The U.K.’s slice of what is reported to be an industry worth about $100 billion worldwide may be a small one, but in one month, the small puppet called Sooty managed to raise £1.4 million (US$2.2 million) for the man whose hand literally guided him. Licensing and merchandising opportunities for some of the U.K.’s favorite kids characters are hot property.
Animation producer Cosgrove Hall, presumably having been stung in the past, plans to create its own original characters, and own them outright. It has done several deals with individual specialists on the preschool series Okey Doke for the BBC. Toy manufacturer Martin Yaffe handles the play sets, giant floor puzzles and picture cubes, while BBC Books will produce the picture books, and BBC Video the home video (set for release in time for Christmas, of course).
Cosgrove Hall’s distributors, ITEL, have sold the series to TF1 in France where the broadcaster will source licensing and merchandising as well as distribution of the series (to be renamed Oakie Doke). TF1 is also looking to take Cosgrove Hall’s latest, Animal Shelf, under a similar deal that is being handled in the U.K. by CPL and Just licensing.
BMG Video holds true to its policy of maximum exploitation of rights with the Wind in the Willows specials. BMG’s strategy is to develop and produce classic properties with global appeal and then make sure your child eats, drinks, sleeps and g’es to school with them. Licensing agreements for Mole, Toad, Ratty and company include puzzles and plaster moldings through Waddingtons, reading material through Marvel Comics and Reed Books, and bedding from Coates Vyella.
One of the more ancillary rights-aware imports, Nickelodeon, is working on aligning international program sales, channel blocks and channels with its licensing plans under senior vice president program enterprises, Kathleen Hricik. Nickelodeon’s mandate is to create quality, creative merchandise, believing that property-based merchandise is a natural brand extension that gives kids an opportunity to play and interact with Nick characters.
New in the U.K. is the Rugrats comic book, which launched in April and sold more than 200,000 copies at 25 pence. It continues to do well even though it now g’es for the somewhat premium price of 75 pence. Produced by Marvel Comics, the magazine was heavily cross-promoted by Nick U.K. on its launch, with giveaways organized on-screen through its newsletter, Daily Nick, and through the joint venture with theme park Alton Towers. Other ventures include a new licensing agreement with the candy company Packeteers to distribute a brand of Rugrats products due to arrive in the U.K. this summer. And a deal with the plush and novelty company Down Pace will result in an extensive range of different items for both mass-market and gift specialty distribution.
The more obvious home video line is produced in association with another Viacom subsidiary, Paramount CIC Video. A CD-ROM venture, Are You Afraid of the dark? The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse distributed by CIC Interactive and produced with Viacom New Media also capitalizes on the parent group’s resources.
Letting the parent group take the strain is a strategy new to the U.K. Most producers here have to sell their potentially lucrative licensing rights, because they don’t have the expertise to develop or distribute the products. But with small home-grown outfits like Cosgrove Hall and Aardman Animation (Wallace and Gromit) showing the way, the U.K.’s slice of the global cake will surely increase.