Exclusive: Disney’s Orion Ross talks rights, serialised storytelling and ‘Bluey’ love

The Doomies

Disney EMEA is looking to commission complex, serialised animated series and “grounded” pre-school comedies, its animation chief has told TBI here at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France.

Orion Ross, VP of original programming, animation, for Disney EMEA, added that he is looking for shows that push the boundaries of what people expect a Disney show to look like.

Ross announced two new original series out of EMEA at the festival, spooky comedy The Doomies and sports-themed epic adventure series Dragon Striker.

Orion Ross

Dragon Striker is our first foray into serialised anime-type content. It’s just not something that Disney is doing right now and we know that our audience loves it.

“We’ve seen serialised storytelling working for many years, obviously in Japan. We also watched as Avatar: The Last Airbender and shows like that found new life on streaming,” explained Ross. “We’re now obviously thinking streaming-first and it really opens up this exciting opportunity to do serialised storytelling, to create rich and deep worlds and to have high volume multi-season arcs.”

Ross said that the appeal of the show is not necessarily its anime-style, but rather the complexity of plot and characterisation that comes with serialised storytelling, and revealed he is looking to partner with EMEA prodcos on similar projects.

Expect the unexpected

The Disney exec also revealed that he is looking for animated comedies for 6- to 14-year-olds running to 11 or 22 minutes per episode that he hopes “might make people say: ‘I didn’t expect that to come from Disney’”.

He added that grounded pre-school comedies based on family, school and relatable situations, are also a priority: “We have a lot of great pre-school coming from the US, but we’re always looking at what we can bring from EMEA, or the rest of the world, that’s different”.

Ross said that Australian animation Bluey, from Ludo Studio, was “a really good benchmark” for the kind of project he had in mind, adding: “We had nothing to do with Bluey, but someone was smart enough to buy it for our channel, which is awesome, because it’s great. I’m a big fan of that show.”

Dragon Striker

Innovation is foremost for the exec, who explained: “The last thing we want to do is repeat the same things we’ve been doing for the past 100 years. Or if we do them again, make sure we’re bringing a fresh twist to them.

“Disney’s never done a soccer anime series ­– it hasn’t really done an anime series – that feels for us like new ground and not something that you’d expect to have found on Disney a while ago.”

Call-out for co-productions

Ross added that it was “an important message for people to hear” that “co-productions are really important to us,” hoping to dispel the belief that working with Disney always means handing over all the rights.

“That’s not the case; we have a long history of [co-productions] in Europe. Just because we’re moving more towards streaming as well as, or more than, channels, we still need both of them, and both business models. We don’t have to own everything.”

In a far-reaching interview with TBI, Ross added that the team would seek all rights if the project was a full commission or if the project was based on a Disney IP “or if it was something that we thought was great and we wanted to make it a global original and have that exclusively on Disney+ and the channels everywhere, like The Doomies.”

Alternatively, Ross is open to a global pre-buy on co-productions where, like with PJ Masks and Miraculous: Tales Of Ladybug & Cat Noir, “we have it everywhere, but then it’s non-exclusive in some territories. Or we would take more rights in EMEA and put in a chunk of the budget to cover those rights and the producer would keep the rights for the rest of the world.

“There are different models on different shows,” elaborated Ross. “It really depends on the deal, we’ve done anything from a very limited pre-buy in a couple of territories for a small percentage of the budget up to a third or a half, depending on how the series is financed.”

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