Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Taiwanese animators take their shows overseas

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Want to taste pure made-in-Taiwan animation work after being brainwashed by overwhelming US and Japanese efforts? First, catch a flight out of Taiwan.

"The local market is just too small for us to survive," Jofee Chiu (邱德炎), a special aide to Smec Media & Entertainment Corp (會宇多媒體) told the Taipei Times yesterday. "We have to do things backwards. That is, we export our products to other countries first, before importing them back here."

Smec is a major animation production company based in Taipei.

Local animation companies have for decades been emulating other industries in Taiwan: by focusing on their areas of specialization in contract manufacturing.

Last year, the production value of the local animation industry totaled NT$240 million (US$7.05 million), and the figure is expected to slightly climb to NT$280 million this year, according to statistics of the Digital Content Industry Promotion Office under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

This is compared to Hollywood hits, which obviously earn much more. The Lion King, for instance, easily garnered US$760 million in international box office, not including profits generated from related videos and peripheral merchandise.

In light of the limited Taiwanese market, local companies said they must target bigger overseas markets, like the US and even China, and hopefully bring their success back to Taiwan -- if they strike the right note.

One major reason why Taiwan has a hard time cultivating this industry is the content.

"I believe our creativity and technique in developing this form of entertainment are not inferior to our counterparts in other advanced countries," Chiu said.

But most of the time, local companies come up with scripts bearing too many cultural references, which are considered appealing to Chinese audiences or sometimes only Taiwanese viewers, Chiu said.

Grandma and Her Ghost (魔法阿媽), a Taiwanese cartoon film released in 1998, is one example of the localization that narrows down the audience, Chiu added.

To survive in the market, Smec Media & Entertainment decided to introduce its mini-cartoon series The Kids' Ten Commandments (兒童十誡) to the US market in March. This strategy proved to be successful, as the company has secured approximately 70 percent of the US$3 million investment on this film as of August, Chiu said.

The successes overseas also interest local TV operators, which are negotiating with Smec Media & Entertainment in bringing the program to local TV viewers, Chiu said.

Another example of pushing the overseas-markets strategy is TVbeans Co (電視豆), an animation start-up established last year. The company in August signed an agreement with Japan-based Planet Inc and Fuji Creative Corp to spend NT$233 million to produce a cartoon serial, Panda Monium, in Taiwan. Taiwanese audiences will not be able to see it until a few years after it is broadcast in Japan in the second half of next year.

Jodie Lee (李詠薇), chief strategy officer with AtGames Taipei Hub, another animation and PC game production company that won a "2003 International Digital Content Award" with its animation film Pixie, also said targeting only local market is a cul-de-sac.

"In fact, the high production costs of quality animation, averaging US$100,000 to US$300,000 per episode, make it difficult to earn money even if you target the whole world," Lee said.

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