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An Animated Life

Finn Arnesen (French with Theatre Studies 1984-88) is General Manager for Original Animation and International Development for Turner Broadcasting System Europe. He was instrumental in the launch and growth of the Cartoon Network channel in Europe.

finn.jpgWhen asked which cartoon character he is most like, Finn replied, ‘Road Runner – because he is full on, never slows down and is always looking for the next thing’, which fairly accurately describes spending time talking with him about his working life since leaving Warwick in 1988. From skateboarding around campus and playing ‘really rubbish’ guitar at gigs in the Market Bar, nearly 20 years later, Finn is responsible for the home of cartoon stars in Europe, Africa and the Middle East on television, a multi-award winning website, via games on digital cable and satellite, on mobiles and a best selling comic.

Finn’s definition of a good cartoon is one with strong central characters, narrative story and humour. His narrative story started when, as a young child he was determined to work in television, rather than the family tradition of banking. After Warwick, he started as a runner with Soho 601, a digital post production facility and hung around edit suites after shifts getting to know people and asking questions. His first big break came at WHSmith TV, which became ScreenSport, scheduling European language commentators – a chance to use his languages and follow his passion for football (he is a proud Charlton Athletic season ticket holder). Further work in scheduling and planning, followed by a brief stint at Sky Sports, meant he gained valuable experience of how a television channel works. In 1993 he joined Turner who were starting Cartoon Network in Europe, having launched in the USA the year before.

Bringing regular animation to Europe

Cartoon Network was launched at a time when there were no other 24 hour animation channels on television in the UK. Today the channel has localised services throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa in 14 languages, where it is available in nearly 42 million homes. Finn supervised all day to day programming, operations and development, including creative input into on-air promotions and themes, as well as scheduling strategy. He also worked with producer and distributor, TV Loonland, in coproducing The Cramp Twins, created by British author Brian Wood, which has enjoyed great ratings success on Cartoon Network and the BBC.

Programmes are principally aimed at 6-12 year olds. ‘They want escapism and characters they can identify with’, Finn explained, ‘and we commission riginal animation to meet that demand.’ Ideas are constantly pitched to the channel, 99% of which will not be used, but Finn’s team pride themselves on providing feedback notes. For those that reach the development stage, a property will be optioned and worked on for 3-6 months, but only 25% of these will be commissioned for shows.

cartoon.jpg'Home-grown’ productions

More original animated programming is a key goal for the next five years with a development studio opening in London this year. This move from commissioning a production company to wholly owning their own content means Finn’s team will expand to include designers, storyboard artists and creators who will develop ideas for series. ‘But we don’t want to just believe our own hype and will still need outside influences so we will also co-produce a further two shows a year.’ These ‘home-grown’ productions from the UK must be good enough to compete in the US, with the potential to be sold worldwide.

Finn’s working life is a demanding combination of spotting trends, interpreting these creatively and running a business which will generate revenue from a variety of sources in the UK, Europe and further afield. The recent ruling on restricting television advertising of food and drink products to children in the UK has also increased the pressure. ‘The ruling will cost us money but we are looking at alternative methods of marketing with our partners. Subscription revenue and use of new digital platforms are some of the ways we can replace the income that will be lost from food advertising.’

A guilty pleasure

The annual pattern of his work is dictated by two factors – programmes and the key viewing weeks on television. The early part of the year is spent gearing up for the programme buyer market in April leading to completion of deals by October. Meanwhile, capturing their young viewers with new shows is allied to crucial periods in the school calendar such as back to school in September, and half terms in October and February. Finn thinks the best part of his job is ‘Seeing the seed of an idea grow from a concept on paper to being on air two years later and hearing children talk about the show.’ He also enjoys mentoring people and giving them the opportunity to develop their creativity and careers.

The downside is turning down very creative people and the amount of time that travel takes him away from his two young children. ‘It is a job where you never switch off. But really it is a guilty pleasure as it’s also my hobby!’

So what next for the ‘Road Runner’? ‘In the next two years, I am really looking forward to running the development studio and seeing our own shows through from inception to being on air, and then building the licensing and merchandising programme to accompany them. Then I would like to establish a Cartoon Network studio in Europe.’ So, like the great cartoons, Finn isn’t slowing down, the narrative story continues and there has been humour most of the way – as he said, ‘It’s been so much fun!’