Animation studio Nelvana Communications branched into licensing when it realized that producers increasingly looked to that area as a means to offset animation production costs.
As a result, Nelvana’s licensing division, established a little over six years ago, is one of the fastest growing and increasingly significant divisions within the company, according to Lisa Westfield-Avent, vice president of North American licensing, Nelvana Communications. Nelvana now not only licenses its own productions, but acts as a licensing agent for other companies.
Nelvana offers three types of services. In some cases, they strictly provide animation production, as in the Ace Ventura series. In other circumstances, they create the animation and negotiate to have the licensing rights, as in Wild Cats. In other cases, they have nothing to do with the production of a series, but serve as its licensing agent, as they are currently doing with Tales from the Crypt.
‘As our development department looks at different outside properties, licensing is one of the first things that’s brought up,’ says Westfield-Avent. ‘[Producers ask] ‘What can you do as it relates to licensing?’ Years ago, most producers didn’t see the value in licensing. Now they see the revenue stream and understand its importance.’
Westfield-Avent believes that animated properties can survive without a licensing program, but to maintain visibility and keep kids excited and involved in a series, companies are going to have to create a product line.
That’s what Nelvana is currently mulling as it looks to reintroduce Babar, one of the first characters it licensed. She believes that reintroducing a classic property and making it appear alive and vital requires three elements: the production of new entertainment (there will be a new Babar TV series and/or feature film in 1997), the creation of new designs and updates of previous designs for the property, and the development of retail promotional concepts to get retailers more excited about the property.
The distinct advantage of relaunching a classic property is that it is already known. The chief disadvantage, coincidentally, is also that the property is already known. There’s little chance a classic property will blow out the marketplace the same way as something new and out of the blue like Power Rangers. Expectations must be different. ‘A lot of companies are looking for that next hot property and when you have a classic property, it is a slow build. It’s a different type of challenge,’ she says.
Westfield-Avent believes the licensing of classic properties should focus on the key product categories, such as apparel, publishing and toys. ‘Those properties that have overextended themselves tend to be here today and gone tomorrow . . . and that may be why they are here today and gone tomorrow, because they are overextended.’
The job of getting licensees on board is much tougher these days, says Westfield-Avent. ‘For the licensees, it’s not an easy, ‘OK, I’ll take that’ anymore. They are more careful and do more research to determine what property they are going to spend their money on.’
Westfield-Avent feels that communication between licensing partners is essential to a successful marketing relationship. Sometimes communication is just necessary to reassure that that licensors and licensees are partners. ‘It needs to get across that we’re all helping each other. Licensees help promote the show with their products, but we also help generate sales by having our show out there. I think it’s a partnership, but I think sometimes each respective party d’esn’t look at it that way.’
Getting the right licensees on board is one job, but getting the retailers to take the product is another. ‘You can license 100 million licensees, but if the retailers are not behind it and do not support it, it means nothing. . . . It’s much tougher now, because some retailers feel they have been hurt by certain properties even though they’ve sold tons and tons of product. If they are left with any portion, it’s not looked at as such a success as if they sold out.’
At this year’s licensing show, Nelvana will be featuring Little Bear (co-licensed with Nickelodeon); Pippi Longstocking (an animated film in the spring of ’97 and a TV series in fall of ’97), Babar, Rupert, Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, NeverEnding Story, Blazing Dragons, and Secrets of the Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House.