Licensing Diary: The Busy World of Richard Scarry

The Busy World of Richard Scarry is bustling....
July 1, 1997

The Busy World of Richard Scarry is bustling.

Viacom Consumer Products is trying to capture the spirit of Busytown with products that employ the fun and the educational and activity skills that serve as the foundation for the books and TV series.

Before his death in 1994, artist and illustrator Richard Scarry produced over 300 titles, which have now sold over 100 million copies and have been translated into over 30 languages. Viacom Consumer Products, the licensing division of Paramount, acquired the rights to license Richard Scarry products in 1990. An animated TV version debuted on Showtime in 1994 and now airs daily on Nickelodeon.

While Richard Scarry characters appeal to children, Viacom’s licensing targets parents by positioning it as an activity/educational property. Scarry books represent a world of action and are filled with ‘ing’ words, such as running, climbing and jumping. ‘We want to bring the Scarry-ized world into product that encourages kids to do all of these activities,’ says Debbi Petrasek, vice president of strategic property development for Viacom Consumer Products.

Integrating this activity message into its 25-plus licensees’ products is the cornerstone of Viacom’s licensing strategy. ‘We explore the right applications for activity-type products and educational/developmental-type products,’ says Petrasek. ‘If we can’t find the right way to depict the property, then we won’t do it.’

Most Richard Scarry products are available only at specialty stores, such as Learning Smith, because specialty stores are more effective than mass-market retailers at building and showcasing a publishing property and the products related to it, says Petrasek.

Richard Scarry will have increased visibility over the course of the next year. Activities include a 1998 mall tour, several tie-in promotions with Sears Portrait Studio, a touring stage performance and a Dairy Queen promotion. Additionally, the interactive Busytown exhibit continues to tour children’s museums around the country.

‘Richard Scarry always thought it was important not to talk down to children. We try to incorporate that as much as possible,’ says Petrasek.

Here’s a look at the busy licensing world of Richard Scarry:

- 1963: Freelance artist and illustrator Richard Scarry publishes The Best Word Book Ever, the first of more than 300 books.

- 1990: Richard Scarry enters into an agreement with Paramount (now Viacom) to extend his characters beyond the realm of publishing.

- 1991: The merchandising division begins to license the property.

- 1992: Cinar Films and Paramount Television begin development of an animated series that debuts on Showtime in March 1994 and on Nickelodeon in 1995.

- April 1992: Simon & Schuster and Simon & Schuster Interactive agree to publish books and interactive products.

- May 1994: Sega of America agrees to produce edutainment software for its Genesis and Pico platforms.

- June 1994: Tomy becomes the master toy licensee.

- January 1995: The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry begins a three-year national tour of its traveling interactive Busytown exhibit.

- July 1995: PolyGram Video releases Busy World home videos.

- September 1995: McDonald’s partners with Viacom for a multimillion-dollar Richard Scarry promotion tied into National Library Card Sign-Up Month.

- October 1995: FAO Schwarz installs Richard Scarry merchandise boutiques.

- June 1996: A Dairy Queen kids meal promotion works so successfully that Dairy Queen reserves the property for a second promotion in 1998.

- March 1997: Busy World characters entertain at the White House Easter egg hunt.

- April 1997: Sears Portrait Studio and PolyGram Video team up to offer a rebate promotion. Two additional Sears Portrait Studio promotions kick off later in 1997.

- May 1997: PolyGram Video sponsors ‘The Birthday of a Lifetime’ promotion in Parents magazine. One of the prizes is an appearance by Scarry character Huckle Cat.

- May 1997: Simon & Schuster book sales exceed a million copies in less than two years.

- September 1997: Omaha Theater Company stages a live Busytown production.

- January 1998: Nationwide mall tour will begin.

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