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Magic Light Pictures

Programming Profile

Gruffalo prodco Magic Light eyes global market with first series


After a bumper year for the animation industry in general, Muriel Thomas of Magic Light Pictures reveals the UK company’s slate for this year and discusses plans for international expansion, as part of its C21 Digital Screenings showcase.


While the events of last year sent many TV production houses into meltdown, the animation industry overall was less affected. Rather than shooting on location, CGI animators were able to keep working from their homes. Despite many challenges, productions could continue.


The UK’s Magic Light Pictures – best known for producing Oscar-nominated animated specials based on Julia Donaldson and Axel Schleffer’s books, such as The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom – benefitted from this along with other animation houses and was also able to keep ahead of the gradually flattening curve through its position as both a producer and distributor.


Muriel Thomas,
Magic Light Pictures

“The advantage of animation is that it can be done from anywhere,” explains Magic Light’s international distribution director Muriel Thomas. “We were also able to adapt quickly to any changes and our production schedules were mostly unaffected. Despite Covid-19 and various lockdowns, we have been able to maintain continuity and quality, and we were grateful to be able to get on with our plan.”


Overall, Thomas says the animation industry has received a boost during the pandemic. With kids crying out for entertainment and parents desperate for a break, the TV became an essential component of lockdown living for families. Thomas also says the increase in demand allowed Magic Light to open up to new markets and sell to new international licensees.


Magic Light plans to continue the Donaldson/Scheffler partnership this year. An adaptation of the book Superworm from the award-winning author and illustrator is set to air on BBC1 in the UK at Christmas, as has become commonplace for the production company’s adaptations of Donaldson/Scheffler’s work. Thomas says international buyers continue to ask for The Gruffalo, which has become a “classic’ over the years, as well as the other Donaldson/Scheffler half-hour specials, building up a “beautiful collection” of films year after year.


As well as Superworm, the company is working on Pip & Posy (52×7’), Magic Light’s first animated preschool series, based on a series of million-selling books illustrated by Scheffler featuring a rabbit and a mouse who are best friends. The show began on Milkshake on the UK’s Channel 5 in March before airing on Sky Kids in May. After a successful launch, the show is now selling internationally with major territories including France, Australia and Germany already secured.



The Gruffalo
The Gruffalo

“Our first objective was to secure a successful launch in the UK,” says Thomas. “We are now hoping to replicate the same success in many other countries. We’re also very conscious that the local language for the show has to be exactly right and we get heavily involved in the dubbing. We want to retain the charm and beauty of the original series.”


With Pip & Posy ready for the global market, what lessons has Thomas learned from the domestic release? “It’s fascinating to see the increasing variety in ways kids watch content and how their watching habits are evolving,” she says. “SVoD platforms and linear services can co-exist and offer different experiences to the audience. In terms of marketing a new show, SVoD requires a slightly different approach with an emphasis on discoverability.”


“Overall, it gives more opportunity for animation to reach a wider audience because there is a multitude of ways to reach viewers. It’s one of the biggest shifts in our industry ever. On-demand may require more promotion and that’s why distribution is increasingly working closely with marketing, a trend that has happened over the last few years. Marketing and presence on social media platforms are now crucial to support the discoverability of new shows and keep the audience aware of new content.”



Pip & Posy
Pip & Posy

One way kids’ TV producers have tried to achieve this is to build a brand around the show they’re selling in order to make it a hit. In the past, this took the form of toys and other merch; nowadays there is the opportunity to go further with sponsored content, social media challenges and even Snapchat filters. Is Magic Light looking at these tactics to make Pip & Posy popular internationally?


“When it comes to Pip & Posy,” says Thomas, “the intention is to build it as a brand over time. It’s about creating a world the kids are familiar with and want to engage in. Pip & Posy already has a notoriety from the collection of books and the series is taking the two loveable characters and their friends to the screen in a playful world focusing on friendship.”


Thomas says SVoD services often require a marketing injection from elsewhere, but what about AVoD platforms? Could their easy accessibility lead parents to choose them over paid subscriptions to keep their kids entertained?



Room on the Broom
Room on the Broom

“It’s interesting,” says Thomas. “As an industry, AVoD is growing rapidly but regarding Magic Light’s content for the moment, linear broadcasters and streamers are still core of our distribution business. However, we are constantly tracking how the industry is evolving and AVoD may become more and more relevant for us in the future not only as a marketing tool but also as a new revenue stream in specific countries.”


One medium that Thomas is sure won’t go away is linear broadcasting, as kids need the regularity of switching on the TV at certain times to give their day structure. There’s a lot to be said, she feels, for not having to constantly search for something to watch. Both linear and on-demand have become equally important in our daily life and coexist, expanding the offering.


As for the next few years at Magic Light, Thomas says, the company will keep on making high-quality specials and series that inspire children and work with partners in each territory to connect its shows with a wide audience. “Approximately 10 years ago, when we started, just a few companies were doing high-quality, high production value animated specials,” she says. “It was a niche market that grew and grew, and the quality is still one of our biggest drivers.”

More programming profiles

  • 26-01-2024

    Magic Light Pictures’ latest holiday special debuted last month and here the company’s marketing director, Marc Ollington, and distribution director, Muriel Thomas, outline how its specials are a year-round business.


    As each new year rolls around, UK prodco Magic Light Pictures celebrates the success of its latest animated Christmas special, which has become a much-anticipated staple of BBC One’s festive line-up.


    Marc Ollington
    Marc Ollington,
    Magic Light Pictures
    Muriel Thomas
    Muriel Thomas,
    Magic Light Pictures

    Last year was no different, following the Christmas Day premiere of Tabby McTat, an adaptation of celebrated author/illustrator duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book about a busker and his pet cat. The film earned itself a spot in the top 10 programmes watched on Christmas Day, according to Magic Light marketing director Marc Ollington, with around 3.4 million live viewers for its premiere TX, and up to seven million in total after one week consolidated.


  • 22-09-2023

    Michael Rose and Martin Pope, the duo behind Magic Light Pictures, look back at their 11 adaptations of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved picture books and reveal how they plan to take the brands into the future.


    It is widely acknowledged that reading books to children delivers profound emotional and learning benefits. But there’s also evidence that it is a source of inspiration to the readers too. How many times over the years, for example, have film and TV producers said their creative ‘eureka’ moment came via the time-honoured ritual of a bedtime story?


    Take Michael Rose and Martin Pope, the co-founders of award-winning London animation studio Magic Light Pictures. Back in the mid-2000s, they were both reading Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved picture book The Gruffalo to their respective children. Determined to adapt the book into an animation film, they spent the next four years convincing publishers, agents and the authors that they could be trusted with this cherished property.

  • 30-01-2023

    Magic Light Pictures is best known for its animated Christmas specials on BBC One and now it’s diversifying, execs from the company reveal.


    As Magic Light Pictures celebrates its 20th birthday, 2023 is shaping up to be a big year for the UK prodco, which has made TV specials loved by many millions of kids around the world.


    The award-winning London company, founded by joint MDs Martin Pope and Michael Rose, has produced 12 of the BBC’s Christmas animated specials, including 10 films based on the story books by Britain’s best-selling author and illustrator, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.


    Its most recent, The Smeds & The Smoos, had more than 8.5 million linear viewers last December, with many more streaming this beautiful film on BBC iPlayer. This success is the culmination of two decades of hard work, creativity and smart stewardship from Pope and Rose.

  • 12-09-2022

    Michael Rose, joint MD at UK animation studio Magic Light Pictures, talks about the company’s strategy for turning shows into brands, and offers a glimpse of the company’s MipJunior slate via C21’s Digital Screenings.


    Magic Light Pictures is probably best known as the Oscar-nominated production house behind many of the BBC’s recent animated Christmas specials, such as The Gruffalo, Zog and Superworm.


    Last year the company launched its first animated series, Pip and Posy, on Paramount-owned Channel 5’s Milkshake! children’s block and on Sky Kids, with the show achieving fantastic ratings and international success.


    The series is about two best friends whose lives revolve around a wonderful world of play. Based on the picture books illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the illustrator of The Gruffalo, it aims to show preschoolers how to build lasting friendships with kindness, resilience and flexibility.

  • 17-02-2022

    With its holiday hit Superworm wriggling its way into millions of festive front rooms last Christmas, UK animation house Magic Light Pictures is lining up new content for 2022 and beyond.


    UK-based Magic Light Pictures, founded in 2003 by joint MDs Martin Pope and Michael Rose, has built up a strong reputation in the kids’ and family space, particularly for its animated Christmas specials for the BBC. With classics like The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child under its belt, the prodco has won three international Emmys and two Baftas and has been nominated for four Oscars.


    “We formed the company because we wanted to make high-quality programmes with a focus on the family audience,” Rose says.

  • 29-01-2021

    Magic Light Pictures’ joint MDs Michael Rose and Martin Pope and head of international distribution Muriel Thomas showcase their C21 Digital Screenings playlist, discussing why young audiences deserve quality content and reveal details of their new project.


    Launched in 2003, Magic Light Pictures (MLP) originated from joint MDs Michael Rose and Martin Pope’s mutual desire “to produce imaginative, thought-provoking and exciting entertainment for children and families worldwide,” says Pope.


    Previously, Rose had set up the feature film division at Aardman Animations and Pope was a live-action producer, working with industry heavyweights including Alan Bennett and John Schlesinger at the BBC. “We shared an interest in focusing increasingly on the family market, as we realised it’s an incredibly important audience who deserve to be well served by the best there is,” says Pope.


    “What’s wonderful about this audience is they are so clear-sighted; they can sniff out anything that feels inauthentic. It’s important to work with writers and directors who have a clear sense of what they’re trying to say and deliver it in a congruent way.”