An Asian Success Story

Astro’s commitment to animation

Astro will be at ATF 2017 in a bigger way than usual. As a sponsor at ATF’s Production Day on November 30 for the much anticipated session, The 360 Experience Kids Want, it is a sign that this Malaysian brand is on a serious path to elevate the Malaysian industry and the Asian landscape.

Malaysia's Animation State

Animation as an industry in Malaysia has grown leaps and bounds over the past decade both in terms of output and production quality. This is reflected by the threefold increase of the number of exports by local studios that have either been commissioned to produce top programmes for, or distributed their own original IPs to global players over the past four years.

Asia’s Path Forward: Service-Oriented to LP Owners

Additionally, Malaysian animation studios are pivoting from being strictly work-for-hire to developing their own IPs not just for their home country, but also a global audience.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

It is also to MDEC’s (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) credit as a digital economy builder that a greater number of creatives are finding the guidance, funds and operational support they need in order to pursue their ambitions in the animation industry.

From Astro’s perspective as a broadcaster and kid’s content buyer, they see a creativity and quality of work from its studios that closely competes with international offerings and that raises the bar year-on-year.

MDEC, according to Goh Hsu-Teik, Head of Animation & Merchandising at Astro Animation, has done a fabulous job of encouraging development at grassroots level up to the point that the IPs are ready to be commercialised.

This includes provision of on-ground training and mentorship that covers the entire ecosystem from pitching a show to entering the consumer products licensing world; incubator facilities and hardware support; exposure to other global players through B2B matching sessions; and financial assistance via development grants or connections to other funds.

Digital Durian and Didi & Friends are products of MDEC’s annual IPCC (Intellectual Property Creators Challenge) programme, having been provided grant monies, a development lair, unlimited access to MSC Malaysia Animation & Creative Content Centre’s facilities and consultancy from industry heavyweights that helped them turn their ideas into reality.

“Closer to home, MDEC has been invaluable to our team; linking us up with interesting IPs in early stages of development (one of which we have recently greenlit for a pilot episode), and opening up networking and marketing opportunities for us at global markets,” Hsu-Teik impressed.

Goh Hsu-Teik
Head of Animation & Merchandising
Astro Animation

Community Spirit

Malaysia’s animation industry is small and close-knit, with a lot of knowledge-sharing between studios/IP owners. This has encouraged a communal effort to look for ways to set the bar even higher and to prove that Malaysian brands have what it takes to compete on a global stage.

Any major success for a made-in-Malaysia piece of animation is seen as a collective win for the industry – and a reminder to keep pushing the envelope, achieving more firsts and record-breakers.

Other Malaysian studios look to the achievements of these trailblazers and realise there is a demand for high-quality content that serves ever-evolving content preferences and consumption habits. And these studios have risen to the challenge, taking it upon themselves to create content that holds true to their creative values and beliefs (in most cases retaining a distinctive Asian flavour), while also satisfying the preferences and requirements of consumers, platforms and licensees/retailers worldwide.

The Rise of Astro

When it comes to animation programmes, Astro is still the new kid on the block, says Goh Hsu-Teik, Head of Animation & Merchandising at Astro Animation. “We believe we still have much to learn. However, we are encouraged by the wins we’ve achieved over 2 short years. We are now proud co-owners of Didi & Friends, Malaysia’s number 1 pre-school brand with over 750 million YouTube views since 2015; Cam & Leon, which has received much interest from global broadcasters and licensees alike; and Omar & Hana, a music and faith-inspired animation that has so far garnered over 100 million views since its launch during Ramadan this year.

“Having said that, we owe much of our success to our studio partners with whom we have been co-producing together – Digital Durian for Didi & Friends and Omar & Hana, and Giggle Garage for Cam & Leon – we could not have asked for better partners to kickstart our journey in the animation space.”

The Future

Astro is constantly revolutionizing its content and audiences can expect to see newer characters and more engaging storytelling in the new seasons. The company is currently busy at work on a cinematic concert experience as well as a second season of Didi & Friends for next year, and like previous editions it will be distributed across all content windows in Malaysia, from the cinema to Pay-Per-View, Pay TV, OTT and DVDs and CDs, including selected airlines!

On the licensing front, Didi & Friends merchandise, sponsored products and events have an established fanbase nationwide, and this has opened the doors to more licensing and sponsorship proposals in exciting new categories. The challenge that lies before Astro now is to replicate this success globally.

(Didi & Friends is currently available in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, and by this time next year, Astro should have English, Mandarin, Thai, Vietnamese, Spanish and Portuguese dubs. They are also looking to incorporate local nursery rhymes from countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan, amongst others, in their next line-up of songs.)

Fighting the Good Fight

iNSiGHTS Magazine: What is the biggest barrier thus far for Malaysian animation being bought by foreign broadcasters & platforms?
Goh Hsu-Teik: Malaysian animation has come a long way when it comes to cracking that barrier to entry to play within the global Animation space. However, much work still lies ahead of us in building a reputation as studios and brands worthy of foreign attention. From a technical production standpoint to cost efficiencies, Malaysian animation is undoubtedly on par with the rest of the world – the challenge is in marketing and convincing others to give us a shot.

iNSiGHTS Magazine: What needs to change to overcome such?
Goh Hsu-Teik: Observing local studios that have managed to attain international success, we find that greater participation at markets and increased exposure between local studios and foreign platforms would certainly help our cause. What is working in our favour at the moment is that Asian stories told through the lens of local storytellers have begun to find its voice on the world stage and it’s a trend that has already started to permeate through in animation.

“In the short term, we aspire to make Didi & Friends a household name in Southeast Asia for kids’ content,” said Hsu-Teik. “The same applies for Omar & Hana, which we think will be huge for us not just in Malaysia, but for families seeking content with faith-inspired values the world over. Cam & Leon, which is non-dialogue comedy however, was designed and created with the goal of making it universally acceptable across peoples and cultures, and we already have strong interest from foreign channels and broadcasters.”

In the longer run, Astro has global ambitions for all its IPs. They see themselves as a committed partner to their partners in Malaysia and abroad, an active industry participant and a humble ambassador for Malaysian animation; “and nothing would please us more than to be part of a global success story.”