Special Report: The Champion Series: Ravensburger: Making partnerships work

The international reputation Ravensburger has earned for creating and carrying quality children's products is at the heart of a number of productive relationships with a wide range of international co-producers and distributors. Kidscreen did some wireless globe-trotting recently to see what...
August 1, 1996

The international reputation Ravensburger has earned for creating and carrying quality children’s products is at the heart of a number of productive relationships with a wide range of international co-producers and distributors. Kidscreen did some wireless globe-trotting recently to see what Ravensburger’s partners have to say, and while the deals are as diverse as the products, the word is uniformly positive.

Nelvana’s David Ferguson heads up the company’s U.K. division, Nelvana Enterprises. He first met Peter Hille over lunch at the Annecy animation festival four years ago and says, ‘We decided we could probably become good partners.’ Today, he calls Ravensburger ‘the best partner I’ve ever come across. It’s the way they put their creative ideas forward. It’s not ‘Do this or else!’ When they suggest something, they have good ideas. And they’re fair.’

The two companies have joined together as co-producers and through distribution deals on the kids series Little Bear, Blazing Dragons, Jake and the Kid and Rupert the Bear. Ferguson says the relationship continues to grow, and there are ‘quite a few other [deals] in development now,’ but he won’t say more.

Theresa Plummer-Andrews is head of acquisitions and creative development for children’s programs at the BBC, and she has been working with Ravensburger for about six years. ‘I have to say they are one of the best co-production partners in children’s production. They understand the international market, they understand that sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t work, and they are not precious in the least.’

Robinson Sucr’e, a spoof of Robinson Crus’e, was the first project between the two companies, and the team has never looked back. Today, The Prince of Atlantis, which is in post-production, brings the tally of co-productions to a number too high for Plummer-Andrews to easily recall.

Beyond Ravensburger’s expertise in German distribution and packaging, Plummer-Andrews says the company’s other divisions help when it comes to merchandising. With The Prince of Atlantis, for example, Ravensburger is exploring developing puzzles and toys down the road.

When Nickelodeon Germany was being launched about one year ago, development head Gaby Justen says the priority was getting the channel’s ‘identifying show’ off the ground. Nick Live was created, and there was no question about who would produce it: Ravensburger got the call. The five-part daily show features phone-in segments, prize shows and chatty programs that cover a range of subjects from pen pals to good deeds.

In choosing Ravensburger to produce Nick Live, Justen says, ‘It was out of the question that we would do it with someone else. We are proud to have that blue triangle on that show. It’s a good thing to have that brand because it stands for quality programming, and it’s very famous in Germany.’

Nickelodeon Germany and Ravensburger are working on developing more programs, but Justen says it’s too early to get into details.

King Rollo Films of the U.K., best known for its Spot series, also testifies to the benefits of working with Ravensburger, as evidenced in a 10-year relationship. King Rollo has co-produced with Ravensburger, been commissioned for animation work and the two companies have held joint distribution deals for international territories.

The most recent project in the works is a show called Dr. Xargle, a co-production involving King Rollo, Ravensburger, Cinar and HTV aimed at eight-to 11-year-olds. It’s a comedy series about a mad teacher who lives on another planet and whose lessons about life on earth are full of mistakes. It combines 2-D animation, live-action drama and animatronics.

King Rollo president Clive Juster executive produces most of the company’s productions, and has glowing things to say about working with Ravensburger.

‘Delightful. I think they are a wonderful company, and the biggest thing is the trust they put in us. We have a relationship whereby we can be briefed and let loose to produce it without hardly any contact. It means the productions are very efficient.’

Juster g’es further. He pairs his company with Ravensburger as ‘kindred spirits that both go for high-quality product that has a long shelf life and is good for kids.’ Another key to the happy marriage is a mutual interest in developing what Juster calls ‘quality’ books.

D’es being associated with Ravensburger help to carry King Rollo’s name around the globe? ‘They’re a quality name and it d’esn’t do us any harm to be associated with them,’ says Juster. ‘But we’ve grown together, and I think we’ve both benefited from the relationship.’

Aleen Stein first met Ravensburger Interactive head Thomas Kirchenkamp a few years ago when he was putting the division together, and she was still a partner at Voyager. With her own company, Organa, in tow, she’s co-producing a new CD-ROM title with Ravensburger, titled Witches Academy.

The idea originated at Organa, and Stein decided to approach Ravensburger because ‘they were just entering this field and the chance to work with this company was just wonderful,’ she says.

The companies had first connected through a distribution deal for Lulu, a CD-ROM by French author Romain Victor Pujebet. The choice to distribute in German-language territories via Ravensburger was not so much motivated by money, but by a guarantee of quality, says Stein. ‘Although they weren’t offering the largest advance, I knew they would do a great job. In terms of localizing, you really have to get it right. You have to find the right voice, the right packaging and you must have a great reputation.’

Stein sees a promising bond between Ravensburger and Organa in their respective approaches to new media. ‘Organa is committed to doing things from scratch for this medium, and I think that’s what makes us such a good match. We both realize that you really need to tap the potential of the new media and not just adapt books over [to the medium].’

Cinar has been doing business with Ravensburger since 1989 when The Real Story, a series of TV specials based on popular children’s songs, was launched by the triumvirate of Ravensburger, Cinar and France Animation. It’s a team that continues to work well to this day, says Cinar president Ron Weinberg, and proof is in such productions as The Country Mouse and the City Mouse Adventures and Ivanh’e.

Experience indicates that there are countless unpredictable elements in developing a project, and Weinberg says it is a rarity when you find someone who can ride out the ups and downs. ‘It’s a very intense process that takes place over a long period of time and requires acute skills on everyone’s part. The folks at Ravensburger are the kind of people we enjoy working with because of the level of understanding they have about the process,’ says Weinberg. ‘There is flexibility and also a clear understanding of direction. It’s a balance that allows a co-production partnership to thrive.’

Weinberg also praises Ravensburger’s specialized knowledge as a distributor, which translates into the ‘eyes and ears in the German market’ for Cinar.

A newcomer to working with Ravensburger is Paris-based Les Films de la Perrine, a production company that called on the German producer when it recently began work on its first original project. Why Ravensburger? Ivanka Hahnenberger says, ‘You need partners because, especially in Europe, it’s very difficult to fund animation. And we were familiar with their expertise in children’s animated television.’

Ravensburger and Les Films de la Perrine are working with Cinégroupe of Montreal and Télé-Image on a 26-episode series for France 2 and Canal Plus called S.O.S. Bout du monde (Team S.O.S.). The animated series is aimed at kids aged eight to 16 and is inspired by the humanitarian missions executed by Medecins Sans Frontier (Doctors Without Borders). Hahnenberger is passionate about the project. ‘It’s not a cartoon. It could be live action, and it’s a very realistic concept about people doing their jobs around the world. It will be a great show.’

She’s also passionate about working with Ravensburger. ‘They’re wonderful to work with. They know their market, they know their audience and they don’t change the rules or surprise [us] with sudden changes.’

The series has been sold in France and Canada, and delivery is set for January.

Hahnenberger talks about plans to explore further deals with Ravensburger, and she is keen on the company’s ‘amazing expertise with music’ something she says is simply another resource in its impressive stockpile of talent.

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