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Cyber plays the Long, Long game

LOngLongHolidayFounder of Cyber Group Studios Pierre Sissman tells TBI that the firm is expanding its development and production capabilities, and why World War II animation The Long, Long Holiday will bring families together

Pierre Sissman has spent the better part of a decade getting his Cyber Group Studios to the point where it is ready for wider expansion. Having launched the firm in 2005, the former Disney France president initially focused on preschool through series such as Ozie Boo! and Tales of Tatonka.

Now the firm is at the stage where new avenues of business have opened up, with enough capital behind it to finance a larger development slate, new production tools and bigger distribution operations.

“When we created the company we decided to focus on one segment of the market and to do it right,” Sissman says. “That’s what happened. Our biggest evolution in the past three or four years is we have expanded our main focus from only preschool to a slate of kids series. We are coming very aggressively to the wider market.”

At MIPCOM, it premiered new episodes of the much-travelled Disney Channels Worldwide series Zou and Mia, which it coproduces for Tiji, Radio Canada and Middle Eastern-Asian broadcaster Spacetoon.

“We invested a lot in those two shows, creating new software with new lighting and rendering tools to create even better images on the screen,” says Sissman. “Zou and Mia are achieving images at a level we’ve never seen before [in a TV production].”

The company’s development slate has increased massively since gaining US$5 million in VC funding in 2012. “The funding gave us the security to develop our production tools and our development slate in a way that we were unable to before,” says Sissman.

Resulting shows from this push included MIPCOM debutantes Mini Ninjas, which is a 2D/3D coproduction with TF1 Productions, and Zorro: The Chronicles, a series for 6-10s based on the classic Latin bandit stories, for France Télévisions and Italian pubcaster Rai. Sissman describes the latter series as Cyber Group’s biggest to date.

Other new Cyber Group shows include TF1’s Mirette Investigates, which debuted to the international market at Cartoon Forum last year and follows a globe-trotting detective girl and her cat; and Pirates Next Door, which is for France Télévisions and based on a book by Jonny Duddle, who’s best known as the illustrator of the Harry Potter novels.

Cyber Group has now working on other projects with Duddle and publisher Templar.

Sissman reveals his company is working up TV adaptations of the British illustrator’s The King of Space, a kids title about the six-year-old heir to a galactic empire, and Gigantosaurus, a boy-that-cried-wolf story that substitutes dinosaurs for humans.

From an overall standpoint, Sissman says: “We have a huge development slate – we spend between €400,000 and €500,000 [US$515,000 and US$644,000] on development each year. We have up to 10 projects in development, and all have a reason to be there. We’re going to make some very big announcements at MIPCOM that are going to surprise some people.”

Making large bets on development, production and distribution takes financing, and earlier this year Cyber Group secured a multi-year deal with French banks Natixis and Coficiné that will allow it to make even bigger moves.

That cash is being used to make a push into third-party rights, though Cyber Group has been selling other firms content as far back as 2009, when it picked up Australia/Canadian/UK/US cartoon Animalia.

Also new for MIPCOM are KidsPlanet toon series Balloopo, and Les Armateurs’ The Long, Long Holiday (pictured), the latter of which Sissman is particularly proud to represent due to its historical content.

The 10x26mins/5x50mins France Télévisions and Canal+ series was produced in time for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It follows the life of a brother and sister who go to live with their grandparents in the relative safety of the Normandy coast at the beginning of the devastating conflict.

“What makes the hardship of the business worth it is moments like this, when you are proud to be representing something,” says Sissman. “We’ve got to do business and have to make a living, but behind that is the passion to do things that are significant.

This is beyond just producing or selling; families are going to watch Long, Long Holiday – grandparents, parents and children.”