Turner Broadcasting plans to make The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest the kids television event of 1996.
The company has invested some $40 million in production costs to create 65 half-hour episodes featuring film-quality animation techniques uncommon on cable television. The series will air a combined 21 times a week on TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network beginning August 26.
Jonny Quest is the biggest corporate initiative to come out of the Turner’s 1991 purchase of the Hanna-Barbera Studios and they treating the launch akin to a major motion picture premiere launch. This initiative will serve as a model for integrated marketing for future Turner properties.
A comprehensive licensing and promotional program, which includes a toy line from Lewis Galoob Toys, a fast food promotion with Pizza Hut and a packaged goods promotion, will coincide with the series’ debut.
Quest was selected as the first series for the Turner marketing synergy for several reasons: It is the best Hanna-Barbera property in the popular animated action-adventure genre; no other animated series on TV today features realistic children characters going on intricate, life-like adventures; not only did research indicate a hidden demand for the show, but Quest gets the second most calls on the Hanna-Barbera hotline (The Flintstones are first), according to Stephanie Sperber, executive director of marketing at Hanna-Barbera.
In the first quarter of 1994, Sperber was named to head a Jonny Quest task force comprised of key players from all Turner divisions including ad sales, consumer products, licensing and marketing, production, promotions, educational services and international. In the first meeting, each division discussed their business objectives and the time line needed to accomplish them. The decision was made to launch the series in the fall of 1996.
The new Hanna-Barbera series retains much of the scope of the original show that debuted on ABC prime time in September 1964, such as globe-trotting travel, teamwork and use of cutting-edge technology. But the production side decided to give Jonny Quest a nineties makeover. Jonny is now older (13 rather than 11) and a little more buff. A new female character, Jessie, has been added to attract female viewers. Perhaps most importantly, the series is now told from the kids’ point-of-view. ‘We didn’t want to mess with it too much, but we wanted to make it something current and something interesting that kids like,’ says Sperber.
Of most immediate concern to Turner was getting a master toy licensee. Turner identified the top five toy companies best suited for the property and how they performed in the areas of distribution, delivery, quality of product and reputation with the retail community. Armed with only a few cartoon boards, test animation and the Jonny Quest reputation, they pitched their show. In early 1995, they selected Lewis Galoob Toys. Galoob-which owns the toy licenses for such properties as Star Wars and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers-to produce action figures, role playing toys, plush and a segment of the company’s Micro Machines in support of the series. ‘There was no buying their enthusiasm,’ Sperber said. ‘We felt it would be a wise decision to go with a hot, sort of up-and-coming company, as opposed to being with a larger company that may not pay enough attention to our property.’
Galoob was equally impressed with Turner’s commitment to the series. ‘This property will translate extremely well into a great action figure line and is one of the best new properties we’ve reviewed this year, ‘ says Larry Wiesler, vice president of marketing at Galoob.
Once the master toy license came into place, the next goal was to get a fast food partner and Pizza Hut was signed on. ‘Once we had Galoob on board, it sort of legitimized everything,’ Sperber said. ‘They were committing a lot of money to Johnny Quest. . . . It made the project real in a lot of people’s eyes.’
In every pitch meeting, Turner would bring representatives from as many divisions as possible to demonstrate to potential licensees the commitment the company had to developing a successful Jonny Quest brand. Additionally, they chose partners who understood the value and would respect the integrity of that brand. To date, about 20 licensees are aboard.
hortly after Toy Fair, Turner will hold a licensee summit, at which all the Quest partners will discuss what each is doing and how they can work together to be more successful.
Sperber says that she had some concern that the confluence of the tie-in campaigns, toy launch, fast food and packaged goods promotions could overhype the program. ‘We were concerned that it would spike, and that there would be nothing to back it up and people would get sick of it.’ To prevent this market saturation, Turner has licensed only in the main categories for the first season.
The Pizza Hut fast food promotion begins two weeks prior to launch and will run for eight weeks supported by kid-targeted media. The toy line will debut at launch and will be later backed by media for the Christmas season. The cereal promotion will hit at launch, supported with media and in-store displays to give Quest an immediate retail presence. In March, Cartoon Network Video is launching digitally remastered episodes on five videos of the original 1964 Jonny Quest under the title Classic Jonny Quest. In October and November, a second packaged goods promotion begins.
If the series proves to be success, a live-action film produced by Turner Pictures will probably follow.
Jonny Quest is the top priority for Turner’s kids business in 1996 and Sperber is confident she has a hit. ‘Research and testing shows that kids love it. Aside from that, it’s a cool show. I hope it will be a huge kids phenomena and that Jonny Quest toys become the must-have products for kids.’
In 1997-98, The Jetsons are scheduled to get the ‘Quest’ treatment.