Aardman’s Alison Taylor shares her thoughts on the global demand for animation from the U.K., evolving financing models and the commissioning landscape today.
The slate at Aardman continues to expand, with the acclaimed British studio recently receiving a Sky Kids commission for a stop-motion show for young ones, called The Very Small Creatures, and production underway on Lloyd of the Flies for CITV, its first CGI series to be produced entirely in-house at its Bristol headquarters. These join a raft of other in-house and third-party brands being rolled out across the globe by Aardman’s sales team, led by Alison Taylor as director of distribution and business development. In this wide-ranging Q&A, Taylor shares her thoughts on the global demand for animation from the U.K., evolving financing models and the commissioning landscape today.
TV KIDS: How have you seen the demand for animation evolve over the last year?
TAYLOR: We have found that there has been a much greater focus on platforms and channels wanting to license existing brands in the past 12 months, with a need for content that is available immediately to service channels’ needs during the pandemic, as opposed to investing at such an early stage with new IP in the way of presales. As we have a strong catalog of existing shows to license at Aardman, these licenses were relatively straightforward to secure and finalize, despite the lack of face-to-face meetings at markets. Thankfully, though, there is now a renewed interest in presales on new IP, with many partners looking forward to series delivering in 2023. We’re seeing particular demand for diverse and inclusive content (on- and off-screen) and series or specials that the whole family will enjoy.
TV KIDS: What role do co-productions play in the financing of U.K. animation?
TAYLOR: If you want to go a more “traditional route” to finance productions—by way of commissioning partners, presales and various finance incentives—then co-productions can help enable a finance plan to come together more quickly, especially in countries that offer a generous financing incentive with strong commissioning partners. Of course, co-productions within the U.K. are equally important, especially if the financing involves the support of the BFI Young Audiences Content Fund, whereby it’s important to keep the talent and production within the U.K.
TV KIDS: How important is government assistance in the creation of British animation?
TAYLOR: It’s becoming more and more important for British animation, especially since the U.K. left the EU and can no longer benefit from Creative Europe MEDIA funding. The creation of the BFI Young Audiences Content Fund was a welcome initiative and fresh opportunity for animation studios in the U.K., supporting the development and production funding of projects that meet their criteria. We benefited from this funding to support our financing for our new series that’s in production, Lloyd of the Flies, which delivers at the end of 2022. We also benefit from the animation tax credit, which again plays a significant role for Aardman when financing animated content.
TV KIDS: What impact is Brexit having on co-productions and financing in general?
TAYLOR: Clearly, a big blow from Brexit has been the ability for a U.K. studio to benefit from Creative Europe MEDIA funding—funding that Aardman had been successful at receiving for many of our past productions. It has made financing that bit harder to achieve, with the remaining 20 percent always the hardest to find. Previously, Creative Europe MEDIA funding helped to plug this gap. Nevertheless, with so many exceptional animation studios in Europe, it has meant that co-productions with European partners are appealing. So you could suggest that Brexit may increase the number of European co-production partnerships that have been formed over recent years. In terms of meeting European content quotas, Brexit hasn’t had a negative impact to date.
TV KIDS: There is much talk about diversity in animation in Canada and the U.S. Tell us about the developments at Aardman and across the U.K.
TAYLOR: The lack of diversity and inclusion in programming—as well as the talent working on productions—has been clearly identified and is being acted upon across the board in the U.K. and Europe. It’s encouraging to see that the many conversations being had on this issue have helped form change in policy with many studios and commissioners. At Aardman, we have recently published our Diversity & Inclusion Charter, which details our commitment to building a workforce that is truly reflective of our society and which is underpinned by a core belief that having a diverse and inclusive workforce is essential to creating animated comedy content for all. We published this charter online to be truly transparent in our commitments to diversity and inclusion and will be held fully accountable for delivering them. One of our commitments is to ensure that every production we develop meets the standard terms of the BFI’s diversity and inclusion requirements as a minimum. Clearly, there is still a long way to go in the media industry, but it feels we’re going in the right direction together and all understand the importance of ensuring diversity and inclusion in all we produce and the way we produce. Initiatives implemented by the likes of the BBC, where they’ve committed to spending £100 million of their commissioning budget over three years on diverse content and leadership on their programs, as well as insisting that all producers they work with have 20 percent of their workforce from under-represented groups, further help support this message and the diversity and inclusion drive.
TV KIDS: Amid budget pressures on public and commercial broadcasters, how is the commissioning landscape?
TAYLOR: There has been a big shift in recent years from a more traditional commissioning and financing structure with broadcasters to fully financed opportunities from the streaming platforms. It’s no secret that kids are watching more content online than ever before. This has meant that the public and commercial broadcasters have had to make big changes to their rights strategy, requiring more and more FVOD rights and, in some cases, longer holdbacks against the SVOD platforms, without always increasing their investment to reflect these additional rights. Obviously, this can cause gaps in the finance plan, as multiplatform deals are often needed to fully finance productions, either by way of presales or at least as forecasted future income. Nevertheless, with commissioners being aware of the challenges concerning rights and financing, and the need to compete against the SVOD platforms, it does seem to have opened up more opportunities to enter into co-productions to help finance shows this way.