Hallmark Entertainment, long a producer of quality prime-time movies and mini-series, has expanded into the development of children’s entertainment, complemented by an aggressive new licensing program.
This fall’s debut of Captain Simian & The Space Monkeys the creation of Monkeyshine Productions marks Hallmark’s first full-scale effort into this new arena.
Denise Shapiro, senior vice president of new business development at Hallmark, was hired last September to build Hallmark’s licensing division. Given the fact that Hallmark has such a positive reputation in TV programming and distribution, Shapiro says that bringing Hallmark into the world of consumer products was a natural progression towards making it a full-service entertainment company. ‘We want to brand the company so that we are truly ubiquitous as a provider of quality entertainment around the world in any venue books, TV, home video or children’s products.’
While not known for producing children’s entertainment or related products, Hallmark is banking on its reputation in the family communications business to give it the beachhead it needs in the highly competitive licensing area. Shapiro, taking a page out of her Nickelodeon past, believes the key is creating series that connect with children. ‘Our goal is to have a great television show that really resonates with kids, and gets kids very involved very early on. That’s what ultimately will build the Hallmark entertainment brand.’
Shapiro believes that a collaborative relationship, in which all partners share a vision consistent with Hallmark’s programming goal, will prove the most prudent for launching a successful licensing program. For example, when approaching retail buyers, Shapiro gathers her licensees for joint presentations across all product lines simultaneously. She believes that this gives retailers a sense of where the company is headed with a property, how the roll-out of products will be timed and what promotional opportunities are available for the retailers.
In the specific case of Space Monkeys, Hallmark is currently partnered with Bluebird Toys (for the U.K. and Ireland) and Mattel (for the rest of the world). It also has partnerships within the Hallmark corporate structure, including Hallmark Home Entertainment (home video) and the classic Hallmark core business of paper products and social expressions.
Space Monkeys debuts in August as part of Bohbot’s Amazing Adventures package. Hallmark will stage a slow roll-out of products, starting with toys and moving into home video and classic consumer products heading into1997. ‘I believe it’s important not to inundate every single product category in a child’s life from the get-go,’ she says, ‘because then bloom gets off the rose pretty quickly.’
Shapiro hopes to bring along a fast-food partner at some point, but is aware that heavy competition and a crowded marketplace make these partnerships difficult to attain, especially for companies just beginning to get their legs in this area. Even though fast-food partnerships bring extra exposure, media dollars and excitement, she believes that not having a fast-food partner d’es not necessarily doom a property. She points to the success of Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack produced by Hallmark as an example of a successful children’s series that d’esn’t need a heavy licensing program for success.
According to Shapiro, the marketplace is experiencing a sense of overdrive. ‘You’ve got a lot of properties all vying for the same consumer dollar,’ she says. ‘There is a finite amount of shelf space, a finite amount of fast-food promotions and yet there is an increasing number of properties available . . . so, interestingly, everybody is out there pitching to the same community of consumer product partners.’ Many licensors have also put a lot of marketing dollars and product behind a property without necessarily giving thought to what the market’s actual needs are.
As Hallmark builds its prowess as a distributor of high-quality children’s programming, it hopes to take advantage of the appropriate consumer product promotions and marketing opportunities available. ‘This is not being viewed as an ancillary business, but part of Hallmark’s core business,’ she says. ‘We will look at our needs and the needs of the market to develop appropriate programming.’
At this year’s licensing show, Hallmark will be featuring Space Monkeys and the recently acquired Filmation animation library.