7 July 2022

The birth of a preschool hit

MIPCOM in Cannes was key to the success of Gigantosaurus, a CGI animated prehistoric comedy adventure series that is now going global …  

By Andy Fry

WORLDWIDE producer and distributor of animated series for children and families, Cyber Group Studios (CGS), has been a regular attendee at MIP markets ever since it was launched in 2005. CGS continued to maintain a high-profile at the markets throughout COVID-19, “because it’s good exposure for both the company and our programme brands,” President of Cyber Group Studios Worldwide, Pierre Sissmann, says.

There have been plenty of Cannes-based highlights for Cyber Group Studios down the years – ranging from sales to premieres to co-production partnerships. Dial back a decade, for example, and the group was clinching key deals for shows like Zou and Mademoiselle Zazie. In subsequent years, there were high-profile premieres for flagship series such as Zorro The Chronicles and Gigantosaurus.

The latter of these shows, introduced to MIPCOM delegates in 2018, is now arguably CGS’ biggest franchise. “I think Gigantosaurus is on its way to being one of the very top-ranking preschool brands of the last ten years,” Sissmann says. “Already it is doing over $150m at retail worldwide and it is still in the early stages of its growth. I see its key competitors as Peppa PigPaw Patrol and PJ Masks.”

Aimed at four–to-six year-olds, Gigantosaurus is a CGI animated comedy adventure series that tells the story of four young dinosaur friends who leave their nests to explore the prehistoric world around them. Each episode centres around discovering the mystery of Gigantosaurus, the biggest, fiercest dinosaur of all. As the four inquisitive friends face their fears, they learn the importance of working together and discover that there are also lessons to be gleaned from Gigantosaurus too. “To date, we have produced three seasons of 52 x 11 mins,” Sissmann says, “and we are currently in advanced discussions for season four with a number of partners.”

Backing Gigantosaurus was an act of faith on the part of Sissmann, who decided to greenlight development on the basis of a few sketches. “You have to go back to around 2014 or 2015. We were working with author Johnny Duddle on an animated version of his best-selling children’s book The Pirates Next Door. I asked him ‘what’s new?’ and he pulled some early sketches for Gigantosaurus out of his pocket. I immediately said we wanted to work with him on it and we soon began developing a series.”

This kind of impulse decision is typical of how Sissmann likes to work: “Of course we had Johnny’s track record in mind. But all my life I’ve been prepared to back my instincts when I think something is special. I could immediately see that Johnny was creating a world that young children would be able to connect with and fall in love with.”

After playing around with a few draft concepts, the final form of Gigantosaurus really started to take shape when Jacqueline Moody was brought in as head writer. By Cartoon Forum 2015 “we were ready to present a trailer, bible and script to buyers,” Sissmann says. “The pitch went very well and by the time I walked off the stage I had buyers from Disney and France Télévisions converging from different directions. They arrived at about the same time, so we did a deal with them both.”

Backing Gigantosaurus was an act of faith on the part of Pierre Sissmann

So began the lengthy process of development and production on the series. It would be two more years before an official announcement was made about broadcast partners and four years before Gigantosaurus finally appeared on Disney Junior Worldwide, France Télévisions and Super RTL among others. “It was worth the wait,” Sissmann says, “because it proved a big hit with the target audience. The show is about being daring and working as a team and I think those ideas resonated strongly with children.”

The fact that high-calibre partners like Disney and France Télévisions came in early boosted Cyber Group Studios’ efforts when selling Gigantosaurus to other broadcasters and platforms.

Among the many buyers that came in for season one were: RAI (Italy); Tiny Pop (UK); RTVE (Spain); NHK (Japan); SRC (Canada); SVT (Sweden); Channel 5 (Singapore); DR TV (Denmark); PTS (Taiwan); RTS (Switzerland); TV Azteca (Mexico); TVP (Poland) and Star Channel (Greece). “Because of the structure of Disney’s deal, we were also able to license a window to Netflix,” Sissmann says. “I don't think that could happen now because we are in the era of Disney+, but it means seasons one and two are available via both platforms.”

In addition to these deals, Sissmann singles out the sale of Gigantosaurus to CCTV and Youku in China for special mention. “The show has been incredibly popular in China,” he says. “It has been re-broadcast six times on CCTV and also featured on CCTV’s annual New Year’s television special and parade, one of the most-watched television events in China. It also ranks highly on streamer Youku’s animation lists.”

The first time Gigantosaurus was shown outside face-to-face meetings was at its world premiere at MIPCOM 2018. “We had done a MIPCOM premiere in 2015 for Zorro The Chronicles,” Sissmann remembers, “and that went well. So the sales team was keen to do something similar around Gigantosaurus. I think this kind of screening event can work very well for both the company and the show if you have a strong property to showcase. The good news is that there is a selection process for MIPCOM screenings, so the projects that get in front of the buyers have already been through a curation process.”

Since the show’s debut on Disney in 2019 there have been three major jobs for Gigantosaurus. “One is to keep up the momentum in distributing the show – which we do in-house at Cyber Group Studios. That’s logistically complicated because the show is rolling out at different times in different parts of the world,” Sissmann says. “For example, if you look at the deals we did after MIPCOM and MIPCancun 2021, we sold season one to NHK and season two to Netflix and CCTV. And season three is now streaming on Disney+ in the US. So, you find yourself in a position where a lot of time and energy goes into simply co-ordinating the broadcast plan for the property. It’s like being an air traffic controller.” 

A lot of time and energy goes into simply co-ordinating the broadcast plan for the property. It’s like being an air traffic controller” - Pierre Sissman

The control tower is working well however, with the show now available in 32 languages across over 190 territories. Season-one of the hit series has won the esteemed 2021 French Export Award for Animation. The winners were revealed in 2021 by the TV Division of UniFrance at the Le Rendez-Vous de Biarritz virtual market.

In parallel with the rollout of the flagship series around the world, CGS has been looking for ways to expand content creation opportunities to support the brand. In 2020, for example, the company created a series of short digital films called Who Knows Their Dinos?. The 13 x 2 mins shorts were made available on Disney Junior’s YouTube channel globally and on Gigantosaurus’ YouTube channels.

Another key initiative followed in early 2022, when CGS partnered with YouTube Kids to launch Giganto Club, the studio’s first fully digital-native and 100% real-time animation series. Available in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, the series is hosted by real-time animated dinosaurs that engage viewers with games, songs, and themed content. The 26 x 11 programme also presents facts about the prehistoric Cretaceous period and provides comparisons with the contemporary world.

Cyber Group Studios has also been figuring out ways to extend the franchise into new areas – since this is where the big revenues typically come from preschool properties. “As with distribution, we handle all licensing and merchandising in-house,” Sissmann says. “We already have a stronger roster of partners across a range of product lines and recently announced boutique company United Smile as the new worldwide master toy licensee.”

In addition to the L&M activity, the brand is being pushed out in several other related directions: “We are already on games platforms like Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation,” Sissmann says, “and there is a movie in the works. And we have additional gigantic news that is soon to be announced. Be ready because it will be huge.” 

We have additional gigantic news that is soon to be announced. Be ready because it will be huge - Pierre Sissman

Key to keeping all these areas moving forward is the creativity and innovation of the anchor show, Sissmann says. “Every season we add new characters to keep the franchise fresh, so now we have more than 40 different real dinosaur species and 70 different backgrounds. That doesn’t just keep the audience entertained, it provides new material like publishing, gaming and the licensing programmes.”

Sissmann is looking forward to attending MIPCOM 2022 and has just signed up for the market. The company will be in Cannes with new and established series including Gigantosaurus, Taffy, Droners, 50/50 Heroes and series in development such as The McFire Family already sold to Gulli (M6 group, France) and Digital Girl to BBC (UK), two series originally created by Sissmann – and many more.

In addition, the market will be an opportunity to strengthen the CyberSplash activity, a JV company with Splash Entertainment. Already CyberSplash is working on Family Rocks, a co-production with Israel-based Ananey Studios and directed by award-winning showrunner and director Gili Dolev. Due to premiere in 2024, Family Rocks is a preschool series about the first modern family of the Stone Age.

As for Gigantosaurus, Sissmann says there is still plenty more growth to come. “Right now, we’re looking at season four being launched in 2024, so there is plenty of road still ahead of Gigantosaurus. And remember that in some key markets like Japan we are only just getting started.”

“I think Gigantosaurus is on its way to being one of the very top-ranking preschool brands” Pierre Sissmann

About the author

ANDY FRY

Andy Fry is a freelance journalist who contributes regularly to leading TV and marketing trade magazines - MIP Daily News, Lions Magazine, Location International, Broadcast International, Worldscreen, Sport Business, C21, TBI, DTVE and many more.