Viacom hopes to repeat the magic for new Sabrina series

Creating the licensing strategy for this new series is a dream,' says Holly Rawlinson, VP of domestic licensing at Viacom Consumer Products, referring to Sabrina the Animated Series, which launches this fall from Sunday to Friday on UPN and other stations...
June 1, 1999

Creating the licensing strategy for this new series is a dream,’ says Holly Rawlinson, VP of domestic licensing at Viacom Consumer Products, referring to Sabrina the Animated Series, which launches this fall from Sunday to Friday on UPN and other stations as part of the Disney’s Whomptastic block and on Saturday mornings on ABC’s Disney’s One Saturday Morning. ‘The success of the live-action show [Sabrina, The Teenage Witch] has made it all but certain that the animated Sabrina will do just as well.’

The new animated series is produced by DIC Entertainment in association with Paula Hart/Hartbreak Productions, and consists of 65 half-hours. Melissa Joan Hart, star of the live-action series, will provide the voices of Hilda and Zelda, while her younger sister, Emily, will be the voice of Sabrina.

Viacom Consumer Products is in the process of finalizing deals with several licensees, but Tiger Electronics, also a licensee for the live-action series, has already signed on for the animated version. The licensor plans to use many of the licensees for the live-action series, which have gained experience in capturing the character in high-quality products for teen girls. The primary target audience for the animated series and its licensed products will be girls ages seven to 12, with a secondary audience of parents.

The fall `99 rollout will include a line of mood jewelry from Tiger Electronics that changes color and published material from a yet-to-be-finalized partner. Also this fall, the live-action series will release a second CD-ROM game from Simon & Schuster Interactive, a follow-up to Spellbound, which hit shelves last year.

While the Sabrina character is widely known, Viacom Consumer Products plans to slowly introduce product to give consumers time to familiarize themselves with the younger, animated version. The major spring 2000 rollout will feature an extensive line of apparel, including T-shirts, swimwear and sleepwear. Viacom Consumer Products is also planning to market dolls, stationery, puzzles, temporary tattoos, jewelry, key chains and hair accessories in the spring.

The live-action series will launch a new teen apparel line this fall, but it will vary quite a bit from the preteen-targeted clothing for the animated series set to retail in the spring. The teenage wear captures the essence of the show more so than specific characters. Belly-shirts or jewelry, for example, will feature playful moon and star designs. The preteen line focuses on the animated characters, which make the connection between the products and the program more easily identifiable for kids. ‘We’ve been able to target younger girls with a similar character, but in a way that would most appeal to them,’ says Rawlinson.

Viacom Consumer Products has signed on with Toys `R’ Us for a fall launch of the Sabrina live-action doll, which will be created by the toy retailer (see ‘TRU moves into licensed toy exclusives’ on page R4 in North American editions, searchable at It plans on utilizing large department-store retailers for the spring launch of apparel, accessories and toys. Retailers, recognizing what the Spice Girls did for sales, have also been quick to express interest. Additional spring tie-ins include fast-food and packaged-goods promotions with yet-to-be-finalized partners, says Rawlinson.

Targeting preteen girls with this new series is a strategic move for Viacom Consumer Products. According to Rawlinson, this audience is a hot age group, and the retail market is wide open in this category. Since there are fewer licensed properties for young girls today than in the past, Viacom Consumer Products expects the animated Sabrina line to receive significant shelf space at retail. Barbie’s popularity has been skewing younger, and interest in the Spice Girls and Beanie Babies has cooled, says Rawlinson. The animated property also provides the live-action series, which runs on ABC’s TGIF Friday night block, with future fans. The live-action series will enter its fourth season this fall.

Parental acceptance of the Sabrina character is also key in the licensing strategy. Unlike other TV programs that feature a witch character, Sabrina is the only one that lends itself well to animation for girls, says Rawlinson. Parents are familiar with the wholesomeness of the Sabrina character. Mothers, who generally make purchase decisions, will find the character endearing.

In terms of licensing do’s and don’ts for this property, Rawlinson says girls of this age group are sensitive to wanting to be older. Clothing, stationery and other items must reflect that, and focus only on that age group. Items that skew too young, such as diaper bags and toddler clothing, or too old are inappropriate. Products must be cute to attract parents, but not too cute that they appear too young, making girls think the character is not cool.

Viacom Consumer Products is also looking to licensees to translate the magic of the character into products. For its part, it has met with the show’s animators to ensure that Sabrina’s coloring and attitude work well with the licensed products. But, adds Rawlinson, the cuteness factor isn’t everything. ‘Air fresheners, while they may look cute as an animated Sabrina, would not work with this property,’ she says.

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