Bound for Britain

Licensed products that have made it in North America have only jumped the first hurdle. Taking on the rest of the world is another matter altogether. London, England-based KidScreen contributor Andy Fry takes a look at how U.S.-born properties are doing...
December 1, 1996

Licensed products that have made it in North America have only jumped the first hurdle. Taking on the rest of the world is another matter altogether. London, England-based KidScreen contributor Andy Fry takes a look at how U.S.-born properties are doing in the U.K.

The launch of Fox Kids Network on British Sky Broadcasting last October was a timely reminder of the extent to which U.S.-originated children’s programs and, in turn, their licensing programs dominate the U.K. market. U.K. cable and satellite already play host to Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and TCI-owned TCC.

The impact of the new U.S. channels on British viewing habits has been immense. Approximately one-third of all U.K. households with children are now connected to cable and satellite. More importantly, rights-sharing deals have given programs such as Rugrats, Power Rangers, Jonny Quest, Barney and Goosebumps access to terrestrial television’s mass audiences.

A new report by London-based Mintel, a respected market analyst that covers a wide range of consumer products and lifestyle trends in the U.K., estimates the merchandising of licensed properties in the U.K. is worth £3 billion to £4 billion (US$5 billion to US$6.6 billion). Grocery products account for 30 percent of the market; clothing, footwear and textiles, 20 percent; toys and games, 15 percent. The remaining one-third comes from a combination of fast-food, soft drink, confectionery and toiletry promotions. Mintel expects the number of five- to nine-year-olds, the core market, to stay at about four million until well into the next century.

Mintel found Disney to be the dominant character marketer in the U.K., with Warner Bros. its nearest rival. Recently, the most significant areas of activity have been the launch of more than 40 Disney-dedicated stores in the U.K. and a 10-year promotional tie-up with McDonald’s. Mintel’s research also found that Disney and Warner provided the American characters most popular with adults underlining the important role of parental approval in the U.K. market. Characters familiar to parents raised in the 1950s and 1960s gain easy access to households. Cartoon Network’s Scooby-Doo and Top Cat, for example, are watched by almost as many adults as children.

The nostalgia market, however, has not denied room to newcomers, particularly characters targeted at boys age seven to 11.

Nickelodeon’s Rugrats has repeatedly topped children’s television ratings in the U.K. Nick’s attempts to build a 360-degree brand around the Rugrats have included on-pack promotions with Kellogg cereals as well as videos, CD-ROMs and a Rugrats comic. In a promotion called Nickelottery, almost 2.2 million kids played a game that involved Toys ‘R’ Us, The Sunday Times, teen magazine Smash Hits and Blockbuster Video as promotional partners.

Turner Home Entertainment’s (THE) Jonny Quest typifies the vast resources ploughed into the European market by U.S. companies. Launched on Cartoon Network in September, the show quickly took up an afternoon slot on BBC1 that will run through to this month.

Jonny Quest has also secured TV slots throughout Europe. In the U.K., the show is supported by an extensive licensing and merchandising campaign coordinated by Copyright Promotions Licensing Group, one of the U.K.’s dominant character licensors. It is a project THE general manager of international licensing Helen Isaacson describes as ‘Turner’s biggest company-wide kids initiative.’ She estimates the worldwide market value of Jonny Quest spinoffs will be worth about US$350 million. U.K. partners include Virgin Sound and Vision, which is marketing CD-ROMs, and HarperCollins, which is publishing books from the series. Action figures and plush toys are being distributed by Toy Options.

As for the Power Rangers property, Saban U.K.’s managing director Jackie Ferguson says the wave of interest continues unabated. In the U.K., Power Rangers take about 20 percent of the action-figure market, second only to Action Man. They also have a strong presence in the clothing sector and the grocery trade, where characters appear on canned pasta, yogurt, soft drinks and ice-cream products. A film next year and the 1998 launch of a follow-up television series, Turbo Rangers, is expected to keep the property alive into the new millennium, says Ferguson.

By contrast, Saban’s Masked Riders property, designed to have a life span of about 18 months, says Ferguson, captured 8.2 percent of the action-figure market last September when the program aired on GMTV in a Saturday-morning time slot historically filled by Power Rangers. Next up, says Ferguson, is Big Bad BeetleBorgs, which comes to U.K. terrestrial television in fall 1997. A Bandai toy range is being developed for the program, which she describes as ‘Power Rangers meets The Mask meets Goosebumps.’

Link Licensing is currently preparing a similarly large-scale promotional push for Goosebumps, which will screen on BBC1 in fall 1997. Worldwide partners include Hasbro for toys and games and DreamWorks for CD-ROMs. U.K. licensees will create everything from night wear to lunch boxes to stationery.

According to Link managing director Claire Derry, U.K. retailer WH Smith is currently running a promotion of Goosebumps merchandise using the success of the books in the U.K. as its stimulant. The main push kicks in next year on the back of television exposure.

According to Derry, ‘U.S. products are huge successes, particularly with boys over seven.’ However, ‘they find it much tougher in preschool, where parental influence is the key. U.K. characters like Mr. Men, Paddington Bear and Thomas the Tank Engine tend to dominate.’

That said, 3D Licensing is claiming success with Barney. The show airs on U.K. breakfast television broadcaster GMTV and satellite station TCC. Last year, a talking Barney was the U.K.’s number one plush toy, taking an 11-percent share of the market. A monthly Barney magazine reaches a circulation of around 100,000 children, while PolyGram expects video sales to hit one million at the end of the year.

3D managing director Jane Ritson says, ‘You have to be careful with U.S. preschool properties to avoid a backlash. We’ve introduced Barney slowly in order to demonstrate his educational value.’ Marketing efforts have focused on preschool educators and the annual Baby and Toddler Show, which draws 150,000 adults over a three-day period. Currently, there are 35 Barney licensees in the U.K.

3D has also begun to approach licensees for Beast Wars, which was introduced to broadcast acquisition executives at MIPCOM this year. Twenty-six half-hours are being offered to European broadcasters. According to Ritson, the key to success in Europe is how you treat products locally. ‘U.S. licensors can’t presume we use the same cultural templates here.’

Copyright Promotions Licensing Group reports its major successes are Star Wars, Spider-Man and The Mask. According to Copyright, Star Wars is performing well in publishing, though the main push will come when the trilogy of films is re-released next spring. The Mask and Spider-Man are both performing well in the three- to nine-year-old clothing market. Spider-Man is currently visible through on-pack food promotions in supermarkets and a Burger King restaurant promotion. The show airs on Fox Children’s Network. Copyright says next year the emphasis will shift to another Marvel Comics hero, the Incredible Hulk, who comes to U.K. television in autumn 1997.

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