The Kids Licensing Biz Down Under

There are two staples in the life of an Australian child: Vegemite and Bananas in Pyjamas. The first is a breakfast food, the second a popular preschool television show in its seventh year of production....
June 1, 1999

There are two staples in the life of an Australian child: Vegemite and Bananas in Pyjamas. The first is a breakfast food, the second a popular preschool television show in its seventh year of production.

Now, two new licensing deals are bringing food products and Bananas in Pyjamas together for the first time in Australia. The classic Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) icons have been licensed to Chiquita Brands South Pacific in Melbourne. Starting in August, shrink-wrapped, lunch box-sized bananas with a Bananas in Pyjamas collector’s card will be marketed to moms across Australia. Chiquita expects that Bananas in Pyjamas will boost sales by as much as 25% this year.

Just as Bananas in Pyjamas’ popularity in Australia was seriously waning since the property’s peak in 1997, one of Australia’s largest independent licensing operators, Gaffney International Licensing in Melbourne (the Australian licensing agent for such properties as Teletubbies and Sesame Street) not only negotiated the Chiquita deal, but inked a licensing agreement with Australian dairy producer Pauls for a banana-flavored yogurt that launched in March.

Bananas in Pyjamas is just one property that’s active Down Under, and these new efforts are representative of the ways the busy Australian licensing landscape, fueled by a strong local kids TV production business, is exploring new directions.

The food deals mark the first time the ABC has licensed any of its characters to a food manufacturer in Australia. As a public broadcaster, the ABC has ‘taken a very conservative view’ of its licensing, says Grahame Grassby, who was previously head of licensing and ABC for Kids manager at ABC Enterprises and enters the newly created role of head of consumer publishing at ABC Enterprises this month (see ‘ABC, Grassby branch out,’ page 21). ‘And food is a very sensitive issue in the preschool arena,’ he adds. ABC carefully chooses its food product licensees, concentrating on healthy foods.

The recently announced deals indicate the importance of building on the Bananas in Pyjamas franchise. Bananas in Pyjamas’ market share has seen substantial erosion by Disney’s Winnie the Pooh and the BBC’s Teletubbies since 1997. The ABC is fighting back, not only with new licensing ventures, but with a live-action Bananas in Pyjamas movie for Christmas 2000, and a new animated series for 2001.

Licensing deals by ABC Enter-prises make big news because ABC is a rare beast: a public broadcaster that sets trends. In 1982, ABC opened its first merchandising store. Today, it has 28 of its own shops called ABC Shops and 89 ABC Centres, which are franchised shops within other retail outlets. It has cornered the preschool market in Australia, and is expanding its teen and family blocks. On many fronts, it sets the kids agenda in Australia. This season, the trends are ‘an aging down of the preschool market,’ says Grassby. The ABC is targeting younger and younger kids with its preschool series. The morning block is so popular, the network has added another half-hour. ABC has also extended its afternoon children’s block by a half-hour to reach kids ages seven to 15. Starting in July, the network is also establishing a new Sunday evening family programming block between 6 and 7 p.m.

The ABC’s children’s viewing audience has grown by 40% over the last five years, says Grassby. It’s unprecedented. Most public broadcasters around the world have seen their audience shares erode because of cable and pay TV. ‘Our success is due to the quality of the TV programs combined with the ABC’s off-station activity related to kids,’ says Grassby.

The ABC’s integrated success has not gone unnoticed by Australia’s private broadcasters.

Australia’s Nine Network, with the help of Haven Licensing in Sydney, is taking a crack at the preschool market. On April 12, the terrestrial station launched a new variety series called Hi-5. The show, co-produced by Nine Films and Television, part of Nine Network, and Kids Like Us Productions in Sydney, features five singers and dancers ages 19 to 25 who use music and clips to engage viewers.

Hi-5′s ratings in its first four weeks were an average of 231,000 viewers of all ages in its 9 a.m. time slot in Australia’s five capital cities, according to AC Nielsen figures provided by Nine Network. Its success underscores the continued popularity of kids musical programs in Australia. There is an ever-increasing appetite for bands like The Wiggles (a popular musical troupe whose show has been broadcast on Seven Network, and whose audio tapes are sold through ABC Licensing) and The Hooley Dooleys.

Basic print T-shirt sales in general are sluggish, therefore, Haven launched a more expansive Hi-5 apparel line through the Target retail chain. ‘We have created fashion ranges for the kids, not just basic T-shirts, emphasizing the fun, colors and vitality of the show,’ says Tom Punch, managing director of Haven Licensing. The company is also developing sleepwear and a sports line. Village Roadshow in Melbourne is releasing the first Hi-5 video, Hi-5 Move Your Body, in Australia this month.

Nine Network is also co-producing 52 half-hour episodes of Pig’s Breakfast with Sydney-based Southern Star Entertainment. The show, which has yet to air in Australia, is a live-action costume show starring Grob and Meeba, two alien children who crash-land in a TV station back lot and become the hosts of a weekly kids TV show. Southern Star, the show’s licensor, is exploring merchandising potential.

On a food-products roll, Gaffney International is looking to food manufacturers, supermarkets and food chains to platform merchandise for the animated movie The Magic Pudding from Sydney-based Energee Entertainment, scheduled for theatrical release in the year 2000 (see KidScreen’s May 1999 issue, ‘Energee breaks into film,’ page 18). The film is based on the Australian children’s classic story written by Norman Lindsay. It was such a hot property that Energee had to compete with Disney for the rights. Energee has signed John Cleese, Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill to voice the characters. According to Juliet Barr, licensing and promotions manager of Energee, the company envisions a global merchandising program that ranges from serious collector items to fun novelty products. The company will establish both a classic and a contemporary range. Energee is also exploring skateboards, backpacks and apparel for the animated TV series Wicked!, produced with France Animation.

For producer Yoram Gross-EM.TV in Sydney, four years after it delivered its second installment of the Blinky Bill TV series to the ABC, the company is rereleasing a Blinky Bill plush line that will include backpacks, beanies and pajama bags. ‘A good plush range gives good visibility,’ says Jo Pill, Yoram Gross-EM.TV’s licensing and marketing executive.

Although ABC Enterprises has veered away from CD-ROM product, Yoram Gross and its new partner, EM.TV & Merchandising of Germany (in March, EM.TV acquired a 50% stake in Yoram Gross Film Studio from Village Roadshow, creating Yoram Gross-EM.TV), plan to release three new early learning titles for Blinky Bill in mid-’99, and a new stage show is currently touring.

Handling traditional properties with long-term potential is the obvious company strategy. In addition to Blinky Bill, a classic book property from the `30s, Yoram Gross co-produced an animated series called Skippy’s Adventures in Bushtown with VIDEAL in Germany and Télé Images in France. Concurrent with the launch of the 26 x half-hour episodes of the popular kangaroo on Nine Network in 1998, Yoram Gross released a book line and video. It plans to launch plush toys and an adventure game CD-ROM within the next six months for ages five to 12. A touring stage show will begin this month.

The company is also feeling optimistic about the licensing potential of the animated show Flipper & Lopaka, based on the well-known TV series starring the friendly dolphin. ‘It’s a property with a good international name,’ says Pill. EM.TV will have worldwide licensing rights, but Yoram Gross will retain rights in Australia and New Zealand. The show has been picked up by Seven Network in Australia and ZDF in Germany, with delivery planned for July.

The Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) in Fitzroy is one producer that’s sidestepped licensing, with the exception of book publishing and videos. Its TV series The Genie From Down Under and Lift Off have both been spun off into books. ‘Licensing programs work on a large scale when there are many episodes and programs are screened daily over a long period,’ says Jenny Buckland, general manager of the ACTF. She adds: ‘We are concerned that an increasing emphasis on these programs by broadcasters [who are eager to keep them in their schedules in order to participate in the merchandising back end] has long-term implications for the diversity of shows that kids-particularly [preschoolers]-will get to see in the future.’

In this most competitive of kids markets, licensing agents have discovered that characters with good shelf life stand the best chance in the marketplace.

‘Retailers are becoming very demanding when choosing brands, and they expect the licensor to come to the table with a lot of support,’ says Haven’s Punch. ‘They want funding of catalog pages, and tie-ins to exclusive promotions. Gone are the days when they put a product on a shelf and take a wait-and-see attitude.’

Also gone are the days when retailers will support merchandising spin-offs from all the movies. Product spin-offs for feature films tend to perform less well than the more established brands. For example, in 1998, Hasbro toy product for Action Man, a Hasbro-owned toy property that launched in Australia in 1994, even outsold Hasbro toy product for Star Wars by 54% and for Small Soldiers by 45% (Hasbro was master toy licensee for both properties) in Australia, according to Hasbro subsidiary 3D Licensing. As well, the total Action Man toy brand sold 232,000 units in Australia in 1998, compared with 99,000 units for Godzilla and 18,000 units for Anastasia, according to market research firm GfK Marketing Services in Sydney in association with The NPD Group. ‘Movies that have a short life span cost too much money for retailers because campaigns are gone in maybe two months, and the markdowns and damages are irreparable,’ says Fred Gaffney, chairman of Gaffney International Licensing.

‘Retailers, licensees and consumers are looking to the brands they trust and know,’ says Gaffney. Brands like the age-old Sesame Street, Warner Bros. characters, Rugrats, The Lion King, Winnie the Pooh and Star Wars come immediately to mind, he adds.

This spells good news for entrenched licensors such as Disney. It has meant that its brands, such as the TV series The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, have blossomed into a renaissance. Mark Scott, marketing director of Disney Consumer Products, says his company has worked hard with Mattel to develop its plush toy lines, such as the Bounce Around Tigger.

Disney has ‘turned up the heat,’ says Scott, with its Pooh lineup. The brand has built-in recognition in terms of TV exposure for preschoolers since it was launched on Seven Network in 1995 and on Disney Channel in 1996. ‘Australian kids have a strong emotional [connection with] the Pooh characters,’ says Scott.

Winnie the Pooh’s success flies in the face of normal trends. Australians tend to reject product that is too American or becomes too popular, insiders say.

Pixar’s Toy Story, distributed by Disney, also hit a nerve Down Under, and Scott says his company is gearing up for the expected run on merchandise after the skating tour Disney on Ice Presents Toy Story premieres this month, and Toy Story 2 is released in theaters at the end of the year. ‘Disney is launching a new merchandising range [across toys, stationery, apparel and other items that will feature] a new and improved Buzz Lightyear and Woody,’ says Scott. This time around, Disney has aligned itself with Mattel, rather than Thinkway Toys, which produced the original Toy Story toys.

Another movie that is expected to buck the sluggish movie spin-off trend is Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace, slated to hit theaters in Australia on June 3. ‘Stars Wars has a meticulously crafted business plan,’ says Gaffney, whose company represents the property in Australia. With two sequels to follow, the franchise has staying power.

Great expectations of sales of Star Wars merchandise are having a domino effect upon the industry. Demand for all things action-related is on the rise in Australia.

According to 3D Licensing in Sydney, which represents Hasbro-owned properties and third-party properties, Action Man is experiencing continued growth. As a long-term brand in Australia, retailers are banking on the fact that Action Man will continue to do brisk business well after the Star Wars mania has subsided. Since the beginning of `99, 3D has signed nine new licensing deals for Action Man, and reports that retail sales for the first quarter of this year are up by 35% over last year. Action Man was the number five total toy brand by dollar value of sales in Australia in 1998, according to Gfk in association with The NPD Group.

Furby, developed by Hasbro-owned Tiger Electronics, is also a hit in Australia. Since the toy’s launch at retail in early March, retailers have not been able to keep up with store demand, and 14 licensing and promotion deals have been signed. Sales to date surpassed 70,000 pieces in only seven weeks, with Hasbro budgeting only 100,000 for the entire year. 3D reports that it is already signing off on phase-two products, such as bedsheets and beanbag chairs, even before phase-one items, such as watches and apparel, have been launched.

Newcomers to the Australian licensing landscape, says Haven’s Punch, will find that ‘our market is one of the most competitive in the world.’ The number of licensors and licensing agents has grown from the big three-Disney, Warner Bros. and Gaffney-to more than a dozen over the last six years. Not only do new products have to compete with the U.S. heavies, they also have to go head-to-head with the well-developed Aussie products. An unprepared licensor may find its product going belly up while Down Under.

About The Author


Brand Menu