A quirky-looking bald kid with an odd name is making a name for himself in Canada.
The ratings success of Caillou (pronounced Kie-You), a 65-episode animated series for preschoolers from Montreal-based Cinar Films, on Canada’s Teletoon has laid the foundation for a licensing program that will launch in the fall of 1998. The licensing program will target Quebec first and spread to the rest of Canada six months later.
Caillou didn’t blow into Canada with the chest-thumping fanfare that accompanies U.S. productions. It is a homegrown product of Quebec, built on the popularity of a series of best-selling picture books from local publisher Les Editions Chouette. Over 700,000 copies of Caillou books have been sold in Quebec alone since the series was published in 1990. Worldwide book sales come in at over a million copies. With the show’s debut on Teletoon last fall, its luster has spread to English Canada as well. The animated series has been sold in over 70 countries, but has yet to find an outlet in the United States.
The books and TV series follow the adventures of a young boy who comes to terms with new experiences such as nightmares, making new friends or a visit to the doctor. The animation for the series is kept simple, with white backgrounds and uncomplicated character designs, to reinforce the program’s preschool tone.
Licensing was not in the original plans for the series, but the character has such a following among parents and preschoolers in Quebec that the TV series accelerated the demand for Caillou product. Cinar began work on a licensing program last year to develop product available for the 1998 holiday season in Quebec stores.
The licensing program will be small and targeted, hitting such key categories as toys, apparel and bedding, and aimed toward kids up to four years old, according to Mary Graziano, manager of licensing for Cinar. At press time, Cinar had four announced licensing agreements in place (see below) with several others in discussion. Cinar has hired the Canadian promotional agency Cossette to develop promotional partnerships, principally in areas such as health-related products, although nothing has been finalized.
Graziano said that the licensing program will target Quebec first and then the rest of Canada because Caillou has already been well established with French Canadians as a literary property for eight years, whereas English Canada’s exposure to the character stems mostly from the TV series, which only began airing last fall.
That familiarity also affects the types of stores in which the product will be available. ‘There is a difference between the English-Canadian market and the French-Canadian market,’ she says. ‘French Canadians are used to seeing licensed product on the higher-end properties. Because Caillou is known to them as a literary property first, it makes sense that it should appear in mid-tier to specialty retailers. In English Canada, we are going to build on the popularity of the TV show as opposed to the books, and it’s going to be more mass market.’
Negotiations are ongoing for licensing programs in the countries where the series has been sold, which could make this little kid from Quebec grow up to be a big figure as a programming and licensing presence.
Tracking Caillou’s first baby steps into licensing:
- 1990: Quebec-based publisher Les Editions Chouette publishes the first Caillou book. In all, 31 titles have been published, accounting for sales of over 700,000 copies in Quebec, and over a million copies worldwide.
- November 1995: Cinar Films signs an agreement to produce 65 episodes of an animated series based on the book. The series has sold in more than 70 countries to date.
- September 1997: Caillou debuts on Teletoon, Canada’s animation network.
- Late 1997: The ratings success of the show and the demand from viewers for Caillou product encourages Cinar to develop a licensing program. Licensees signed are: Perlimpinpin (bedding and accessories); Romžo & Juliette (sleepwear and activewear for infants and toddlers); Sony Wonder (Caillou videos, initially in French) and Les Editions Chouette (for a new series of books, based on the TV series).
- 1998: Cinar continues discussions with potential licensees in such areas as toys and gifts. Cossette, the biggest promotional agency in Canada, is hired to find appropriate promotional partners.
- September 1998: Caillou product to be available in Quebec.
- Spring 1999: Caillou product slated to be available in English Canada.