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Toonz Media Group

Programming Profile

Singing a different Toonz for 2022


P Jayakumar, CEO of India’s Toonz Media Group, and chief sales and marketing officer Bruno Zarka reveal how lockdown impacted their business, their plans for 2022 and the new titles they are showcasing on C21’s Digital Screenings this week.


How has the animation sector been affected by lockdowns over the past 18 months?
Jayakumar: The past 18 months have been both tough and transformational for industries around the world. While some found it hard to cope, others have thrived. Animation has been among the lucky second lot. Of course, there have been challenges but, with agility and ingenuity, the industry has been able to stay afloat and even bloom.


Like the rest of the world, we did face difficulties. However, with content providing major respite to pandemic-strapped people around the world, it was definitely a happening year for our industry. The demand for content, especially kids’ content, skyrocketed.


P Jayakumar, Toonz Media Group

At Toonz, we had to push our boundaries to keep up with production deadlines, even while dealing with the limitations of remote working. It was challenging, but definitely worthwhile and fulfilling. There was tremendous learning and lots of valuable insights.


How has demand for animation changed since the pandemic started?
Zarka: The long-term effect of the pandemic has been an increase in demand for content coupled with higher production values. This has had a cascading effect on the entire production pipeline. For example, we now need to focus on a strong development phase for new properties. Companies are also mulling over betting on IP-based content, which might be safer, versus new, original content.


Bruno Zarka, Toonz Media Group

Another effect has been the rise of blockchain and the metaverse. These changes raise complex questions about the evolution of animation and the demand for new, immersive stories. This has also given the new generation the power to create their own heroes, leaving behind some of our classic, evergreen ones. I am really looking forward to the exciting days ahead.


How has the growth of OTT changed the animation business?
Jayakumar: The streaming platforms have democratised content, making it much more accessible around the world. Kids and families now have access to very niche and regional content. The demand for animation has certainly grown with the advent of OTTs. The relationship has been symbiotic.


In terms of content, there is currently a lot of emphasis on edutainment in kids’ animation, particularly in the area of social and emotional learning. This is one area that kids completely missed with schools being shut during lockdown. There is also a lot of demand for interactive, immersive and gamified content that can propel kids to get involved in some kind of activity.


This kind of non-linear storytelling, which infuses exploration, gaming and problem-solving into the storyline, is particularly suited for VoDs and OTTs. Also, the global players in this sector have played a major role in raising the bar for the overall standards and universal appeal of all kinds of content, including animated content.


What is the strategy behind your recent moves into pay TV and OTT?
Jayakumar: We are looking forward to new initiatives under Toonz Media Networks, which represents our digital and platform entertainment business. Toonz Media Networks was established last year and we launched our first broadcast channel in the fast-growing kids’ market of Indonesia. The Toonz Kids channel is, in fact, the first kids’ TV channel to carry programmes in Bahasa. This year we will be launching channels in the Middle East and North Africa.



By venturing into broadcast and OTT, our idea is to monetise Toonz’s content in various locations across the globe, especially in emerging markets, via our in-house content delivery platforms. We will be partnering with telcos as well as digital platforms to launch channels in these places. This includes both linear and on-demand channels.


Tell us about the international appeal of the shows on your playlist.
Zarka: For this season, we have put together a slate that includes both original Toonz IP and well-known international titles that we are distributing. A core theme that runs through our shows is joy and positivity. We have taken great care in developing these properties with unique plots, fascinating environments and diverse characters.


A lot of research has also gone into using the latest technology in production and show formats to make our shows immersive, engaging and entertaining. All our shows also uphold universal values of inclusivity, diversity and sustainability.


Sunny Side Billy
Sunny Side Billy

But most of all, it is the world-class talent associated with our shows that make them really interesting. We have a slew of shows being coproduced with the world’s top creators. With Keith Chapman (Paw Patrol, Bob The Builder), we are developing preschool series Paddypaws. We have Aliens in My Backpack with Rob Lee (Fireman Sam) and Chris Henderson (A Tale Dark & Grimm). Sunnyside Billy is another show currently in production with Jan Van Rijsselberge (Maya The Bee, Robot Boy).


As well as this, we are also teaming up with international partners to take our projects to the next level. Among them are TVE/Clan TV; Litton TV, which is part of Hearst Entertainment; Ferly Studio, with which we are coproducing our new show Kingdom of None; and the smash hit STEM-focused toy brand Goldie Blox, which we are producing as a series.


Which other genres of programming is Toonz moving into?
Jayakumar: A major business vertical that we will expand in 2022 is our live-action wing. Toonz is largely known for its world-class animation IP. However, we do have a handful of live-action titles among our credits.



Although few, they are all global super-hits like the movie Magic Beyond Words, based on the life of author JK Rowling; the Mostly Ghostly series, based on famous youth horror author RL Stine’s books; and Jamillah & Aladdin, based on the classic Arabian Nights. In 2022, we will be investing more in live-action projects.


Also something that we are really looking forward to this year is the launch of our new NFT-based game. In October last year, Toonz launched Toonz NFTLabs, the world’s first fully integrated NFT design lab, in partnership with blockchain R&D company GuardianLink. The online game we are currently developing will be our first NFT-based product to be launched in the market. We are planning to launch it in the first quarter of 2022. NFTs and the metaverse are areas that Toonz will be focusing on a lot in the coming days. We are also looking out for partnerships with major brands for creation and monetisation of large-scale NFT-driven properties in movies, television, games and the metaverse.


Zarka: This year we will see three key enhancements in our slate. First, we plan to develop a slate of live-action feature films for the family audience, with four movies in production for 2022. This would include both original stories and IP-based ones, such as RL Stine’s Zombie Town stories.



Second, we are developing a strong animated features slate. Along with Canterville Ghost, being coproduced with Cinema Management Group, and JG & the BC Kids, coproduced with Janet Hubert, we have in production four animated features for family audiences, to be delivered in 2022/23.


And third, this year we are producing our first adult animated series, with two great talents, Jason Short and Jayme Laforest. We are also looking forward to our first reboot, Swat Kats, with Christian and Yvon Tremblay, creators of the original Hanna-Barbera series.


After expanding into Ireland and Spain, where else are you looking to acquire production or distribution companies?
Jayakumar: Toonz has its offices spread across the world. Our business headquarters is in Singapore, while our largest studios are in Trivandrum, India. Telegael, our Irish wing, also has large live-action and stop-motion facilities. Imira, our Spanish studio, focuses on European productions of both animation and live-action content. Our New Zealand wing, Toonz New Zealand, will also expand from animation to live-action soon.


Darwin & Newts
Darwin & Newts

And then we have our Turkish entity, Toonz Turkey, focusing on Central and Eastern European projects. Toonz also acquired majority stakes in the Indian gaming company called Tilt Labs a few years back.


We are now looking to fuel our future growth, both organically and inorganically, through strategic acquisitions that can help us grow our current business to the next level. We are also looking for acquisition targets in the wider media and entertainment sector that can complement our current businesses.


What recent programme sales has Toonz made?
Zarka: During the last quarter of last year, we distributed more than 350 hours of programmes, including produced content, presales and coproductions. Among our buyers last year were Peacock, Sky, Pluto TV, Media Corp, Da Vinci, DIY, TVE Clan TV, Amazon, Netflix and the BBC.


This month, we will be launching our new Customers Care initiative, which will be dedicated to our partners and coproducers. The objective of this initiative is to streamline our sales pipeline by ensuring everyone’s best interests and maximum value for our programmes.