ABC sets licensing crosshairs on live acts and yellow fruit

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a uniquely successful licensing set-up for a pubcaster. Owned and operated by the Australian government, it creates reams of revenue via its ancillary activities through licensing arm ABC Enterprises, which covers both adult and children's licensing...
December 1, 1999

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a uniquely successful licensing set-up for a pubcaster. Owned and operated by the Australian government, it creates reams of revenue via its ancillary activities through licensing arm ABC Enterprises, which covers both adult and children’s licensing activities. Enterprises makes about US$42 million in revenue for the ABC, which gets divvied up between its departments, including those under the ABC For Kids division umbrella: audio, books, music, video, licensing and events.

The promotional value of the properties’ visibility is harder to appraise, but also of immense value as competition from private nets increases for kid viewers. The goal at the moment, says Grahame Grassby, head of the ABC Enterprises consumer publishing division, is to bring the international success of Aussie-bred Bananas in Pyjamas to other children’s ABC properties. What he hopes to accomplish is to have all the ABC properties spawn merchandise in each department under the ABC for Kids label.

Grassby predicts it won’t be long before the rest of the world sees an ABC show that has the international impact of Bananas.

One way the ABC is uniquely positioning its properties for increased visibility is via its retail shops. Twenty-eight ABC Shops are now open across the country, filled with ABC for Kids and other ABC property-based merch. There are also 90 ABC Centres set up in higher-end bookstores, as well as ABC-designated areas in mass stores like Kmart.

‘Retail shops allow us to touch our audience in a way that television can’t,’ says Grassby. Smart packaging concepts like triple-pack audio sets containing a book, cassette and CD allow the consumer to get the most bang for their buck. Another way the ABC increases demand for its product is by reaching out to both kids and moms through the ABC for Kids Club, a book-club-type venture that has grown to almost 5,000 members since it started a year ago and that receives about 200 new members a week.

Among other benefits, members receive a 10% discount off all ABC for Kids products, handy club news mailers with order forms for products and V.I.P. ticketing for some events. Representing ABC’s recent foray into kids’ magazine publishing, Play Time Magazine has just produced its fourth issue and continues to be successful, Grassby says, because although the market is too small to warrant a separate magazine for each property, a magazine that combines all the ABC properties can go head-to-head with other children’s magazines.

One lucrative springboard for the licensing success of the ABC properties lies in live theatrical entertainment accompanied by some new music-based TV series for kids. A major focus next year will be on live ABC For Kids concerts-branded stage shows produced by the ABC Events division. The shows provide substantial way for the ABC to promote its brand in a homogenous fashion, as well as to reach the kids in person rather than through a screen. The concerts incorporate both well-known ABC music talent along with ABC for Kids costume characters.

‘We were created as a resource to bring all the elements of the brands together,’ says Vanessa Ware, head of ABC Events.

Since its inception a year ago, ABC Events has pulled in a total revenue of US$320,000 off its live entertainment.

The property ABC Enterprises has been concentrating on for the past few years is singing troupe The Wiggles, who are beginning to make inroads into the U.S. with their lively musical act. ABC owns the music rights to the band, which toured the U.S. last year, and is planning a second tour of the U.S. and U.K. The group has sold almost one million albums in Australia through ABC Music since releasing its initial CD and is launching another CD in February 2000. However, the ABC does not have broadcast rights to the series-a half-hour Wiggles TV show will continue to be broadcast through Disney Channel and Seven Network in Australia. The Wiggles will have a new CD-ROM, distributed by Melbourne-based Dataworks, by Christmas, and ABC Books is developing a new title called Dorothy the Dinosaur Goes Camping for second quarter 2000, based on The Wiggles Dorothy character. Beanie plush by Melbourne’s Funtastic will be available by Christmas. ABC Video launched two 1999 videos-Dorothy the Dinosaur & Friends and The Wiggly Big Show-through ABC Video in Australia. Videos have just been launched in the U.K. by ABC, and in North America by Lyrick.

As The Wiggles gain popularity through various ABC tours and CD sales, ABC Consumer Publishing is focusing its efforts on another musical group with costumed characters The Hooley Dooleys. Starring three guys, a muscle-bound kangaroo named Russell and fantasy creature Tickle the Dooda, The Hooleys property began as a stage show, and is also being developed into a TV series and videos. The troupe puts on a lively performance, as evidenced by sales of bouncy `roo ears that found their way onto many little heads during a recent Sydney concert. So far, they’ve sold 200,000 albums in Australia through ABC Music and will hit the tour schedule hard next year, doing both smaller Sunday afternoon concerts and larger ABC events like the second annual national touring event, The ABC for Kids Christmas Spectacular.

‘The Hooley Dooleys will receive a big push next year,’ says Merryl Mills, head of licensing for ABC. They’re currently working on 13 five-minute episodes that will air on ABC in the first half of 2000. The long-term licensing plan for the group includes the core areas of music, videos and books. ABC Books has already published two Hooley titles and plans for a second two to be on shelves by May.

Another property that has been signed by ABC Music and is beginning the licensing cycle are The Bunyips, a kiddie pop surfer/skaband. ABC Music sees potential in the young singers because their music is quite different.

The Bunyips have so far released one CD through ABC Music, and their first two-minute video clip is currently playing on ABC. The band will continue to tour Australia in 2000, and ABC is creating a mascot and style guide for the group, along with its first full-length video in March. The Bunyips first signed with ABC three years ago. Their show combines fun, surfy beach tunes and water safety and education tips. Manager Tony Hook says once the group is touring outside Australia, it will target cities for tours that are near beaches or lakes to test out its talent. ABC Licensing would like to develop

a licensing program by 2001 based on the show’s funny instruments, which include a real guitar made from a surfboard.

Another property being actively pursued by ABC’s Consumer Publishing division is The Fairies, a video-based property created by Jennifer Watts of Tranmere, South Australia. Watts created the musical story videos as a stay-at-home mother, deciding that there was a hole in the market for positive fantasy product for little girls. Fairies are popular in Australia, with independent shops carrying all sorts of fairy paraphernalia, so for Watts, it was a natural match. The show is a musical story for both children and adults that often conveys an environmental message. Watts is now creating her third video, Farmyard Magic, which will be released March 17 through ABC Video distributor Village Roadshow. ABC Video has produced at least eight of the 10 top-selling videos in Australia since November 1998. Meanwhile, ABC Licensing is busy producing a style guide for the property, and the first batch of fairy wands and wings should be out by Christmas. A TV series based on the Fairies is a possibility, and ABC Licensing hopes to incorporate a special Fairies area in its ABC Shops and Centres.

The newest property on-board for the stage show circuit is Miffy, owned by Amsterdam’s Merci. A show called ‘Miffy’s Birthday Surprise’ began touring across Australia in October and will continue well into 2000. ABC Events is also in negotiations with U.K.-based Copyright’s for stage show rights to book-based property The Wombles.

Plans for this year’s ABC Events shows, says Grassby, are to set them up in a tiered system, so that kids and can watch free 15-minute shopping center shows in their local malls, thereby getting them interested in purchasing tickets for relatively inexpensive Sunday afternoon concerts in local halls. At the high end, ABC also produces longer and bigger theatrical events for which parents can pay top dollar at a major venue like the Opera House.

As the ABC continues to increase visibility and maintain its licensing stronghold Down Under, ABC Consumer Publishing has been evaluating the ABC For Kids brand’s market status through its video department. ‘We’ve done a lot of research about brand perception. [The ABC For Kids brand] means quality, education and safety, which is one of the most important issues for parents and caregivers-what kids are exposed to,’ notes Grassby. (ABC Video and distributor Village Roadshow conducted the study).

The next step, says Grassby, is to extend that loyalty and safety internationally, as well as bringing in new brands like Jim Henson’s Bear In the Big Blue House, which airs early next year.

And Grassby is still pursuing one of his biggest dreams-creating an ABC-land. Grassby, along with Aussie licensing company Gaffney International Licensing, has been in serious discussion about either the development of a theme park or creating an ABC section within an existing theme park like Australia’s Wonderland in Sydney.

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