Children drive demand for animation studios’ services

IN THE PRESS | Business In Vancouver | October 25th, 2018 | Read More

While big blockbuster hits, enlightened television content and vivid video game worlds dominate the digital arts sector, one consumer demographic is driving content demands far higher than predicted. And it’s unlikely to be paying for its own subscriptions.

“There has never been a better time to be making kids’ content,”said Kirsten Newlands, senior vice-president of animation production at DHX Media (TSX:DHX).

DHX works on dozens of children’s shows and owns some of the biggest brands in child entertainment, including Teletubbies and Strawberry Shortcake. In 2018, the introduction of two new programs to the DHX roster drove revenue up nearly 45% to $434.4 million compared with 2017.

The DHX studio in Vancouver employs roughly 750 people. Almost 90% of them are artists working on productions either owned by DHX, co-produced with partners or assigned for hire. The 75,000-square-foot Mount Pleasant studio has a gym, library, micro café and community gardens.

Newlands spent part of her career in Toronto but rejoined the Vancouver team several years ago and, with the opening of the new studio in January 2017, she has been privy to the rapid growth of the sector in the city and the heightened focus on child-centred content.

Since DHX reopened in Vancouver, demand from the global streaming market for premium original programming and the popularity of kids’ content on YouTube have skyrocketed.

“The challenge is those same opportunities are there for every company,” Newlands said. “If you are lucky enough to get [a project] financed and on the air, you pretty quickly have to scale up to anywhere from a 45 to 85 crew and get going on making your show.”

Yet what makes Vancouver unique, according to Newlands, is that companies and employees in the city embrace change and fluid movement between projects and organizations to collectively foster a healthy industry for all.

Shawn Walsh, visual effects executive producer and general manager at Image Engine Design Inc., agreed.

“When we first set up Image Engine for high-end visual effects work, many of us would talk about the collaborative environment we had cut our teeth in, which was Soho in London, England,” Walsh said. “What has grown up in Vancouver for post-production and visual effects would simply not have transpired if it weren’t for openness between competitors.”

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