Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is There an Animated Feature Bubble?

Cartoon Brew has a list of 47 animated features that will potentially be released in 2016.  Some have already been released outside North America, others are still in production.

There have been articles in the past about whether animation is wearing out its welcome or not, but now we are reaching a saturation point that is constrained by the calendar.  With only 52 weeks in a year, next year could potentially see a new animated feature released almost every week.  Is it possible for the box office to sustain that many animated films?  Even if half of them don't get a North American release, that's still a new feature every two weeks.

With few exceptions, they are aimed at the family audience.  That audience is now being courted by two other major franchises, Marvel and Star Wars, that will compete for box office dollars.  While many animated features have budgets significantly lower than those from the big studios, they still need to earn enough to make their releases worthwhile.

With so many films hitting theatres so frequently, marketing is going to be extremely important.  Films that have poor opening weekends are toast.  There will be no time for word of mouth to build before the next animated feature arrives.

Many who have jumped into producing animated features are destined to be disappointed.  That's when this bubble is going to pop.  Audiences may not care.  A dozen high profile animated features a year may be more than enough to satisfy the family audience.  But what is this going to do to employment?

People who have been in animation for the last 20 years (except for those who worked in hand drawn animated features) have not seen lean times.  The increase in TV animation, videogames and animated features has mostly been a continuous upward curve.  Those who have been around longer remember that the animation industry was not always so robust.  I can't believe that all these features are going to be profitable enough to keep their producers starting new projects.  Should producers walk away, there are going to be people looking for work.  Maybe TV and games can absorb them, but TV is experiencing its own potential bubble, with streaming being added to broadcast and cable.  Is there enough money in that system to keep everything going?

The Disneys, DreamWorks, Blue Skys and Sonys have deep enough pockets to stay in the market for animated features, but they're a minority of those 47 films.  There will always be features made for local markets in Europe, Asia and South America, but getting a North American release may become harder in the future.  Even the Ghibli films have not pulled major box office in North America, which casts doubts that many of the freshman features coming will be successful.

I could be wrong, but how many animated features a year can the market sustain?


Stephen said...

The question is not "Is there an animated feature bubble?" but rather, "Is there an animated family film bubble?" The answer to which is, yes. But that doesn't mean animation will cease to be a viable art form. And I would argue there ARE animated films being made more with adults in mind even today. 'Ratchet and Clank: The Movie' is coming out soon, and that's based on a Playstation game. It might still be mostly family-friendly, but only in the way that the game is; which is not aimed AT CHILDREN the way that 'The Good Dinosaur' clearly is.

Amid said...

Mark - There were over 100 animated features released theatrically this year so 47 is hardy a big deal. We just need to stop looking at this from the limited perspective of the North American marketplace. Animation is a global industry. There are over 2 billion children in the world, among 7.3 billion total people. Even if all of these films were targeted to the same audience (and they're not), 50 films is still a drop in the bucket compared to live-action output. Bollywood churned out 1,600 films last year, and those films are targeted to a total audience of less than 2 billion.

True, if you're using Hollywood metrics where each animated film has to make $400 million to be deemed a modest success, then this isn't sustainable. But producers around the globe don't budget their films in such insane ways, and a modest gross of US$1-5 million, along with TV sales and other ancillary income, is often enough to make a feature production viable. Tellingly, many of the best animated features of the past few years -- Boy and the World, Adama, Anomalisa -- were produced on very modest budgts.

Mark Mayerson said...

Amid, how many of those 100 plus animated features last year made a profit? How many of the entities behind those films have financed a further animated feature? That, more than the number of releases, is what will determine the future.

If there were more than 100 last year, and this year there are 47 (or 60 or 75), might that not indicate that the bubble is already bursting? As I said, I don't know the answer, but somewhere out there is a saturation point. What it is and when it will happen isn't clear, but everything that goes up eventually comes down.

Khylov said...

"But producers around the globe don't budget their films in such insane ways, and a modest gross of US$1-5 million..."

Depends on how far from the red and into the black those that invest in the film expect (or need) in the end, since this will determine how many animators/artists/etc can be budgeted - and for how long - on a feature length project. Especially given the above figure.

And where exactly, since Free Trade has now incentivized producers even further to either find cheaper labor elsewhere, or to whittle down the domestic workpool to fewer heads wearing more hats. Fair, modest, enough - it all depends on which side of the grass one finds themselves on. And which gets mowed.

Amid said...

Mark - For a lot of foreign producers, it's not about making huge profits but about breaking even so they can continue to make films. The dynamic is different from American conglomerates and old models can't be applied to what's happening in the global marketplace right now. In fact, many of the producers of the films on our list are on their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th films.

Our list is not intended to be comprehensive. It's impossible to know all the features that will released in local markets. I'd bet good money that 2016 will see at least as many features as have been released in the past few years -- and probably more.

I agree with you that there might be a saturation point, but that is decades in the future. Local markets can accommodate hundreds of additional animated features with no fear of oversaturation. India, a country with a population of 1.2 billion, produces only a couple of homegrown animated films a year. Entire regions of the world (South America, Central America, Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia) have just handfuls of homegrown features between them. The potential for growth in foreign and niche markets is nearly limitless at this point.

Khylov said...

"The dynamic is different from American conglomerates and old models can't be applied to what's happening in the global marketplace right now."

The largest credit boom in history that's gone on for the past half century isn't indefinite. And, if the recent push for global democracy is any indication, neither is the cultural/economic infrastructure which originally created and sustained said-industry. Regardless of whether it can survive both financial spigots running dry or an international transplant, the above quote rings true on several levels: Old models - or even current - aren't reliable when it comes to forecasting animation.

Anonymous said...

ratchet and clank was always for children. Fun, but for kids.. As for the cartoon coming out soon, which few will see. At least it's not that awful crash bandicoot--the original designs of that character and game were truly bad.

Anonymous said...

As long as global capitalism doesn't come crashing down or the world enters some kind of economic or environmental tailspin, I don't see the global demand for animation decreasing. It'll probably level off as the population levels off around 11 billion. Unless VR really catches on and supplants the traditional feature framework as a medium.