The surprising ratings strength of Universal’s dynamic duo of syndicated hits, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, has paved the way for an even more unanticipated success in the consumer marketplace.
In their fourth and third season’s respectively, Hercules and Xena rank as two of the highest-rated shows in syndication, as they continue along the fast track to becoming important weapons in Universal’s franchise arsenal. Their appeal will be tested when the direct-to-video Hercules & Xena-The Animated Movie: The Battle for Mount Olympus is released in January.
‘Because of the strong appeal of the brand in syndication, direct-to-video and animation, this franchise can really extend out for many years to come,’ says NancyJane Goldston, senior vice president of marketing and merchandising at Universal Studios Consumer Products Group.
Universal licenses the two properties separately, but they are often packaged together for joint ventures, such as conventions, mall tours and live appearances. Each property has about 40 licensees. Toy Biz is the master toy licensee.
One of the keys to the shows’ success is that they are among those few treasured programs that appeal to two distinct demographic targets on different levels. For Hercules it’s boys age six to 11, who love the action, and adults age 18 to 49, who enjoy the over-the-top humor. Xena appeals to girls and women of the same age groups for similar reasons. This allows the studio’s consumer products group to exploit the property in a variety of categories that appeal to both age groups. Key categories include apparel, gifts and stationery, toys, home furnishings, interactive and publishing. Growing adult consumer demand has pushed Universal into broadening the licensing program into the adult collectors market.
The broad-based popularity of Hercules and Xena has Universal likening their appeal to that of the grand poobah of syndicated shows-Star Trek.
‘It’s a franchise that in many ways is mimicking Star Trek,’ says Goldston. ‘We’re appealing to adults and people who are becoming really devoted to Hercules and Xena.’
This past summer, Universal completed its first Hercules and Xena QSR promotion, in conjunction with Carl’s Jr. The Carl’s Jr. ‘Cool Combo Meals for Kids’ promotion featured Hercules and Xena toys and cards that came with the purchase of a Carl’s Jr. kids meal.
The studio is building interest for the January 6 video release by staging the ‘Hercules and Xena Road Adventure,’ in conjunction with licensee Creation Entertainment. The six-city tour began October 11 in Los Angeles and will make stops in San Francisco, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and Orlando. The tour features a traveling museum of show paraphernalia, props, costumes, interactive games and the opportunity to enter the sweepstakes to win a trip to Universal Studios Florida. ‘Mall tours and show tours bring the excitement of the property to these areas,’ says Goldston. The studio is in negotiation with a major promotional partner for the video release.
As part of its cross-divisional promotional effort, Universal has incorporated the Hercules and Xena characters into a live-action audience participation show at Universal Studios Florida.
Future plans include an increased international presence and perhaps more spinoffs from the Hercules and Xena franchises.
‘We’re excited that both shows continue to do so well in syndication and that their appeal seems to be growing both domestically and internationally,’ says Goldston. ‘There are enormous possibilities to grow these brands in different areas, like fan clubs, conventions, collectibles [and] consumer products.’