Next Media Animation talks "History Channel on speed"

Mark Simon at Next Media Animation in Taipei has a good way to explain the way the pioneering news animation company he works for here operates: “We are the History Channel on speed!”

For many observers in Britain and North America, Next Media Animation’s videos – some of which have gone viral, including the famous Tiger Woods’ car crash item – are seen as “those quirky videos from Taiwan” or labelled in the Western media simply as “those Taiwanese news videos.”

Indeed, we have covered Gordon Brown freaking out in Westminster and Steve Jobs armed with a lightsabre.

But Earth to Western world: Next Media Animation (NMA) is not made by the Taiwanese government or by some race of space aliens called “Taiwanese” but is in fact a multi-national multi-ethnic news animation studio owned by a savvy Hong Kong media mogul.

That’s Mr Jimmy Lai – and NMA is staffed in Taipei by animators, writers, translators and voice-over actors from over a dozen countries. So lose the “those funny Taiwanese videos” label and wake up to the fact that Taiwan is part of the same world you live in.

We don’t call blogs on the New York Times website as “those cute American blogs in New York” and we don’t call blogs on British newspaper “those eccentric Brits are at it again”, do we?

They aren’t “Taiwanese.” They are the creations of NMA, just as the Guardian and the Washington Post are the creations of their specific individual owners.

The correct name of the company that creates these global videos – global, not islandwide – is Next Media Animation.

NMA has made waves since it opened shop last year, and when it put out a very funny video about Tiger Woods, the link went viral and NMA was suddenly on the world’s media map.

Norm Cohen at the New York Times called it Maybe Journalism and defined it as “a best guess at the news as it might well have been, rendered as a video game and built on a bed of pure surmise”.

Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing gushed: “If only this news org would offer an entire 24-hour channel of this stuff! I don’t care that I can’t understand the dialogue in Chinese – all I need to know is in that sweet, sweet CGI.”

Now NMA videos come with English subtitles and voice-overs, and one punter put it this way: “This is, by far, the greatest act of journalism in human history. I wish they made one for the Hindenburg disaster.”

To get a better handle on NMA and where it’s headed, this Letter asked Mark Simon a few questions by email and he responded in, well, internet time.

When I asked him if NMA was turning a tidy profit yet, Simon replied: “We don’t break out NMA since it is interwoven with all of our company since all of our company uses us. And yes, we make money on all our international animations.”

Publicity for NMA has been extensive and overwhelmingly positive worldwide. When we asked Mark which was the best news story for NMA so far, he didn’t hesitate for a second: “The U.S. airlines pat downs and security checks with its very controversial ‘pat downs’ has been a goldmine.”

Who voices the English-language voice-over voice for U.S. President Barack Obama’s character in the NMA videos? “We have a Los Angeles-based guy for Obama,” came the reply.

According to the last count, there are about 260 people on NMA’s staff in Taipei, of which four are Western expats. The rest of the people on board come from Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, China and other Asian nations, Simon said.

So there you have it, the History Channel on speed. Direct from Singapore, Beijing. Taipei and elsewhere.

News just might never be the same if Jimmy Lai gets his way.