Raphaelle Mathieu, the senior VP of sales, acquisitions and new media at Cyber Group Studios, shares with TV Kids what’s driving the company’s success at present.
When Cyber Group Studios first launched, it honed its prowess in the area of 3D preschool animation. The company has kept pace with the changing demands of the marketplace, broadening its offering into a fully diversified range of animation styles and audience targets. It has also kept an eye on innovations in technology, and Cyber Group is now putting digital front and center in its strategy.
TV KIDS: How has Cyber Group Studios approached having a diversified catalog, both in terms of animation styles and target audience?
MATHIEU: We started with preschool, 3D. We launched the company with Ozie Boo!, and then we had a big hit with Zou, which has been sold in more than 150 territories. We had an expertise and knew that people would rely on us in this genre. It appeared very clearly and very importantly that we needed to reach a bigger audience to [satisfy] all our clients, not only preschool buyers but also buyers of kids’ programming. We were inspired to get into other genres of production.
We started to distribute a number of programs that were 2D and were addressing kids of other ages. We went into kids’ programming in a big way, acquiring the Zorro brand. For us, Zorro the Chronicles was a huge challenge both in terms of production and distribution; on both fronts, we have achieved extremely good results—in the level of quality that we were able to achieve and the audience we received worldwide.
Now, it’s become even more important for us [to have diverse content]. The market has become more competitive. We need to stand out. Our next step is trying to achieve global programs, such as Gigantosaurus, which we are doing with Disney [Junior] Worldwide (excluding India and Taiwan). We have worked tremendously hard on the quality and visual effects for that series. We are also doing our first 2D cartoon series with Boomerang, Taffy, and this will be the first Boomerang original. It’s a new genre for us and a new challenge. I think the market will be really happy with what we’re bringing in the next few months.
Our approach is about going both global and regional. On the one hand, there are more and more global buyers and we need to address this specific demand; on the other hand, we want to strengthen our historical relationships with regional public and private broadcasters. The Pirates Next Door, for example, matches what we really want to achieve in that area. It is a great program both visually and in terms of its underlying message, and it has been very well-received as we are closing deals [on it] as we speak with all the major public and private broadcasters in Europe and across the world.
TV KIDS: What types of strategic relationships has Cyber Group sought to establish with independent producers?
MATHIEU: We cannot produce everything ourselves; we are already producing seven projects in-house. So, we co-produce with independent producers and structure slate deals for distribution. This is happening, for example, with Media Valley and Natalie Altmann. We committed at a very early stage to two of her productions: Ernest & Rebecca and Dragon Slayers’ Academy. We will have the first episodes of Ernest & Rebecca ready at MIPTV. It’s a 2D, bridge series, with lots of fun and comedy.
We also have a co-production relationship with La Chouette Compagnie. We are co-producing with them Droners, which is being developed for TF1. We are also co-producing with them Goal Force, which we are developing with Disney France.
These are extremely talented independent producers. We gather our forces and try to work together to produce and bring to the audience the best shows possible. These are two European examples, but we are looking for partners worldwide. We have been distributing with great success a series from Singapore called Leo the Wildlife Ranger, from Omens Studios. We want to keep up that relationship on a long-term basis; we are actively discussing new productions with them.
TV KIDS: What are some of the highlights of the current in-house production slate and development pipeline?
MATHIEU: We are delivering The Pirates Next Door and have started the production of Tom Sawyer. We are also working on Gigantosaurus, Taffy and Sadie Sparks in terms of in-house productions. In terms of the development pipeline, we are all in on Droners with La Chouette Compagnie and TF1. Leaflees will be our next big event series. It’s a series with a budget around $20 million and a big U.S. player will be attached.
Our aim is to cover the whole spectrum with our programming, both internally and with our producing/distribution partners.
TV KIDS: About how much of the catalog is owned IP versus third-party content; are you looking to shift that balance in either direction?
MATHIEU: Currently, it’s 70 percent owned IP and 30 percent third-party. Ultimately, we want to be able to produce more. I want our catalog to grow. We are looking to acquire or co-produce more productions, having third parties involved at a much bigger level. I am working hard on this with the whole Cyber Group team in France and the U.S.
TV KIDS: Tell us about the company’s latest gains in the digital space.
MATHIEU: We have not been strong enough in the digital space so far. On the one hand, we are going to focus on gaming aspect. That’s why we hired Thierry Braille. With a view to platforms like YouTube and social media, we have just hired Loïc de Boudemange, who has been running the social media operation of TV5MONDE for the last two years and was with TF1 Group for approximately seven years before that. His experience will help us tremendously to ramp up our strategy, both in terms of the owned IP that we have that we want to get onto YouTube in a smart way and, on a production level, producing original content, whether adapted from our own IP or purely original. This is our aim for the next 10 to 18 months.
TV KIDS: How did the partnership with WildBrain come about regarding YouTube, and what does it entail?
MATHIEU: It’s very important for us to be backed by people who have a massive audience-development expertise and to benefit from their software and in-house assets. Loïc de Boudemange will work closely with the team, structuring an editorial strategy and optimizing, with the help of WildBrain, the exposure of these channels.
It’s super challenging because we have high expectations. We are very active and established in traditional animation and with traditional clients, so digital is our next big step.