One of the most challenging tasks to take on during a decade of undeniable and sometimes drastic change is to predict what happens next. Will broadcast television die? Is Blu-ray to become the dominant format? What direction will anime take if the industry continues on its current path? Will there be a 2D revival in animated films? Will animation expand as an art form and will those changes extend to more mature storytelling? We’re going to pull out our Educated Guess hats and predict what paths we believe the industry will follow over the course of the next decade.
The Future of Televised Animation
- Broadcast television will remain on the path to diminished
importance. Satellite, cable and the internet will continue to erode
- Children’s television will continue to be dominated by Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney.
- Saturday morning programming will fade to mainly E/I, if not disappear entirely by the end of the next decade.
- So long as television is driven by advertising and those who are
in ad sales believe that cartoons are for children, not much will
change. We’ll see a tiny bit of experimentation with shows that deliver
more mature and gratifying story lines for adults, though the current
trend of comedy and children’s shows will remain dominant in televised
animation in the United States.
- Just as when the camera came into prominence and painting
shifted towards the surreal, storytelling will move away from
photorealism and more towards the abstract.
- Pixar will release a film that flops at the box office. When this
happens, it will be a shock to the 3D CGI animated film system.
- Zemeckis will continue to chase his mocap boondoggle while
Katzenberg continues to chase his 3-D boondoggle as long as the money
holds out for them.
- Classically animated films will continue to play a smaller role in
theatrically released animation. Princess and the Frog may resurrect
hand-drawn animation for Disney, but none of the other major studios
are set up for that style of storytelling any longer and they still
won’t see much value in doing it.
- Smaller studios will be continue to be more open to the use of 2D animation to tell more mature stories.
- Feature animation will see its version of The Blair Witch Project,
an inexpensive film that makes an unexpectedly large amount of money.
Anime in the Coming Decade
Anime was a gigantic part of the story of animation this decade, but it
could fade back to a tiny industry globally if they continue to cater
to narrow domestic audiences. Why?
- Japan is becoming less diverse creatively in it’s animation,
barring a few studios and a few TV stations. The trend towards
toyetic/merchandise-friendly characters is mostly to blame, though the
reduction of international funds in this recession doesn’t help.
- With Korea, China, India, France, Canada and even the US upping
their animation game both in visuals and storytelling, Japan’s studios
could find themselves catering to a niche audience.
The international success of anime was formed on the back the
diversity of story, setting and characters. Anime can avoid becoming a
stale medium, but it will require initiative from the various
localizers internationally to both fund unique series with broad
appeal, and to keep costs down on acquisitions that aren’t as likely to
have wide commercial success.
DVD and Digital Distribution
- Blu-ray will not become the next dominant physical medium so long it retails at a premium. Most people will continue to purchase DVDs at lower retail prices because it’s “good enough” aurally and visually.
- Thanks to the success of this decade’s releases, the Direct-To
market will see more exploitation and further cement itself as a
channel for more mature storytelling.
- On Demand and internet delivery will eventually win out as the
dominant forms of distribution, but not until high-speed internet is
affordable to all income levels.
- The “last 15 feet” from computer to television will finally be
bridged with an affordable home entertainment device that unifies a
vastly segmented hardware market.
- Outsourcing is here to stay, but it’s not going to stay where
it is for long. India and China are both investing significant dollars
and effort to promote their animation industries, and are taking away
more and more business from the Japanese and Korean studios that
dominated the outsourcing field this decade. It’s also true that money
matters more than art in the decision to outsource and where to
outsource, and that the art just has to be “good enough” rather than
“good” to land the outsourcing contracts. However, the quality of those
studios is on the upswing as well. Meanwhile, there are other studios
in Southeast Asia that are beginning to ramp up to take the business
away from India and China.
- I am not confident that the Indian or Chinese markets will produce
much, if anything, to export in the same way that Japan has managed
(sometimes against its will) with anime. Part of that is because they
have such vast domestic markets to target, part of that is a tremendous
paucity of creativity (especially in China), and part of that is
because I’m not sure that either side is all that interested in
bridging the cultural gaps. Similarly, I don’t see any other foreign
animation making serious inroads to the American market the same way
that anime has.
- If efforts to bridge those cultural gaps will happen, it’s because
of market realities. Disney’s experimented with producing movies for
the Indian and Chinese markets, and the international market is growing
in importance for movie box office. Like most globalization efforts,
the driver here is dollars more than any kind of touchy-feely “aren’t
we all the same underneath” sentimentality.
- Of the big players in the animation biz, Nickelodeon is the only
one that seems seriously committed to bridging those cultural gaps. Too
bad it has to be with such intellectually unchallenging fluff like Dora
and Ni Hao, Kai-lan, but it’s still a lot more than anyone else is
doing. I do wonder if there will or can be a similar show for the
Indian subcontinent, due to the incredible diversity just within the