a good thing that Space Jam (the internet address) enjoys a robust after-life.


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World Box Office

Here are the animated features, hybrid and otherwise, that now inhabit the world market.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Mission Impossible -- $25,200,000 -- ($438,563,039)

Terminator Genisys -- $27,400,000 -- ($353,089,591)

Fantastic Four -- $16,200,000 -- ($130,425,362)

Minions -- $8,800,000 -- ($989,361,615)

Inside Out -- $10,700,000 -- ($689,923,715)

Pixels -- $7,700,000 -- ($173,882,189)

Ant-Man -- $2,900,000 -- ($361,024,370)

Jurassic World -- $5,700,000 -- ($1,622,868,080)

Monster Hunt -- $6,500,000 -- ($365,000,000)

Ted 2 -- $3,000,000 -- ($179,653,595) ...

Arnold and Co. get a second wind, as the trades note:

... Terminator Genisys generated $27.4M at 25,000 locations in China, in one day, which was enough to land it at the top of the overall chart. Behind it, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation added another $25.2M (-45%) in its 4th frame for a $280.8M offshore cume. ...

[T]his week Minions becomes the studio’s 3rd title of the year to cross $1B worldwide. After an $8.8M international frame, the Illumination animation is at $669.4M international and $989.4M globally. ...

After reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the UK last week, Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out maintained the position with a drop of just 35%. This is its 5th week of release there where the cume is $47.5M. ...

Sony’s Pixels has crossed the $100M mark overseas with $7.7M in extra arcade coins this frame. Playing on nearly 5,000 screens in 82 territories, the cume on the Adam Sandler video-game invasion pic is $105.3M. ...

[I]n Japan Jurassic World is No. 1 for the 3rd frame in a row with a local total of $48M. ...

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Top 2016 Features?

Some of these are obvious, but others? Maybe not.

The Big Six?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — Opening in March, the full kickoff of the DC Comics shared cinematic universe is going to do monster business. ...

Captain America: Civil War — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this will be Marvel’s biggest film yet. ...

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — There are probably only two films that might sneak past the superhero battle royal movies mentioned above and steal the title of highest grossing film of the year, and a Harry Potter spinoff is probably one of them. ...

Finding Dory - ... The first Finding Nemo made $864 million… in 2003… without 3D tickets. When it got a 3D rerelease a few years ago, it added $72 million to its coffers, raising its all-time total to $936 million. That’s $1.2 billion in today’s dollars, folks. ...

The Jungle Book -- ... Nothing you’ve seen in visual effects and CGI work for animals, creatures, and outdoor settings will prepare you for what you’ll see in this film, if the sizzle reel Disney unveiled is any hint of what to expect. ...

X-Men: Apocalypse — The X-Men franchise finally found the path to true box office glory last year with X-Men: Days of Future Past, by far the highest grossing entry in the superhero franchise at $748 million. That was a massive leap not only financially, but also for the size of the series’ fanbase. ...

The BIG movie for 2016 is going to be the one that opens Friday, December 18, 2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That's the picture that runs the table in 2016, because the bulk of its box office receipts are going to roll in next year, not this year. So yeah, it's a 2015 release, but only barely. And it should be the top grosser next year.

As for animated features, I think Forbes is under-estimating Kung Fu Panda 3 (January 29, 2016), and Ice Age: Collision Course (July 15, 2016). Both of these, I think, are going to be BIG performers in the global marketplace. In fact, I could see either (or both) of these out-performing Finding Dory.



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Your American Box Office

Rolling along with those so-so, end-of-summer returns.

DOMESTIC WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

1) Straight Outta Compton (UNI), 2,757 theaters / $8.3M Fri. (-66%) / 3-day cume: $27.5M (-54%)/Total cume: $112.2M/ Wk 2

2) Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (PAR), 3,442 theaters (-258) / $3.36M Fri. (-32%) / 3-day cume: $11.9M (-31%)/ Total Cume: $157.96/ Wk 4

3) Sinister 2 (Gramercy/Focus), 2,766 theaters / $4.67M Fri.*/ 3-day cume: $11M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $850K.

4) Hitman: Agent 47 (20th Century Fox), 3,261 theaters / $3.085M Fri.**/ 3-day cume: $8.3M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $600K.

5) Man From U.N.C.L.E (WB), 3,673 theaters (+35) / $2.18M Fri. (-55%)/ 3-day cume: $7.36M (-45%)/Total cume: $26.6M/ Wk 2

6) American Ultra (Lionsgate), 2,778 theaters / $2.1M Fri.+/ 3-day cume: $5.6M / Wk 1
+includes Thursday previews of $425K.

7/8/9) The Gift (STX), 2,303 theaters (-200) / $1.27M Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $4.29M(-34%)/ Total Cume: $31M /Wk 3

Ant-Man (DIS), 2,016 theaters (-290) / $1.17MFri. (-24%) / 3-day cume: $4.2M(-23%)/Total cume: $164.6M / Wk 6

Minions (UNI), 2,226 theaters (-414)/ $1.07M Fri. (-26%)/ 3-day cume: $3.87M (-25%)/Total Cume: $320.1M / Wk 7

10) Fantastic Four (FOX), 2,581 theaters (-1,423)/ $1.068M Fri. (-55%)/ 3-day cume: $3.6M (-56%)/ Total Cume: $49.6M /Wk 3 ...

Among animated titles: Shaun the Sheep fell out of the Top Ten on Friday (it had been clinging to the bottom rung of the list) and now stands with a gross of $13,400,000 box office gross. Apparently when you have been available in other formats -- like for instance little silver disks -- it puts a nick in your overall box office.

Inside Out has now grossed north of $341 million dollars, but Minions, still in the Top Ten, continues to close the gap between the two animated features.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Motion Picture Industry Pensions Statements

Now with Mentholated Add On!

The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plans has mailed out financial statements for 2014, which contain the following:


Name -- Birthdate
Vested years as of 2013
Vested Years as of 2014
Accrued Monthly Benefits as of 2013
Accrued Monthly Benefits as of 2014

2013 Individual Account Plan Balance
-- 2014 Investment Earnings
-- 2014 Compensation Related Contributions
2014 Individual Account Plan Balance

"When are the statements coming out?" is one of Guild members' most frequently asked questions.

Answer: They're in the mail ... or in your mailbox ... NOW.

Another question: "What does it all mean?"

Happy to answer: The Accrued Monthly Benefit is part of the Defined Benefit Plan run by the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan since its founding in the mid-fifties. There were lots of Defined Benefit Plans then (where retirees got a monthly payment until they died), but relatively few now.

Defined Benefit Plans were expensive. So corporations got out of them.

More common today is a Defined Contribution Plan, which is a set amount of money contributed to a pool of investments (bonds, stocks, and real estate) that will grow even as the participant adds more money through work. The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan has a Defined Contribution Plan called the "Individual Account Plan." and the old-style Defined Benefit Plan (see above).

Both of these plans are funded by the companies that TAG has under contract. There is also a third plan, funded by participants, called "The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan". This plan is funded directly by the participants on a voluntary basis, and all the money in it is contributed by employees, not the employer.

The 401(k) plan is NOT part of the MPI Pensions statement described above. It's got a different administration and oversight committee, and all the assets parked inside of it are invested by participants, not the plan.

So, to sum up: TAG has three different pension plans. Two of them are automatic and summarized by the just-mailed statement. The other is an optional plan and accessed on the Vanguard website.

Add On: The mailing also contains how the billions in the MPIPP are allocated:

Asset Allocations -- Defined Benefit -- Dec. '14

U.S. Core Equity -- 5.5%
U.S. Growth Equity -- 3.8%
U.S. Value Equity -- 2.1%
Global Equity -- 20.8%
Emerging Market -- 4.4%

Total Equity -- 36.6%

Fixed Income -- 22.8%
Alternative Investments -- 33.3%
Real Estate -- 7.3%

Total Plan -- 100%

* * * * * *

Asset Allocation -- IAP

U.S. Core Equity -- 4.5%
U.S. Growth Equity -- 4.0%
U.S. Value Equity -- 1.9%
Global Equity -- 14.8%
Emerging Market -- 2.3%

Total Equity -- 27.5%

Fixed Income -- 32.6%
Alternative Investments -- 34.7%
Real Estate -- 5.2%

Total Plan -- 100%




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Anti-Poaching Plot Thickens

A new twist in the conspiracy to suppress wages:

... A California federal judge has handed DreamWorks Animation, The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures and Blue Sky Studios a big setback in an antitrust lawsuit that examines the way that studios allegedly colluded to deny workers in the visual effects community better work opportunities and better compensation.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh denied defendants' motion to dismiss an amended complaint just four months after she ruled that claims were barred by the statute of limitations. This time, she determines that the plaintiffs have sufficiently added details to their complaint to have adequately pled that the conspiracy was fraudulently concealed.

I get asked from time to time what I think of the wage suppression thingie. My answer:

Yeah, I believe the studios were colluding. Ed Catmull and George Lucas are on record in depositions acknowledging that the practice went on. My experience with studios is they work to hold down wages all the time, in a variety of ways. Having a pact with other studios would just be one of the ways, one of the arrows in their big, fat quivers.

I don't believe that management, by and large, thinks there's anything much wrong with this. Years back, when Human Resource people at Disney Feature were telling individual employees that it was forbidden to share wage information, they only (slightly) backed off when some employees pointed out this was against state law: "Okay, I ... ahm ... hear what you're saying. Well we would prefer and really appreciate if you would keep your salary to yourself."

When I went to management to complain (this was in the early 90s), the Veep that I whined to said: "Hey, until somebody takes us to court, we're fine with doing this."

Happily, the policy changed when a Vice-President -- who was a lawyer -- later called me to say: "Okay, we're taking the wage disclosure prohibition out of Personal Service Contracts. You're right about that."

The name of the game, always, is to get the most work for the least cost. The wage conspiracy is just an extension of the overarching policy that is always in place. ...

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Still-Born Development

Jurassic World is one of the monster hits of moviedom, and Jurassic Park didn't do badly twenty-plus years ago. There were plenty of live-action sequels, but no animated spin-offs. But it appears they worked on one.


... The vision for the show was “a mature primetime series with top writers and state-of-the-art television animation augmented with quite a bit of CG animation. Universal Cartoon Studios wanted a 'graphic-novel look' to the series," [says illustrator William Stout.] "I came in, showed my portfolio and was hired.” ...

And you see one of his illustrations directly above.

What the series would have looked like, and how it would have performed if it had actually been greenlit? Who can tell two decades later? The television and theatrical landscapes are littered with projects that never made it to production, or made it halfway and then died.

There will no doubt be interest in plenty of spin-offs to the latest $1.5 billion Jurassic blockbuster. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that an animated series might be one of them.

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Awards

A person can never have enough shiny gold statues and/or plaques.

The American Cinematheque will honor DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg with the first-ever Sid Grauman Award at the group’s annual benefit gala October 30. The award was started this year to honor an individual who has made a significant contribution to the Hollywood film industry in the continuing advancement of theatrical exhibition. It will be bestowed alongside the American Cinematheque’s usual honor, this year going to actor-producer Reese Witherspoon. ...

Jeffrey has been in the movie game a long time. There was Paramount, there was Disney, there was DreamWorks SKG and finally DreamWorks Animation. When Michael Eisner pushed over the side of the SS Mous in 1994, I had no idea that, two decades later, Jeffrey would decades into his run as head of a mini-major. And that Mr. Eisner would be retired from Disney and 87% out of the game.

So kudos to J.K. for building a studio and making a lot of iconic movies. If his cheer-leading for Moving View-Master (otherwise known as 3-D) was a trifle over the top, well, that's the nature of the man. He gets behind something, he is enthusiastic about it.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Every Conglomerate Has a Groove

The Mouse has Pixar and the original feature studio named "Disney". Warner Bros. knows their niche: Super Heroes and Legos.



Although they made a fortune with their Lego theatrical feature, this one goes out on DVD and Blu Ray.

...It’s hard to take Lego heroes and villains fighting seriously, but there is plenty of nice action that will delight the 6 and up gang. Jim Krieg’s script keeps things moving along and juggles the large cast without confusing the younger segment. Rick Morales’ direction is also a plus as things never bog down. ...

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The Latest Announced Cartoon

There are always projects in development, but cartoon studios and the conglomerates who own them tend to get testy if some internet upstart announced them before the corporate mouth is ready to speak. So here's the new announcement.

Nickelodeon has greenlighted 20 episodes of original animated series Pinky Malinky for premiere in 2016.

Co-created and co-executive produced by Chris Garbutt and Rikke Asbjoern (The Amazing World of Gumball)and executive produced by Scott Kreamer (Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness), Pinky Malinky follows the everyday life of Pinky, an infectiously positive hotdog living in a human world who, along with his two best friends, navigates school and life with a unique perspective. ... It will be produced at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank.

Using the tropes of a mockumentary and reality show format, Pinky and his friends will talk directly to the camera and the audience to share their absurd and silly take on real life. ...

Nickelodeon has been exploring new directions the last few years. Execs have risen and fallen. Formats have changed. Old standbys are coming back with new episode orders.

A lot of this stems from the happenings of four years ago:

After 16 years of dominating children's television, the [Nickelodeon] network finds itself in the midst of a mysterious ratings slide serious enough to drive concerns about its parent company's stock and prompt an investigation with Nielsen.

In just-released November ratings, Nickelodeon was down 19 percent year-over-year in ratings for viewers age 2 and older. In October, its ratings fell 13 percent. ...

After sitting in the high seat for a decade and a half, Nickelodeon was more than a little disconcerted that the Mouse was suddenly eating its lunch ... and Cartoon Network began stealing the dessert tray. But the kids' TV landscape is changing. Five-year-olds now binge watch original cartoons on Netflix, and viewing shows on mobile devices expand at an exponential rate.

It's a sad new world out there, with old pipelines rusting away and new ones not yet fully monetized. Like every other entertainment company, Nick will have to adapt to the fresh realities.

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