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Maintaining the consumer-products momentum

It looks as if a kids store has exploded in J. Baxter Urist's office. The bookcases, shelves, desk and nearly every nook and cranny of the office of CTW's group president of products and international television are teeming with what must...
November 1, 1998

It looks as if a kids store has exploded in J. Baxter Urist’s office. The bookcases, shelves, desk and nearly every nook and cranny of the office of CTW’s group president of products and international television are teeming with what must be over a 100 different Sesame Street licensed products, from plush figures to a rack of apparel to backpacks to bikes.

The 30th anniversary of Sesame Street is being used as an opportunity to not only solidify licensing toward parents and preschoolers, but also to launch a major new initiative targeted to the teen, college and adult markets.

‘We are trying to make Sesame Street a lifestyle brand,’ says Urist.

Urist believes that there is a large untapped market of Sesame Street ‘graduates’ who are drawn to hip, cool-looking and nostalgic links to their youth. Product lines in this area will be mostly in apparel and accessories, such as backpacks, baseball caps, T-shirts and neckties. Sesame Street Unpaved, published by Hyperion in September, features a collection of scripts, songs and behind-the-scenes information about the show, from its earliest days to the present. CTW has taken the Sesame Street story to college campuses throughout 1998. The Sesame Street Unpaved College Tour gives students the chance to meet the show’s creative talent and explore how the show is put together.

While the 30th anniversary presents a chance for CTW to introduce an adult product line, its bread and butter will always be preschoolers and parents. The Tickle Me Elmo phenomenon of 1996 and the success of Sing & Snore Ernie in 1997 are evidence that Sesame Street licensed products have withstood and will continue to hold their own against the challenges of preschool competitors, from Barney to Rugrats to Teletubbies.

CTW has traditionally tried to put its name only on safe, effective and educationally based products. ‘We’ve been very restrictive on specific kinds of product categories,’ says Urist. ‘However, we’ve started expanding into categories that we haven’t been in because we’re expanding into these adult markets.’

Tyco/Mattel will feature a new line of products tagged or specially packaged for the 30th anniversary, including collectible plush, Sesame Street Beans characters and collectible figurines. A line of licensed product is being readied in conjunction with the release of the movie Elmo in Grouchland next year.

In retail, Kmart has created a special line of toddler apparel specifically for the 30th anniversary. FAO Schwarz and Toys `R’ Us will also be creating special retail activity.

CTW justifies the more than 10,000 licensed items available worldwide not only as a means of generating income for its productions, but because parents are demanding them. The nature of the business has changed to the point where if a company wants to be taken seriously as a brand, it has to have a licensed product element, says David Britt, president and CEO of CTW.

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