Richard Goldsmith, the president of global distribution and consumer products at Thunderbird Entertainment Group and Atomic Cartoons, talks to TV Kids about the surging demand for animation and the competitive battle for quality IP.
Earlier this year, industry veteran Richard Goldsmith joined Thunderbird Entertainment Group and Atomic Cartoons, the company’s kids and family division, as president of global distribution and consumer products. He brought with him years of experience from previous roles at The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, The Jim Henson Company and Cyber Group Studios, parlaying that know-how to now oversee worldwide content distribution and the development of innovative consumer products and experiences that expand and enrich audience engagement across all Thunderbird properties.
TV KIDS: What appealed to you about joining Thunderbird?
GOLDSMITH: Joining Thunderbird came down to three things. The first being content. Content is the life and the heart of our industry. I’ve been fortunate to work for companies like Disney, Warner Bros. and Henson, which produce extraordinary content. As I learned more about Thunderbird and Atomic Cartoons, I was impressed by how many hit series they’ve produced and surprised by how the company was flying below most people’s radar. Atomic Cartoons, the kids and family division, is “an artist-driven studio.” This was very appealing to me because it set the tone that Thunderbird was focused on making incredible content. Atomic had mainly been a work-for-hire business—making wonderful series for Netflix, Disney, Nickelodeon, LEGO, Sony, Universal, DreamWorks—and many of these series have won major awards, including Emmy Awards, a BAFTA and a Peabody, to name a few. More recently, Atomic has focused on developing its own series, like The Last Kids on Earth for Netflix, for example. Thunderbird and Atomic make premium animated, factual and scripted content. Above and beyond this, the company’s production values, including its focus on diversity and inclusivity—on screen and off—along with its commitment to creating world-changing content made with integrity, set it apart. It is an honor to represent and be a part of such a phenomenal team during such an exciting time in the industry.
My second consideration involved economic opportunity. I asked myself, what value can I bring to Thunderbird and Atomic? Atomic had been doing work-for-hire for most of its 20 years, and there was interest in expanding their emerging pipeline for company-owned IP. At the same time, Thunderbird’s Great Pacific Media had been producing hit factual and scripted TV series for years but did not have the capability to self-distribute. These were areas of my expertise, and where I knew I could contribute. To me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was also impressed by the company’s financial performance and dedication to increasing shareholder value. Thunderbird is a really remarkable publicly traded company and is experiencing incredible growth. After speaking with CEO Jennifer Twiner McCarron about Thunderbird and Atomic’s plans of becoming a major global diversified studio, I saw an exciting opportunity to support the company’s growth by applying my specialties.
The third consideration was people and culture. We spend so much time at work, the experience should be awesome. I had heard from so many people that they loved working with the people at Thunderbird and Atomic; it was hard to not want to be a part of that. Now, I see firsthand how much thought goes into providing an atmosphere that is professional, fun and inclusive and that celebrates diversity and philanthropy. I am thrilled to be part of a team of nearly 1,000 crew, who are so talented and passionate about their work.
TV KIDS: What is the strategy you’ve set out for the consumer-products and distribution divisions?
GOLDSMITH: By having distribution and consumer-products expertise in-house, Thunderbird can support our partner-managed series, with platforms like Netflix. We also have the flexibility to raise production financing independently and license content directly to a myriad of global platforms. The goal of the distribution division is to maximize sales opportunities to support our scripted, factual and kids and family divisions’ content. For consumer products, our plan is to own and manage global brands, when we can retain those rights. With the company’s awesome content and our trusted relationships with clients, we strive to establish international awareness of our productions. If a series has consumer-products potential, we know how to be great partners with the toy companies, other key manufacturers and retailers. With the help of a terrific network of licensing agents and other local partners in the major markets, we can manage and scale the business efficiently.
For our live-action productions, we are pursuing distribution and consumer-products opportunities for series like Kim’s Convenience and Heavy Rescue: 401. When it comes to animation, our priority is for the Atomic Cartoons team to meet with the major platforms worldwide to share our ambitious plans and, most importantly, our inspiring development. It has been such a pleasure to meet with Atomic’s existing partners and to introduce the company to new potential clients. And it has been incredibly fulfilling to witness firsthand how impressed people are with the level of creativity at Atomic.
TV KIDS: What is your view on the competitive battle for quality IP as the streaming wars rage on?
GOLDSMITH: It’s certainly gotten more competitive. Over the last few years, the business has absolutely exploded and has become more competitive. When we talk to the platforms and hear how many pitches they’re taking, it’s unbelievable. Great development breeds great content. Led by our chief creative officer, Matt Berkowitz, we have a very focused team at Atomic Cartoons, which is digging deep and searching every day for extraordinary stories. We’re looking at literary properties—known IP. We’re taking tons of pitches from artists, showrunners and writers. We spend time discussing if a project meets the needs of our clients. We look at what’s on their schedule and how our series might fit in. We have lots of conversations with platforms about what’s doing well, what might be missing and what’s important to them, like diversity and authenticity. We are known for beautiful animation and engaging stories, and we stress in pitches why we love each series and what makes it so special. It is a competitive battle for quality IP, no doubt, but I’m confident that Atomic will be developing and producing amazing series for many, many years.
TV KIDS: How have you seen the demand for animation surging amid the pandemic?
GOLDSMITH: The animation industry has grown steadily throughout the last few decades as branded TV networks like Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and other ad-supported and pay networks and broadcasters, featured more and more animated content. Then, two unbelievable events happened at almost the same time: the pandemic and the boom in animation. There is no doubt that the pandemic has amplified what was already happening in animation, with staying at home and viewers taking in more and more content. And companies like Thunderbird and Atomic needed to quickly pivot and move talent to work from home so that productions could continue, while most live-action productions had to shut down.
Leading into the pandemic, we entered what I refer to as the “Second Golden Age of Television.” In the 1950s, when television was exploding, so many TV series were being produced, and the quality of the series was pushed to a higher level. It became known as the Golden Age of Television. Seventy years later, we are in the Second Golden Age, which has been driven by the growth of new platforms and by the quality of television content that has, once again, been brought to a level not seen before. It started about seven years ago, with series like Fargo and House of Cards that had feature-film quality, but longer-form storytelling. The new direct-to-consumer platforms needed lots of this high-quality content to differentiate themselves and justify their subscription price, and animation was perfect to help fulfill this. Newer platforms realized early on that animation was no longer a sideshow; it was absolutely crucial for their success. These platforms saw that animation was building—and retaining—their audience, particularly kids’ content. When they looked at the analytics for direct-to-consumer platforms, they saw that kids were watching a lot of content, and that this was driving subscriptions.
This realization was followed by experimentation, with shows that allowed for incredible creativity that could not be achieved in live action. Audiences continued to grow, leading to where we are today. It has never been bigger or better, and it now includes animated content for all ages. We see this trend continuing for years.
TV KIDS: What are your goals for the next 8 to 12 months out?
GOLDSMITH: The number one priority is to sell series. That is, without a doubt, always our focus at Thunderbird. We are a company laser-focused on creating the highest-quality live-action and animated content. We also have a goal to become a major, diversified global studio. We are growing like a rocket ship. Some companies have a few rock-star crew members, but we have nearly 1,000 of them. If you look at our growth numbers year-over-year, and our financials, it is inspiring. That said, there is only so much we can do to grow organically. One of the ways we’re doing this is through the new distribution and consumer-products division we launched in January 2021, which will represent our own IP and also manage third-party IP. We can also seek to grow externally through the acquisition of strategic companies, such as producers of content we love in strategic parts of the world.