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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Gaumont’s Home to Rent captures the antics of five alien monsters occupying a house while they await return to their own planet. The show was created by Jean Yves Rimbeaud, art director on Gaumont’s Highlander: The Series. The cartoon’s quirky, contemporary feel is enhanced by a soundtrack by rock icon Iggy Pop. The 26 x 30-minute animated series was created and produced completely in-house and is currently slated to air this fall on Fox Kids Network at 8 a.m. on Saturdays.
Now that the French studio has succeeded in creating a show that sells in the U.S. and international markets, Gaumont is gearing up for a global licensing and merchandising campaign.
‘We believe that this program can appeal in a different way in each country. For instance, there are many [folklore-like] elements in the show, and in many countries, it’s very important that the show will be focusing on that. Yet, in America, we’ll avoid it,’ says Sophie Ferrand, licensing director at Gaumont. Implementing strategies for toy lines and other licensees has been intentionally unhurried, as a number of creative concerns had to be hammered out concerning which types of products would best suit the property.
‘This program is very new and sometimes has a lot of humor, but also a certain sarcasm,’ says Ferrand. ‘It’s hard to find the right toy concept for that kind of show.’
Qualities to be incorporated in the toy line include noise-making capabilities (‘the characters have great voices,’ Ferrand notes), squeezability (‘they’re not action figures’), and bright colors. The characters’ unusual anatomy is also a factor. ‘It’s not really easy to make a toy with two heads,’ says Ferrand.
How the campaign started:
The pilot of the show debuts at MIPCOM in 1996, immediately following Gaumont’s announcement that Fox Kids Network in the U.S. has purchased the series for its fall 1997 lineup. At the market, Gaumont enters into discussions with Saban, which conclude in a deal granting Saban sole licensing, merchandising and home video rights in the U.S. and Canada, starting on January 15, 1997.
The Fox Kids announcement is not the only thing fanning the buzz around Home to Rent at Cannes. ‘We’ve got all the benefits of having Dragon Flyz on the air in the U.S.,’ says Ferrand. And Sky Dancers and Highlander: The Animated Series, also airing in the U.S., help to bolster Gaumont’s reputation as a hit-friendly studio.
Local licensing agents for a broad range of territories begin to be selected after this first viewing at Cannes. First, agents for the various European territories are sought, followed by efforts to attract top merchandising agents in additional countries. Agents connected with Gaumont are considered first, along with agents who have proven expertise in dealing with kids product.
PRIME, a Paris-based producer of porcelain figurines signs on in May 1996, 16 months ahead of the U.S. air date. Italian company D.S. comes on board to produce stickers and sticker albums in August 1996, 13 months ahead of U.S. air date. French comic book publisher Mirage joins in November 1996, 10 months ahead of U.S. air date.
At press time, Gaumont was still developing a style guide for the series that details its specifications for all aspects of the licensing campaign.
The Promotional Campaign
At press time, no promotional partners had been signed up for the series. According to Ferrand, promotional efforts will not take place before air date.
At the Licensing Show
At the Licensing Show, Ferrand’s team will be signing additional licensees in apparel, plush and other categories. At Gaumont’s booth, a house resembling the one from Home to Rent will be erected.
All of the proposals from potential merchandising agents from MIPCOM will have been reviewed by that time. ‘We will appoint [the remaining agents] at the Licensing Show,’ says Ferrand. ‘In Europe, they have all been appointed, but in the other countries, they have not.’
Ferrand sees challenges ahead for licensing agents, who will be breaking new ground in terms of servicing uncharted territories. ‘We have been able to sell this program in Kenya, for example. No French company has ever been able to sell there.’
Air Date: Fall 1997 in the U.S.; fall 1998 in other markets