Book properties have long provided fertile pickings for the children’s animated world, and yet another has entered the ranks. Rotten Ralph, based on the book series illustrated by Nicole Rubel and written by Jack Gantos, features Ralph, an innocently mischievous and bright red cat in a 52 x 12-minute (26 x half-hour) U.K./Canada co-production between Italtoons UK in London and Montreal-based Tooncan Productions. Two half-hour specials have already been produced by Italtoons, and aired in May `96 and August `96 on Disney Channel in the U.S.
Rotten Ralph has a cast of characters and a look that lend themselves well to licensing. Ralph lives with his owner and best friend, Sarah, a mature and practical girl who sees the best in Ralph, unlike her parents and Ralph’s cousin, Percy, an affected irritant for the troublesome red cat. Cosgrove Hall Films is handling animation responsibilities, and has used stop motion with CGI effects to depict Ralph and his feline friends, which are a composite of papier m‰ché and fur-Ralph himself has about 85 pairs of eyes and matching mouths. The characters are placed against a real backdrop, giving the whole series a pop-up book feel. The production budget for the series is US$9.5 million.
The show will launch in July in the U.S. on Fox Family Channel, and in September in the U.K. on the BBC and Nickelodeon UK, which possesses cable and satellite rights. Other broadcasters include Italy’s RAI and Radio-Canada (SRC), although air dates have not been confirmed.
Licensing responsibilities are being handled by BBC Worldwide for all territories outside of German-speaking territories and Eastern Europe, for which RTV Family Entertainment AG in Germany holds rights. At press time, Italtoons was looking for a company to handle licensing in the U.S. and Canada.
For BBC Worldwide, its licensing plan for the U.K. is well formed. The initial campaign will be very basic, says Michael Dee, brand manager for BBC Worldwide. It plans to launch plush toys of the three main characters-Ralph, Sarah and Percy-as well as a series of collectible comic book-style books based on the show in October. A fuller range of product-bags, watches, school-related items and stationery-is due out for holiday `99. Clothing and confectionery will follow in spring 2000. BBC Worldwide is developing in-house the plush toys, books, bags and watches, and is signing on licensees for other categories.
According to Dee, Rotten Ralph is considered by BBC Worldwide as much a gift-oriented product as a full-scale toy product. The main target group for the show is kids ages six to 10, with an even split between boys and girls. But Dee sees the licensed products extending to an older shopper as well. ‘We have a secondary market of young adults, because we feel that if it is a kind of gift-oriented property, then we can go down the route of Garfield or Wallace and Gromit,’ he says. Both properties have done well in both the children’s and the adult gift arenas.
But the licensing plan is being approached with some caution, due to stiff competition this year for shelf space in general from one of the biggest licensing pushes ever from Star Wars, as well as products that tap into the overwhelming interest in the end of the millennium among kids and adults. ‘We’re not going to hit every category straight away,’ says Dee. ‘A lot of millennium product will be on the shelf no doubt,’ he adds. ‘How that will actually affect the total toy market and retail market, nobody knows.’
And while Star Wars is being released long before Ralph scratches his way into stores, Dee sees it still kicking around pretty strong at Christmas. ‘[Rotten Ralph] will run into next year, so we want to make sure we have new product developed for then as well,’ he says.
Rotten Ralph is not BBC Worldwide’s first multiterritory campaign. Teletubbies, Teletubbies, Wallace and Gromit and Noddy have helped it to design a strategy for the international marketplace that it will also apply here. Naturally, the licensing campaign hinges on the TV platforms, and once those are in line, Dee and his regional offices coordinate product releases. But that does not necessarily mean following the structured plan for the U.K. ‘The rollout would be similar,’ says Dee, ‘but our strategy is to analyze first what the market can bear in a specific territory, then decide on product.’