‘Sixteen South’ a template for success
Animation could be the next big star when it comes to Northern Ireland jobs
Sixteen South’s ‘Pajanimals’, co-produced with the Jim Henson Company, is filmed in Belfast watched in an estimated 300 million homes globally. Photograph courtesy of Sixteen South
Lily may be just five years old and her best friend may be a clever seagull but the pig-tailed treasure is one of the key reasons why 75 people have a job to go to today in Belfast.
Lily is the latest addition to a growing family of characters who are helping to make Sixteen South, a Belfast-based children’s television company, one of the fastest growing stars of the small screen.
Sixteen South has just been selected as one of the top 100 fastest growing European companies, based on revenue growth, by the business advisory group Deloitte.
Last week, it was ranked 68 in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Europe, Middle East and Africa programme – one of the highest rankings awarded to a Northern Ireland company in the last 16 years.
For Colin Williams, the founder and creative director of Sixteen South, it marks the latest episode of an ongoing production that began back in 2008 when he was watching television with his then three-year-old daughter.
He had previously had his own successful commercial production company but after eight years, Williams wanted a change.
“When the recession hit, it stopped being fun. People stopped paying us and I also really wanted to make something that would make a difference, to make television shows that children would enjoy and remember . . . that’s really where Sixteen South came from.
“Our business is based on the motto – do some good, make some money and have some fun – we’re really chuffed that people recognise what we are doing here in Belfast,” he says
In Williams’s case, fun so far has resulted in more than 20 international awards for Sixteen South, including two Emmy nominations and a Bafta award.
Pajanimals, filmed in Belfast and co-produced with the Jim Henson Company, is watched in an estimated 300 million homes globally.
Williams is hoping that its latest production – Driftwood Bay, which features Lily, a five-year-old who lives on the Island of Arranish with her Dad and best friend Gull – will be another success.
All the signs point to it being a hit for Sixteen South, even before it is aired. It has already been sold to more than 100 countries and has generated 75 jobs in Belfast during its 18-month production.
Williams admits he has hit a winning formula with Driftwood Bay which has a budget of more than £2.5 million. But he says one of the biggest challenges in taking a show from concept to reality was securing the finance to get it made.
It’s a theme which was explored at length last week in Belfast when the city hosted Cartoon Finance, an international gathering of some of the biggest names in the animation industry including experts from CBeebies, Nickelodeon and France Télévisions.
Top of the agenda was how best to raise finance. In the case of Sixteen South, it secured finance from the regional development agency Invest NI and NI Screen, the government-backed agency.
But as the seminar in Belfast ably demonstrated, it is not just Sixteen South that is enjoying top billing when it comes to creative talent in the North.
The success of other animators from Flickerpix to Dog Ears, Jam Media and Dancing Girl show just how ambitious the local animation sector is.
And Richard Williams, the chief executive of NI Screen, is convinced that animation could be the next big star when it comes to the local economy. Earlier this year the UK introduced new animation tax breaks which he believes has helped bring new business and a certain momentum.
Williams said the animation industry in the North represents a huge opportunity, is really vibrant and its potential for job creation is strong.