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Loreto (Italy), 2011 Rainbow - Viacom Written by Aaron H. Bynum
The Rainbow Group is pretty busy these days. The Italian animation production company is hard at work on a number of different cartoons, each touching on a range of international broadcast and consumer products potential. Rainbow is one of the largest privately-held studios out there, but this past week took steps toward ensuring future animation projects remain well funded, while still retaining an air of independence. Viacom, Inc., the United States media group, has announced their intention to hold a minority stake in the company. Viacom, of course, is the entity home to more than two-dozen cable channels and a few film studios, including the Nickelodeon family of networks, Nickelodeon Movies, and Paramount Pictures.

Rainbow, based in the small town of Loreto, Italy, is an aggressive but smartly managed co-producer of children's entertainment. Viacom is proud thus far of their new minority stake in the production company; an investment more than validating already progressive assumptions of the two companies being joined at the hip for the next three to four years. Rainbow's most well-known title, Winx Club (and the title's high licensing potential), is the studio's most-cited reason for success. But the company's guiding hand, Iginio Straffi, knows that a balanced approach to creative development, product execution, and merchandising are where it's at.

Straffi founded Rainbow back in 1995. Since then, the former illustrator, comic book writer, and kid's TV producer has focused all his efforts on creating fun and popular cartoon properties for distribution throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. Rainbow's Winx Club, the magical adventures of six teen fairies, is the most-licensed girl's property in Italy -- a testament to the animation company's roughly 3:1 income ratio of merchandising to television sales. But even with this having been said, Straffi's company is an incredibly active producer; last year, most memorably, the animation studio reached a co-production, broadcast, and international sales mega-agreement with Nickelodeon. Under the deal, Nick would co-produce the fifth and sixth seasons of Winx Club in addition to taking over the pay television rights for several viewing territories. The fairy cartoon will debut on Nickelodeon soon with four, hour-long TV specials based on Season One and Season Two (Season 3 and Season 4 will premiere in September 2011). Winx Club's most recent U.S. airing was last July, on Saturday mornings, on The CW Network.

Financial terms of Viacom's investment into Rainbow were not disclosed, and the extent to which Viacom (or Nickelodeon) will have a hand in producing, distributing, or brand managing Rainbow's other animated properties, remains to be seen. Iginio Straffi has hinted that this may be the case, however, commenting in a recent interview how Nickelodeon is unquestionably "interested in other Rainbow properties for their channels in the U.S. and internationally."

Rainbow's product library is small, but well rounded enough to warrant analysis. Recent production efforts include the upcoming second season of Huntik: Secrets & Seekers and Pop Pixie, while future production efforts include Mia and Me and Gladiator. The first of these, Huntik, has aired one season in the U.S., and is a boy's action title following an intrepid teen archeologist who discovers ancient and mythical artifacts to hold miraculous power. Pop Pixie is a bit of a spin-off from Winx Club folklore; the cartoon is still very new, and already boasts a good licensing pedigree.
Reported last year, Rainbow ranked just outside the top fifteen global licensing companies, ranked by worldwide retail sales, gaining an estimated USD $3 billion (Numbers published in 2009, recording the then-previous fiscal year, estimated only $2 billion.). Gladiator (working title), will be Rainbow's first original feature production. The script was penned by Michael Wilson (Ice Age) and is tentatively scheduled for release Q1 2012.

Mia and Me will be Rainbow Group's first attempt at live-action/CG programming. The project is another girl-skewing fantasy, and is about an orphan child who finds solace in the only mementoes of her late parents: a bracelet and an old book about unicorns. The girl, Mia, soon finds she can transport to the fantasy world of the book (CG), but similarly discovers that there even in magical paradises, there are problems that need solving. Mia and Me was by far the most-screened program at MIPCOM Junior 2010 [related A.I. news: "MIP Jr. 2010 Animation Spotlight" (10/2010)]. The live/CG series is scheduled to launch this autumn, and is co-produced with Lucky Punch (Germany), March Entertainment (Canada), and broadcaster ZDF (Germany).

(Sources: CNBC, Business Week, KidScreen.com, License! Global online)
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