Animated news site gives US expansion a second try

Next Media Animation, maker of zany news shorts, is aiming for a presence in 10 cities

Three years after abruptly clearing out of New York City, Next Media Animation is back for another shot at the US market.

The Taipei-based animated news specialists, well known for their dramatized depiction of Tiger Woods’ car crash, framing the US-China currency disagreement as a rap battle, and lampooning David Petraeus’ affair and resignation, are setting up a headquarters in Manhattan with an editorial staff expected to grow to around 14 over the next year. That will include one-person bureaus in nine other cities, including Miami, Denver, and Washington DC, according to Michael Logan, NMA’s content development director.

NMA last arrived with a small team in midtown Manhattan in 2011, aiming to launch the Big Apple Daily, an animated news outlet for metro stories named after Hong Kong owner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s flagship tabloid Apple Daily. The project didn’t last six months. “What we found was you need a much larger audience than New York,” said Logan.

Next Media Animation’s take on Jill Abramson’s departure from The New York Times.

This time, the focus is national. NMA’s Tomo News has been animating US stories for the past year, but from 12 time zones away in Taiwan, where the production line of about 200 animators works. The advantage of now having reporters on the ground, said Logan, is being able to conduct interviews and source user-generated content such as smartphone videos before local competitors do. Most of all, though, the aim is to get first-hand photos at crime scenes and events which can lead to more detailed animated recreations, with US reporters being specifically trained in how to capture images that will work for the animators.

Putting reporters on the ground is actually contrary to one of NMA’s core advantages so far: the liberties they can take with accuracy. It was NMA’s biting parodies—highly entertaining but speculative with the details—that first put them on the map. Indeed, animated news has a competitive advantage in situations where little video or photo documentation exists, whether that’s taking a guess at what Charlie Sheen’s alleged destruction of a New York hotel room looked like, or embellishing a scuffle between Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber.

NMA typically garners details from news wires and the internet, then fills in the missing gaps with visualizations. That allows their prolific output. After a script is written, they aim to have a 30-second animation ready in two and a half hours. Tomo News turns out around 30 videos per day, including 10 for a content partnership with Reuters.

Logan says Tomo News is aiming for more “informative and factual” videos, and hard news stories of the day, like this one illustrating how the Ebola virus affects a body, are featured online. However, the most prominent videos are heavy on racy scandals and gruesome crime, hallmarks of owner Lai’s tabloid sensibilities. Last year, the Hong Kong media magnate bought the remaining 30 percent of NMA from publicly listed Next Media, which he also controls. Logan declined to discuss the finances of NMA, now privately owned in full, including whether it’s profitable.

Beyond expanding their reporting, NMA aims to create TV production deals in the US, like ones already established with Reuters and Univision. “In the US, the first goal is to make it sustainable online,” Logan said. “The holy grail is to be able to leap from digital into broadcast television.”

Alec Baldwin gets the NMA treatment. For the last year, Tomo News has animated New York stories from Taiwan.

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Chris Ip is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisiptw. Tags: , , ,