Why a small audience is cooler

I’ve been continuing to write five days a week this month. It’s been an interesting experiment of what comes to mind when one has to write. I wish more people in animation committed to writing more consistently. There used to be so much great information written in blogs about animation. It costs almost nothing and you can publish whatever you want.

This week I’ve been thinking about the opportunity of the internet. I’ve been trying to share some hopefully helpful ideas about making stuff. My goal with indie animated is to convince more animators to make stuff on their own rather than go the traditional route.

If you pay attention to the development process for animated series they probably take on average about 5 years. For most show 5 years is probably a low estimate. That’s before the show gets made. This is what your signing up for if you want to make shows in the traditional method. If you want to pitch production companies and networks. It takes a long time. (There are definitely exceptions to this rule, I’m working on a show that took a year or so. From what I know it’s not normal. It’s safer to be pessimistic)

I’d rather be making things. We have the best distribution tool at our fingertips. If We want to make things we can just go and start building. I’d rather spend 5 years making things and building an audience. If you want to understand how creative businesses work on the internet read Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans.

“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”

 

“A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce.”

Kevin Kelly outlines the pretty simple math. If you can earn $100 profit from each true fan, 1000 true fans is $100 000 a year. This is how the business model of every blogger, youtuber, webcomic artist works. Seth Godin refers to this as the smallest vialble audience. We are seeking the smallest group of people that we need to keep doing what we’re doing. What’s great is that it’s smaller than we think. It’s much smaller than the number that Television Networks need. On television you’re constantly worried if you have the hit show or not. What’s your rating or ranking. What a relief it would be to try and focus on getting a small number of loyal followers.

We’re entering the era of the cult classic. Nothing is a super hit like we used to have. Everything is a cult classic. Difference is now the way to be successful is to make cult classics. We’ve figured out the distribution and marketing of making things for specific niche audiences. You don’t have to make a diluted version for the masses. So go on make something.


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How Netflix bought animation

I’m a little floored by the recent Netflix announcement. I’m surprised because I didn’t think they would do it. I didn’t think what they were doing was all that interesting. They weren’t doing what they did with dramas as they were with animation. They didn’t have the creative or the team to compete with Cartoon Network or Disney.

Then Netflix came out with Hilda. Their first show that was really great. Amazing animation and unique storytelling style. Then Netflix did what only a company like Netflix can do. They built the animation team. They offered something that has been missing from animation in a long time. They found the creators and gave them the best deal. This is Netflix’s strong suit. They don’t operate like Hollywood execs they operate like Silicon Valley venture capitalists. The distinction is that they look for good projects from good creators. Then they put the trust in the creator to pull that off.

It took McCracken five years to get “The Powerpuff Girls” on cable. At Netflix, he came in with a pitch for “Kid Cosmic,” and in less than a week he had a 10-episode commitment.

 – Netflix Wants to Take Over Family Entertainment – Variety

It’s no wonder that they’ve been able to get an incredible cohort of talent. To say the least I’m excited to see what happens.

Building Community and Starting a Cohort

Just last weekend my friend Aisha and her organization Car Tune hosted an a cartoon barbecue. Car Tune is working to connect and organize animators, animation artists, and everyone who works in animation to talk about the industry, the work, and future of animation in Toronto. A normal barbeque is fun but this one was special. What’s exciting about events like this barbeque is that we’re starting to build a community. Community is a really powerful thing.

There’s an idea I quite like from musician, Brian Eno. It’s called scenius. It’s the idea that lone geniuses isn’t helpful and isn’t true. Scenius is the idea that genius needs a community and a culture. “let’s forget the idea of “genius” for a little while, let’s think about the whole ecology of ideas that give rise to good new thoughts and good new work.” To create interesting work you need a whole scene of artists, critics, fans, and patrons. The feedback loop is what creates great work. “Scenius is the intelligence of a whole… operation or group of people.”

This creative culture in Hollywood is what makes the place so potent. They have many artists and support people that are feeding the culture. You can also see this in how the network studios are set up. For instance at Cartoon Network, Disney, and Nickelodeon there is a cohort of creators working in the same building, competing and feeding off each other. Each show develops and fosters new talent that will go on to make the next shows. Out of The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack came Regular Show, Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, Over the Garden Wall, out of those shoes came Steven Universe, OK KO, Owl House, Ducktails, etc.

By building our community we are creating the environment to create the first cohort. The first group of creators that will bring up the next set of creators. Culture is built from the ground up. It is not one thing or one place, it’s the ecosystem, a scenius. It’s the effort of a lot of people willing to make a change. If we can take hungry animators and artists and combine them with resourceful producers we can make something interesting. Collaborating with amazing people is one of the great benefits of working in animation. Building the community is up to everyone who wants to be part of it. If you want your own projects to succeed, figure out the small ways you can contribute to the scenius.

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