JAM Media creates, develops and produces entertainment brands for kids.
John Rice is a BAFTA award-winning producer and director who began his career as an animator in feature film working at 20th Century Fox in the US. This was followed by a stint at MTV in New York where he spent two years as the character designer on a number of projects. Being familiar with both pre and post production and with the technologies associated with both, John set up JAM Media in 2002 with two college friends.
Since then the studio has produced the award winning pre-school series Picme with RTE, Funky Fables with the BBC and, most recently, the BAFTA winning Roy which also won the RTS Award for Best Children’s Drama in 2010. John holds a Masters in Multi-Media from Trinity College, Dublin and is a member of the Irish Film Board.
Founded in 2002 in a Dublin kitchen, JAM Media creates, develops and produces entertainment brands for kids and has developed methods that can ensure world-class delivery of animation and live action content over traditional and emerging platforms. JAM has created and produced over 50 hours of award-winning children’s content including Roy, Tilly and Friends, Baby Jake, Funky Fables and PICME that can be seen in over 95 territories worldwide and is broadcast by BBC, RTE, ABC Australia, Nickelodeon, France TV, RAI, PBS Sprout, WDR and many more. The company currently employ 50 talented digital artists, compositors, writers and animators in Dublin and a further 30 in their newly opened Belfast studio. A North American base is planned for Autumn 2013.
One of the distinguishing features JAM has in the very crowded space of children’s entertainment is the variety of styles and production techniques employed by the company. The emphasis is always to tell memorable character-driven stories well and, by allowing the content to dictate the aesthetic, the company has been able to reinvent itself in the market place many times. Over the past 3 years JAM has received the following awards: Tricks for Kids, 2013; Broadcast Award, 2013; BAFTA Best Children’s Drama 2012; Cartoon Forum Producer of the Year 2012 ; Royal Television Society Award winner for Best Children’s Program 2011; 3 IFTA’s.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision prompted you to start-up in business?
We felt we had stories to tell and an innovative way to tell them, coupled with the fact that the founders wanted to hang out with each other.
How did you secure your first investment?
Friends and family. We have been self funding ever since.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
A large distribution company was playing hardball regarding a previously agreed advance. They were looking for equity in the company or would walk thinking they had us over a barrel, which they did. I walked and they chased after us. We eventually got an even better deal due to the frustration they conjured up.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
For my daughter’s 2nd birthday, I invited my friends to her party through an e-invite I had created that used my daughter’s face superimposed onto an animated body. The reaction to it was so overwhelming that some people offered money for us to do it for their kids. We thought it would be amazing if we could automate the system for broadcasters and their viewers, effectively making the viewers the star. We pitched to RTE and they commissioned the first of 5 series. Nickelodeon bought it for all their 70 channels around the world. The success of that series meant we arrived on the children’s entertainment marketplace with a bang.
Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution?
JAM is an acronym for John, Al and Mark. We were best mates long before we went into business together and that friendship has lasted.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
Staying relevant to audiences and finding creative ways to finance our properties whilst maintaining the editor integrity of the brand. Attracting and retaining talent is also a big challenge as is competition from bigger players. We also continually strive to reach new audiences through new platforms.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
Winning a BAFTA for Best Children’s Drama last November. It’s opened many doors since.
What were the best & worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Best: Always over deliver.
Worst: To buy our building in 2006. (We didn’t, but are in the process of that now)
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Find a problem in a sector you are passionate about. That passion needs to be contagious as you build your team. Seek out the right partnerships and don’t fear failure.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
When I was 8 years old at a field evening in Abbeydorney, Co. Kerry, I noticed a lack of refreshments on sale. The following year I borrowed £20 pounds from my Dad, bought crates of minerals and penny sweets (which I sold for 2p) and was cleaned out in less than an hour. The following year I had twice the stock but the local grocer had set up a van with food with less of a mark up. I learned a lot about competition from an early age.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
I had top level advice from numerous talented, successful, unselfish individuals over the years.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
Yes! A lot of executives are attracted by the craic and wooed by the charm.
What inspires your business decisions?
Market appetites and technology.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Apart from the obvious ability to do the job it’s how well they will fit into the company culture.