LEONINE Animation Studios’ Hans Ulrich Stoef

In December 2023, the German media company LEONINE Holding and the founders of the children’s production and distribution company Toon2Tango, Hans Ulrich Stoef and Jo Daris, announced they were joining forces and forming LEONINE Animation Studios. Stoef, the CEO of Toon2Tango and managing director of LEONINE Animation Studios, talks to TV Kids about the new studio’s strategy, its upcoming shows and opportunities in the market.

TV KIDS: How did LEONINE Animation Studios come about?
STOEF: In 2021, after a very successful start for Toon2Tango, we were thinking about the next steps. Did we want to remain a boutique company? Or did we want to build Toon2Tango into one of the leading European animation companies? With our background and history, we had many opportunities.

We decided to look for a growth strategy and began discussions with potential partners, both from the institutional and the strategic side. During that period, LEONINE approached us. LEONINE was already very successful in the kids and family business in Germany, mainly within the fields of co-production for theatrical distribution, home entertainment and audio. However, it was looking to expand into production, financing and 360-degree distribution in the field of animation on an international level.

It looked like a perfect fit for us. We needed a strong partner to manage our growth story, and LEONINE was the perfect match in terms of synergies and strategic possibilities. So, we embarked on that journey together, with LEONINE taking a minority stake in Toon2Tango in 2022. After building a strong and trusting relationship over the course of the last year, we decided to take our partnership to the next level and launch LEONINE Animation Studios.

TV KIDS: How does LEONINE benefit from the deal? How does Toon2Tango benefit?
STOEF: Toon2Tango brings deep knowledge of the international animation industry and kids’ business into the partnership. Our great library of successful IPs forms a strong foundation for further organic growth. In addition, our long-standing business relationships will help to identify promising M&A targets. LEONINE Animation Studios’ goal is to become one of the leading animation companies and growth platforms in Europe with full control over its IPs and the entire value chain of animation.

LEONINE, as the leading German independent in production, distribution and licensing, offers Toon2Tango many strategic options to build up multichannel brand worlds and extend our IPs and productions. LEONINE is also the number one German theatrical distributor; it will release our new animated feature film Santa.com in theaters, and LEONINE’s label LEONINE Kids will produce and distribute the audio storytelling for it.

In addition, LEONINE’s market-leading catalog contains some very exciting IPs, which we can now extend into animation. And, of course, LEONINE’s vision and potential for growth enable us to be fast in decision-making, to aggressively follow our strategy and to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

TV KIDS: What is LEONINE Animation Studios’ strategy? What does it want to offer the market?
STOEF: As I mentioned earlier, we will be a great partner for the development, production, distribution and financing of IPs. We can make things happen if they fit into our portfolio strategy. We can distribute IPs across all existing channels—from movie theaters to home entertainment to streamers and linear television up to finished consumer goods—and we have an excellent track record and position in licensing content internationally. All our strengths combined put LEONINE Animation Studios into a unique market position and give us the opportunity to become the go-to partner for animation and kids’ content in Europe.

TV KIDS: Tell us about Littlest Robot. What makes the show so special, and how is it being received?
STOEF: We first introduced this new development to the market at Cartoon Forum in September 2023. Overall, it was the leading new concept in terms of both measured sections—that is, visitors and unique impressions. The interested parties gave us a lot of helpful feedback, and soon, we plan to sign a co-production agreement.

This show, for 4- to 7-year-olds, is not only unique in its CG character design work; it also offers a very entertaining story with a curriculum about social and emotional feelings. Entertainment has to come first, of course, but we want to help kids discover their feelings and understand where social differences and feelings are coming from. We believe that this type of show and its message are underrepresented in the world of entertainment.

TV KIDS: Curriculum has always been a part of preschool shows. Are social-emotional messages and values becoming more important in shows for young viewers?
STOEF: I wouldn’t say it’s becoming more important. It always was very important, but it was also underexploited; not many shows go into the topic. However, it is a complex area. Some shows try to teach social-emotional feelings; we think that is the wrong approach. It’s better to enable kids to experience it by watching entertainment and helping them to feel that there are many ways in which you can look at social and emotional experiences. There is not necessarily a right or wrong way!

TV KIDS: What other upcoming shows can you talk about?
STOEF: We are finalizing financing on a 2D concept called Showtime. It is based on an idea that every parent has experienced. This TV concept is about kids setting up their own theater/musical show, which quite often ends in a funny situation—or not! Here, our heroes set up shows to help other people by making them laugh, meeting new people and making friends.

Also, we are finalizing development of our new hybrid concept called Lily of Fawonia, which is a 26×22-minute 3D and live-action concept that follows on from the success we enjoyed with Mia and me some years ago.

TV KIDS: The kids’ business in 2023 was characterized by lower budgets and a lot of caution. Do you see these trends continuing in 2024? What opportunities do you see in the market?
STOEF: Yes, we definitely see these trends continuing. In fact, I think they might get even worse in 2024, but that also offers a lot of possibilities, since the market will consolidate heavily. That was another reason for founding LEONINE Animation Studios: to participate by finding ways to bring new business to us by acquiring IPs and focusing on M&As.