Buzzy Bee goes global on TV

GOING GLOBAL: Lion Rock director William McKegg and the iconic Buzzy Bee.
GOING GLOBAL: Lion Rock director William McKegg and the iconic Buzzy Bee.

Entertainment company Lion Rock Ventures has hooked up with a Malaysian production company to push New Zealand's iconic Buzzy Bee on to global TV screens.

Lion Rock Ventures has signed a co-production deal with Malaysian production company Lemon Sky Animation (LSA) to produce the animation for 52 seven-minute TV episodes featuring Buzzy Bee. The company has also secured a distribution agreement with international TV sales company Beyond Entertainment.

Locally owned Lion Rock bought the rights to Buzzy Bee in 2004, however, its history as a popular toy dates back to at least 1948 during a post-war baby boom, but its origins are obscure.

Whatever its history, Buzzy Bee's latest TV and internet incarnation will appear in the "Kids Jury" competition in Cannes next month. At that event, children are judges on a selection of new TV shows.

It is not Buzzy Bee's first TV appearance, however. Thirteen five-minute episodes were produced in 2009. That series was sold to Australia and Norway, but Lion Rock director William McKegg said when making TV shows, everyone wants more and longer episodes.

McKegg said that is what is about to be delivered and Beyond Entertainment is excited about the show's prospects.

However, getting to this stage has not been easy. McKegg said the company had been trying to raise capital for the venture for some time.

"Entertainment intellectual property [IP] is so unknown that investors are very shy," he said. "I've done a lot of presentations, but investors don't understand the risk so they can't price the investment."

McKegg said the value chain in the industry is largely partner driven. Nothing can go to market without partnerships. The revenue arrives through licensing deals.

"The whole value chain is unfamiliar to New Zealand investors," he said.

The 2009 series received funding of $1.1 million from NZ On Air, but the new series has $5m of funding.

McKegg said New Zealand has great animators but funding here is a problem. The Malaysian partnership and the Beyond deal is the solution.

The co-production deal with Lemon Sky Animation is being funded by Malaysia's MAC3 Co-Production Fund, administered by the Malaysian government's Multimedia Development Corporation, a body not dissimilar to New Zealand's Ministry of Economic Development.

The Buzzy Bee property remains 100% New Zealand owned but LSA shares in a minority of the distribution and merchandising receipts from countries other than Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

Malaysia is an emerging talent in high-quality animation with the government there very keen to promote the digital industry.

But the future is not just about TV. Lion Rock's long-term strategy is to develop a property to "break that mould". McKegg said within the show Buzzy hosts Rolling Down's Radio, a small community-focused radio station that plays music – from the "Buzzy City Rollers". Viewers at home watching the show can call in and talk directly with Buzzy. McKegg said that introduces the perception of two-way conversations with the animated characters. Viewers are also invited to record their own stories after the show on the website via the Rolling Downs Radio.

"Everyone knows how important photos and videos of children are to parents – now Buzzy Bee provides them with the opportunity for audio and video recordings."

The company has involved several international and New Zealand digital media companies to develop its cross-media approach.

Sunday Star Times