Link’s early development was built around the exploitation of major licensing properties such as Thames Television’s Count Duckula and Mattel’s Barbie.
In the six years since Link took over the licensing of Barbie, the brand has become the number one girl’s property in the U.K. Eighty percent of girls aged three to eight years old have four dolls or more.
Link has secured 45 licensees in all major product categories, but has had its greatest success in introducing Barbie clothes designs to U.K. retailers. Woolworth’s and Marks & Spencer have launched an exclusive range of Barbie designs annually.
In addition to Barbie, the Link Licensing portfolio includes Nick Park’s Oscar winning Creature Comforts, Frank Muir’s What-a-Mess and British television classics such as The Magic Roundabout and Camberwick Green.
Recently, Link received a boost when it was appointed to handle Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus and Goosebumps. If the U.S. is anything to go by, Goosebumps has the potential to emulate Barbie’s success.
Goosebumps book sales in the U.K. are already in excess of two million, and a television deal is soon to be announced. U.K. retailer W.H. Smith is planning a major promotion and Hasbro, as worldwide toy licensee, will be introducing board games. Link’s licensing strategy will go hand-in-hand with an international television distribution program devised by Saban.
Managing director Claire Derry says the company now manages licensing properties in every child demographic. So with licensing royalties providing a predictable cash flow, a concerted effort has been made to build Link’s profile in the television market.
It has always been Link’s intention to balance business between its licensing and entertainment divisions, however, only recently has the company been able to achieve it. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that real value was squeezed out of the catalogue, which now has about 500 hours of international programming.
Key clients include an affiliate of Australia’s Channel 9, Banksia Productions, for which Link handles about 100 hours of television. Other distribution properties include Aardman Animation’s The Morph Files, Bob Godfrey’s Henry’s Cat, Woodland Animation’s Postman Pat and Childsplay’s Eye of the Storm.
Link’s profile in the U.K. has been boosted by direct relationships with a number of U.K. broadcasters such as United Film and Television Production (formerly Meridian), Carlton and HTV. (Link helped HTV with the launch of a preschool character called The Slow Norris, which is poised to get a second series on the U.K.’s commercial network ITV.)
The most significant development for Link, however, has been its increasing involvement with the production finance market. Its successful work on What-a-Mess, which screened on the U.S. network ABC last year, encouraged a strategic drive towards a more active investment program.
One project with growing potential is The Forgotten Toys, which came about after Link was approached by producer Hibbert Ralph Entertainment. ‘We’ve always had the utmost confidence in their ability to produce,’ says Derry. ‘Graham Ralph is one of the best animation directors in the business.’ To date, there has been a limited release of book and audiovisual products to test the market. Assuming the series is screened on ITV in autumn 1997, a merchandising push will begin the following Christmas. ‘It is important that the licensing comes afterwards. And even then, if the exposure stops, this side of the business is dead.’
Another Hibbert Ralph/Link partnership came about when Graham Ralph expressed an interested in animating a little-known book called The Night After Christmas, but knew it would be expensive. So Link raised the money for a half-hour special through United Film and Television, ZDF and Sony Wonder, which took U.S. video rights. Subsequently, the ITV Network agreed to screen the project, and Link topped up the balance.
The series took a year to make, and used British actors Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley as the voices for the two main characters. It was screened last Christmas and will be repeated this year. Plans are now under way to create a series, which should go into production in September.
Serious investment in production has now become much easier for Link, following financial backing from investment banker Guinness Mahon.
Link now claims to have a development slate worth about US$10 million. Five projects that are currently under way include a claymation series called Varnii Roop, which is produced by CMTB Animation, and a co-production with MAI Productions called Teddybears. The latter is a 13 x 8-minute live-action program based on books by Susanna Gretz and Alison Sage.