Silvergate Media, producer of global hit children’s series “Octonauts,” has set up shop in China. It’s making two “Octonauts” movies with Wanda’s kids entertainment division, and will also work up new properties for the local market that it will also push out internationally, Silvergate CEO and co-founder Waheed Alli told Variety.
The company’s China launch comes after it teamed with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV to co-produce Season 5 of “Octonauts,” an animated preschool series that follows a band of animal aquatic adventurers. Silvergate also makes the “Peter Rabbit” animated series and Nick Jr. show “Sunny Day.”
Its creative team is mostly based in New York and L.A., with commercial activity run out of London. Alli is based in the U.K. but spends 10 days a month in the U.S. “Building a franchise is what we’re good at, but it does mean you have to be present in the U.S. and the U.K. in the English-speaking world, and you have to be present in China these days, and you have to build a structure to allow these things to perform,” he said.
William Astor, Silvergate’s chairman and other co-founder, has built the Chinese business, developing the broadcast and licensing relationships. He will lead the Silvergate China team with Ron Allen, EVP, commercial. Alex Jenn and Victoria Astor, both of whom live in China and are Mandarin speakers, are also on the China team.
“We are looking to build a content studio with a joint-venture partner there. We believe there is an opportunity to do what we have done with ‘Octonauts’ with one or two other things that we love,” Alli said.
He added that they are close to selecting whom they will pact with locally, beyond the deals with CCTV and Wanda. “We like working with other creatives so we want them to have something to add. What we think we will leave them with is the ability to access international markets, and what they will give us is better insight into unlocking the Chinese creative potential.”
“Octonauts” is a rare example of a recent breakout global children’s hit. Having established itself as a kid favorite in the West, on Disney Channel in the U.S. and CBeebies in Britain among others, it hit a new level in China. Online views total 14 billion, and 5 million books have been sold as part of a licensing program that also saw millions attend a promotional event in Wanda-owned shopping malls.
The two 75-minute movies are being produced by Silvergate and Wanda Kids will handle the distribution and theatrical launch in China. The first film, “The Ring of Fire,” will be released in 2020. The second film is titled: “The Underwater Caves of Sac Atun.” Launching in movie theaters fits with Chinese viewing habits, Alli said: “There are a couple of markets, and China is one of them, where theatrical release is a big thing for kids’ content.”
The films will have been picked up by Netflix globally, which will launch them outside China as specials under the Netflix Originals banner.
The Silvergate-CCTV co-production deal for the TV series was the first partnership of its kind. Season 5 launches in the fall with locally tailored twists, including a new red panda character, Mapmaker Min, and a special about a giant salamander. CCTV is not a partner on Season 6, which is in early production and Alli hints at a new direction for the Octonauts. “It is going to see a departure from Seasons 1 to 5,” he said. “We are driven by our own curiosity and we kind of wanted to go to other places.”