There is no shortage of licensing agents buying up international animated IP for China, but moving between the booths at Brand Licensing Europe at the London Olympia last week, one name cropped up time and again: UYoung.
UYoung Media is at the forefront of China’s ever accelerating drive for world-class animated content. Formed in 2000, the company seemingly aspires to become China’s answer to eOne or Cake, starting by aggressively building its catalogue of overseas content. Alongside, it has begun developing and producing its own shows via its in-house animation studio – with two locations in Beijing and Shanghai – in collaboration with overseas creative partners.
When it comes to distribution, working with UYoung is a straightforward choice for international content sellers. Boasting strong government connections, the company knows the domestic distribution ropes, is well connected to the major broadcast channels and reportedly remunerates well for the content it acquires. Its licensing and brand building chops are less well established, but they evidently offer a compelling pitch given the raft of titles that have signed with the Beijing-headquartered media giant.
Speaking on the China Focus panel at the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield this summer, the GM of UYoung’s animation studio, James Gu, said the company was looking to buy or develop shows aimed at children ages 3 to 9, since Chinese and Western kids are responsive to the same sort of content up until they reach primary school. Slightly surprisingly, he added that comedy was a target area, but stressed that given the challenges of transcending language and cultural barriers, it should be physical- rather than dialogue-driven.
Recent UYoung acquisitions
UYoung have been on a furious shopping spree lately. They’ve assembled a diverse portfolio, albeit within the preschool demographic, suggesting they are not afraid to experiment with the tastes of the hungry Chinese audience.
Earlier this month UYoung announced it had picked up distribution and licensing rights for “Teletubbies” co-creator Andrew Davenport’s new series Moon and Me, set to debut in 2019. Interestingly that deal includes (unspecified) nearby territories also. UYoung is already the exclusive agency in mainland China for another of Davenport’s shows, In The Night Garden, produced by the BBC and owned by DHX Media, which already airs on China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
In The Night Garden
Very much in line with its comedy aspirations, at ATF Singapore in December 2016, UYoung announced the China TV and SVOD rights (though not licensing) for seasons two to four of long running slapstick comedy, Oggy and the Cockroaches and the first season of super-cute 2D effort Paprika, both from French production company Xilam.
Oggy and the Cockroaches
Then came a broadcast and licensing deal with US IP-holder CentaIP for Kazoops, a show encouraging critical thinking in kids that is currently winning admirers on Netflix.
There have also been two bold buys in the form of Take it Easy Mike and My Knight and Me. The first sounds ambitious – a hyperrealistic CG, dialogue-free, slapstick comedy “in the style of Tom & Jerry-meets-silly pet videos” from French studio TeamTO, set to debut in 2019. My Knight and Me meanwhile is a French-Belgian fantasy show, produced by TeamTO and Cake, which was pulled from Cartoon Network earlier in the year due to poor ratings.
Take It Easy Mike
My Knight and Me
Next up is another fantasy IP that adheres to the popular “…and me” moniker. The person with “me” in this case is a girl named “Mia”, in the boldly titled Mia and Me. It’s an Italian/German/Canadian show about elves, unicorns and fairies, which debuted on Nickelodeon in 2014 and currently has 3 seasons under its belt.
Mia and Me
Last but not least in the heaving UYoung trolley is the highly-rated Bottersnikes and Gumbles, a series that debuted in Australia and the UK in 2015/16, adapted from the books of the same name that ran from 1967 to 1989. There are 52 episodes to date.
Bottersnikes and Gumbles
All the above add to a portfolio that already included Aardman’s stop-motion series Shaun The Sheep and spin-off Timmy Time.
You can be sure this won’t be the end of UYoung’s IP-binge.
International collaboration & going global
In the mould of companies like Zodiak, eOne or Cake, UYoung aspires to be an investor and producer of its own content as well as a global distributor. As James Gu outlined at the CMC, UYoung is actively seeking international partners to co-create properties with global appeal, welcoming the more mature storytelling, creative and production expertise from the West. He added that they are open to co-developing shows from scratch or investing resources in properties already in development.
UYoung’s most notable example to date, and the company’s first international brand, is P. King Duckling, an animated pre-school comedy series co-produced with New York creative house Little Airplane, launched in May 2016. With an iconic Chinese duck as its title and protagonist, P. King set the marker for things to come, becoming the first Chinese animated series to appear on Disney Junior in the US. It has since aired globally.
P. King Duckling
Aiming to build on that success, UYoung this month announced they would be co-developing content with Northern Irish studio Sixteen South to create more shows with global appeal. For good measure as part of that deal, UYoung also acquired the China rights to SS’s mixed-media series Lily’s Driftwood Bay.
No aspiring Chinese animation company would be complete without a Los Angeles office, which is exactly what UYoung opened last summer, appointing a small team of experienced industry executives to help guide the company’s ambitious global licensing, distribution and content development plans.