It sounds like a daunting project: coordinate a licensing and merchandising program for an animated series that has 17 broadcasting partners (of which 11 speak a different language), located in 14 countries. Keep in mind that every detail of that program, from packaging to pricing, will require the approval of each party before it can be put into action, and you begin to get a sense of the logistical nightmare such a scenario poses. That was the situation facing London-based Link Entertainment when it became the agent for the European Broadcasting Union’s television series Noah’s Island last year (see ‘Noah’s Island’ in KidScreen’s April 1997 issue, page 49).
‘The biggest problem was trying to get a good slot on the schedules of all the broadcasters, [because] that is what’s going to drive the merchandise,’ says Claire Derry, managing director of Link. Series two of Noah’s Island, which continues to follow the adventures of 30 animals as they work together to try to survive while stranded on a floating island, is set to air this fall. To coincide with the release, Link plans to launch products from the first group of licensees, which includes Noah’s Island toys, comics and magazines.
Last November, Link presented its marketing and licensing strategy to the EBU board in Budapest, Hungary. The strategy called for Martin Yaffe International, a toy company based in England, to manufacture one generic group of toys, including plush, vinyl and collectible lines, that would be distributed in all countries that show the program. In addition, Link would appoint agents in each country who would develop and market apparel and accessory lines. It’s a move Link proposed in order to accommodate the different tastes of people who live in EBU-member nations. Lunchboxes, for example, are popular with children in the U.K., Derry says, but not with children who live in Germany, where kids prefer to take their lunch in more expensive leather satchels. In situations such as this, Link would work with the local agent to develop specific product.
Using Link to organize licensing and merchandizing marks a change for the EBU. In the past, television distribution and licensing became the purview of one EBU member. For The Animals of Farthing Wood, the predecessor to Noah’s Island, then-BBC Enterprises (now BBC Worldwide) handled the distribution of the program and the licensing and merchandising rights.
‘It just seemed that the time was right to see who else might be out there and on what terms and conditions they were willing to operate,’ says Jeremy Korer, head of business and legal affairs at the EBU. (The EBU is a Geneva-based organization made up of more than 50 European broadcasters, whose mandate is to produce quality animation that reflects European values.) To that end, the EBU awarded the distribution rights of Noah’s Island to ITEL. Since ITEL did not specialize in merchandising, the EBU needed to find a licensing agent. Nine months later, after viewing a number of presentations from companies, the EBU and ITEL decided on Link. Link was chosen partly because of its size, says Korer. Since Link is a relatively small agency, Korer and ITEL believed a weighty property like Noah’s Island would receive more attention there than it would have had they farmed out the licensing responsibilities to a large firm.
Whatever the reasons, Link is pleased to have an agreement in place with the EBU. ‘We hope the relationship will continue,’ says Derry. ‘It’s a rare situation to have all of these broadcasters working together on a co-production like this.’
The 14 EBU member countries that participated in the funding of the series include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.