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Crowdfunding and the Future of Animation

by on May 1, 2013

With the rise of Kickstarter, more and more people in the entertainment industry are turning to crowdfunding with the hope that the general public will be more receptive of their ideas than the executives that they usually work with. However, while it’s somewhat common to see a game developer or a movie director going it alone, independent from those executives, those who work in television don’t often have that luxury. That has been slow to change, even in the age of YouTube, but it is changing. Joe Murray, the creator of Rocko’s Modern Life, sought to get ahead of it a few years ago when he created a Kickstarter project for KaboingTV, a website with the purpose of fostering independent animation free from the shackles of conformity.

Sadly, while the project met its goal, only a few episodes of original content was ever created for the website. Despite its admirable intentions, it was never able to showcase the new spirit of animation that it saw on the horizon, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying. Frederator, the development studio that has worked on numerous Nickelodeon cartoons over the years, including the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time, launched Cartoon Hangover – an internet channel hosted on YouTube – to showcase some original short-form programming. It has been a success for them, and several new cartoons are scheduled to premiere on there this year.

The problem is, these efforts were done by people who were well known for their work; people who could easily reach out to the public and bring attention to themselves. Without the ability to do that, it’s not easy to work outside of the networks, but I am convinced that there is a future in crowdfunding for television animation.

I was recently made aware of a Kickstarter project coming out of the United Kingdom. It’s for a children’s cartoon called The Lighthouse and the Lock. It was originally developed for Cartoon Network UK as a pilot, but instead of sitting on it like networks tend to do, they returned the rights to creator James Fox and he decided to try his luck at crowdfunding. His goal is to create three online episodes of the show by raising 40,000 British Pounds. You can check out the project here.

Lighthouse Lock

I admire the effort. If he succeeds, this could set a very interesting precedent going forward. Networks tend to be very possessive by their nature, not wanting anything to fall into the hands of their competitors, but would they really lose anything by allowing rejected pilots to be judged instead by the masses? I know the internet is eating away at network viewership, but if a network were to embrace this idea and allow their employees to regain the rights to their pilots after they have been passed over, wouldn’t more people be interested in working for that network? And if the projects then succeeded, wouldn’t those employees be grateful for the network and be open to being re-acquired?

I think it will be a long way off before we reach the point where somebody can crowdfund an entire season of a show. I suppose it’s possible, considering how some projects for games and movies have raised millions of dollars in the past, but even then a lot of corners would have to be cut. But the only way we’ll ever reach the point of trying is if the networks play ball. The Lighthouse and the Lock has a chance because Cartoon Network UK did an uncommon, but wonderful thing. I can only hope that more rejected pilots will be given the same opportunity going forward.

And even if shows can’t begin through crowdfunding, there are those who are convinced that fans would be more than willing to help foot the bill to keep their favorites shows alive. One site, www.smgo.tv, is seeking to work with various networks in order to do just that. People who visit the site can suggest shows that they’d like to see continue, which are then voted upon by the community. Once a certain number of votes are reached, the site reaches out to the network to see if an arrangement can’t be made. Shortly after the site launched, fans of the recently cancelled Motorcity on Disney XD quickly hit the required number of votes.

The site is still in its infancy and no network has taken them up on their offer so far, and it’s entirely possible that none of them ever will, but it does seem to be the natural progression of things. Fans have saved shows before with organized efforts, usually in the form of publicity stunts or commercial drives, so why not help fund shows directly? Wouldn’t networks rather have a sack of cash, legally obtained through the proper channels, than a ton of nuts, like the ones that were sent to CBS back when they cancelled Jericho? Nuts brought Jericho back, if only for a little bit longer, but nuts don’t help pay the bills. I’d say it’s worth exploring the alternatives. I know some fear that if this ever does take off, networks will exploit it by constantly asking more from the audience, dramatically changing the network-viewer relationship for the worse. But with the Nielsen ratings system being as flawed as it is, I think we have more to fear from the status quo.

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