Kids get their first Netflix series, and DreamWorks makes money on Turbo

On December 24, five episodes of the Netflix original series Turbo: F.A.S.T. are set to start streaming on Netflix.  (s NFLX) The series, focusing on the adventures of racing snails who are also friends, is a spin-off based on the DreamWorks film Turbo, and is the first project to premiere from a massive deal between DreamWorks and Netflix, for multiple new series of dozens of episodes. But while Turbo wasn’t seen as a financial success, the new series and the rise of digital distribution means new options for of profitability.

Turbo: F.A.S.T. is a very different entity from Turbo, due in part to a completely different animation style. While the original film was rendered in 3D CGI, the animation studio Titmouse, which has a track record creating shows for Adult Swim, Nickelodeon and Disney XD, has taken a 2-D approach. (See the trailers below for the difference.)



Also, while the original film featured a star-studded voice cast including Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Maya Rudolph, only one actor returned to voice his character — Community‘s Ken Jeong.

Instead, Turbo: F.A.S.T. features a cast of established voice actors from the world of animation, including Reid Scott, Phil LaMarr and Mark Hamill.

That, DreamWorks Animation head of television Margie Cohn said, was in part the desire to have all the actors working together — “The thing is that these actors are really busy, and we want to get talent in the same room at the same time to get that chemistry, And that’s a lot easier to do with professional voice actors,” she said in a phone interview with Gigaom.

The choice to premiere on Christmas Eve was deliberate, she said. “We know that the time between Christmas and New Years, kids are home — it’s a good opportunity and chance for them to sample the show.”

Future releases, Cohn said, will also be timed to periods when kids will be less occupied than usual — such as Easter and the summer. Releases may be kept to five episodes at a time, but that’s not set in stone.

Why eschew the previously-established Netflix model of uploading all at once? The simple reason is, according to Cohn, “Animation takes time.”

Turbo: F.A.S.T. has actually been in development for the past year — which meant that when the film was not considered a box office success last July, F.A.S.T. had already been in development for six months.

Cohn justified the poor theatrical sales by noting that there was a lot of competition at that time (in fact, it premiered the same weekend as another under-performing Ryan Reynolds film, R.I.P.D.). And according to a report by The Wrap, the film ultimately will turn a profit thanks to strong digital sales. From The Wrap:

“We believe ‘Turbo’ is a profitable film,” CFO Lew Coleman said on the company’s earnings call Tuesday. “That assumes a successful performance in home video and consumer products.”

When pressed by an analyst, Katzenberg said the movie should come out ahead because of lower costs of production, consumer products revenues, the company’s deal with Netflix for a “Turbo” TV show and the timing of its DVD release during the holiday gift-buying season.

“We know that kids really responded to it,” Cohn said. And when a focus group was asked which channel they though would be the best fit for Turbo: F.A.S.T., Netflix was one of the top three choices (the other two were traditional television channels).

Cohn comes from a traditional television background herself — before arriving at DreamWorks, she was an exec at Nickelodeon. But working with Netflix, she says, has been “liberating.”

“This just really feels like the future. My whole team is really excited,” she said.