Not so far to row…

Pioneer, Jean Michel Biard, ponders the future cachet-potential of European properties....
February 1, 1999

Pioneer, Jean Michel Biard, ponders the future cachet-potential of European properties.

elieve it or not, my daughter Aude is a beautiful child and a brilliant pupil. When she turned 12, she hung a large poster in her room showing Snoopy rowing, with a caption reading, ‘Is America far away?’ Then she bought, with her own pocket money, a beautiful pair of Snoopy blue jeans. Twenty years later, she lives in Oak Park, near Chicago, is a mother of four children…and coincidentally, I have the privilege of licensing Snoopy in France.

Sophie also lives in Oak Park. She is eight, she is beautiful, brilliant, etc., and she is my granddaughter. I am not seven anymore, I live in Paris and I am not beautiful, but I like traveling, especially when all the roads lead to Chicago. Last February, I brought Sophie a wonderful French princess costume. She was so happy that she promised she would wear it for Halloween. However, last October she decided to forget about her promise and chose to be Pocahontas instead of an anonymous princess, however wonderful.

Sophie and her three brothers are only allowed to watch TV at home, and exclusively with parental supervision. Together they watch a lot of videos, read a lot of books, etc. Their heroes are Luke Skywalker, the 101 Dalmatians, Curious George, Indiana Jones, Berenstain Bears, Miss Frizzle, Arthur, Raggedy Ann and Andy and, of course, the French elephant Babar. Even though they are not avid TV viewers, they are pushing Dad, Mom and Grandpa to buy licensed products touting their heroes: light sabers, backpacks, shoes and T-shirts-you name it!

Licensing for a kid (and also for a grown-up) is kind of a personal relationship with a dream. Books require a more ‘active’ use of imagination, as opposed to ‘passive’ television, so it is not surprising that famous characters from books comprise a wonderful content source for television, direct-to-video and consequently, for licensing. It has proven to be a reliable route for Nelvana, which bought the Canadian publisher Kids Can Press last August, and Scholastic, which has produced many TV series based upon book series including Goosebumps and Animorphs.

This bodes well for Europe, which harbors an incredible wealth of famous ‘sleeper’ characters. Many European book and comic publishers are developing portfolios of characters through multimedia-among these are Dorling-Kindersley in the U.K., Egmont in Scandinavia, Dargaud in France and Bertelsman, the German publishing company that increased its standing late last year by purchasing Random House. It was also interesting during last September’s Cartoon Forum in Greece to see how many European TV series projects were based on characters from publishing.

The growth of European television animation over the last decade has been phenomenal, and also signals optimism for more of these book heroes to hit TV screens. While Europe produced only 60 hours of animation in 1986, 10 years later, that figure jumped to 700 hours, representing 45% of the worldwide production.

And as the number of co-productions between countries continues to grow, an easier pan-European fiscal framework is being ushered in. Since January 1st, the Euro has become the only European currency to be quoted at the stock markets of London, Frankfurt, Paris and Milan, and all business in Europe is now being conducted in this new currency.

In the middle of the worldwide financial crisis, the entertainment industry in Europe remains reasonably secure. TV co-production and the licensing business that has sprung up with the U.S. should further strengthen this stability.

Soon, the European princess costume will have a greater shot at achieving licensing cachet and competing with its American counterparts.The world is becoming a little village. By the way, I have another grandchild, born in Buenos Aires and currently living in Sao Paulo, who turned one in November. Which dream will she be rowing towards when she turns 12?

Jean Michel Biard is founder and president of V.I.P. Licensing, a Paris-based company that started 31 years ago as a licensing company, but recently launched a television arm called V.I.P. Television. A leader in the European licensing business since 1964, Biard’s licensing credits include Snoopy, Dilbert, Zorro, Goosebumps, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Pink Panther and many others.

Do you have any anecdotes or experiences with children that give professional insight into kids’ likes and dislikes, needs and desires? If so, and you would like write about it, please contact West Coast editor Virginia Robertson at 323-966-4500, or email:

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