Special Report: Licensing International ’97: Don’t expect a tickle me Ghostwriter doll

The term 'licensing partnerships' has come to mean much more than the relationships between licensors and licensees. As more and more studios integrate the licensing discipline into their own operations, new partnerships have developed internally among departments and across traditional job...
June 1, 1997

The term ‘licensing partnerships’ has come to mean much more than the relationships between licensors and licensees. As more and more studios integrate the licensing discipline into their own operations, new partnerships have developed internally among departments and across traditional job functions.

In our special report on licensing and merchandising, we trace the evolution of a number of licensing programs as they developed within leading studios. Each story begins when the licensing and merchandising departments first became involved in a property and then tracks the campaign as licensing and promotional partners join in culminating in the presentation of the property at Licensing ’97 International in New York.

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Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) is not counting on duplicating the runaway success of last year’s must-have licensed product, but it is developing ways to integrate the message that reading and writing are cool in a line of products supporting the fall 1997 debut of The New Ghostwriter Mysteries on CBS.

The New Ghostwriter Mysteries follows the adventures of three junior high school kids and a ghost named Ghostwriter who use reading, writing and problem-solving skills to solve mysteries. It is based on Ghostwriter, a CTW program that aired for three years on PBS beginning in 1992. The new program retains the framework of the original series, but will be faster-paced, with mysteries being solved in the course of the half-hour, instead of spread out over four shows as was done in the original series. The demographic is also skewed to a slightly older age group: six to 12.

The original Ghostwriter series had a modest licensing program most notably, 20 Ghostwriter books from Bantam Doubleday Dell and a game from University Games, which continue to sell well even though the series has been off the air for two years.

CTW envisions a full-scale licensing program for the new show, which will hit all major categories. ‘The consensus was that Ghostwriter had a very strong following and it was something that fit into the overall CTW mission,’ says Caren Shalek, CTW’s group vice president of licensing Americas and product development worldwide. ‘We feel right now that if we embrace the property with fun and edgy products in categories that kids in this age group find meaningful T-shirts, hats, backpacks, stationery items, software that it’s a much bigger opportunity for us than previously.’

As with its other licensed product, CTW will develop merchandise that not only embraces the spirit of the show, but also subtly underscores the educational message behind the program.

‘The point of the show is to excite kids about reading and writing,’ says Jodi Nussbaum, vice president of programming at CTW. ‘It is based on a literacy curriculum. It is a natural to talk about licensing products that model those activities, whether it’s stationery, pens or any kind of writing item that might be useful to further the message of what the goals of the show are about.’

How the campaign started:

February 1997 (seven months prior to the show’s fall premiere)

In January, CBS gives CTW the go-ahead for 13 half-hour episodes of The New Ghostwriter Mysteries, based on the highly acclaimed CTW series Ghostwriter, which once ran on PBS.

In February, production starts talking to licensing about ‘big picture’ product that could be rolled out quickly for the September premiere. The two departments cooperate to produce a logo and style elements that will look good on air and on product.

First Licensee

At press time, CTW was negotiating with several companies for licenses in apparel, stationery and soft-line items. Because of the nature and content of the series, CTW has no plans to seek a master toy licensee.

‘People look to CTW as embracing educational, upscale, high-quality programming,’ says Shalek. ‘With the success that we’ve had in the past year [with Elmo], it’s a great opportunity to be talking to people about different areas of things that we’re doing moving forward.’

Other Licensees

University Games is redesigning and reissuing the Ghostwriter game for the fall launch of the series. Shalek comments that she is ‘astounded’ by the sell-through that the board game has had without on-air support. The book series continues in print.

The Promotional Campaign

CTW is in the initial stages of negotiation with promotional partners, which it hopes to have signed on for the launch of the series.

Outreach programs are something that CTW tries to incorporate with all of its shows. For example, on the original Ghostwriter series, a Ghostwriter magazine and activity guides were used for in-school and after-school activities.

‘This is an opportunity to reach this market by creating things other than product,’ says Nussbaum.

CTW and CBS will draw on their respective strengths to coordinate promotional and publicity activities for the series (plans have yet to be finalized). ‘The dollars that CBS has to spend in the children’s area are not nearly as large as what they have to spend in prime time, so we’re trying to take whatever resources that we have to help that along,’ says Nussbaum.

At the Licensing Show

CTW was a first-time exhibitor at the 1996 Licensing Show and returns this year with expanded booth space to showcase its signature properties: Sesame Street, The New Ghostwriter Mysteries, Dragon Tales and Big Bag.

‘In this competitive arena of preschool licensing, it’s important for CTW to have a large presence and let people know all of the different activities and brands that are part of CTW,’ says Shalek.

Shalek believes that The New Ghostwriter Mysteries represents a great opportunity to reach the six- to 12-year-old market. When the show originally aired, it took longer to find its audience because it was different from most programming targeted at that age group. ‘The timing is right for this show,’ she says. ‘We’ve had a tremendous response as we’ve gone out to talk about the new opportunities it represents.’

Air Date: September 1997

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