Kicking it up a notch with fresh alien and ursine toyetic talent
Brian Henson does not talk up licensing because it is an unpredictable revenue stream. But as a company, JHC has been geared up to take advantage of ancillary markets for two decades.
Senior VP of domestic licensing Betts FitzGerald, who has been at JHC for 22 years, gets involved in early program development discussions, but stresses that this is ‘not so we can try to change things. We are there to listen and advise.’
In the U.S., The Muppets have reached the cherished status of classic characters, with 95% awareness among the population. But like her TV counterparts, FitzGerald is always looking to freshen up the proposition. Next year, for example, Tyco is to launch the first mass market plush range since the Muppet Treasure Island movie.
While FitzGerald has high hopes for that launch, 2000 is expected to be the breakthrough year for preschool hit Bear in the Big Blue House. ‘It is an extraordinary show that already has close to 30 licensees, including Mattel, Simon & Schuster and Applause,’ she says. ‘We are getting a great response at retail even though it is hard to get shelf space in the U.S. So far, we have had limited product out, but next year we expect to be in full stride.’
Farscape is also beginning to shape up well among ’18- to 49-year-old fans in the sci-fi genre,’ she says. ‘They are a dedicated group who love to collect product.’
The international licensing strategy is handled from New York by Judy Guarino, who has been at Henson for eight years. In that time, as with distribution, there has been ‘an entire reorganization of the company’s consumer product division,’ she says. Three years ago, Guarino only had The Muppets, and was primarily marketing adult gift collections to territories like the U.K., Germany, Japan and Australia. But in the last 18 months, ‘we have had a lot of wonderful things coming on to TV.’
Alongside Bear, Guarino is formulating plans for Mopatop’s Shop (outside the U.K., where big-spending Carlton controls the strategy), Construction Site and Farscape. ‘All of a sudden, after years of gearing up, the international business is going into overdrive.’ To meet the expected boom, JHC has enlisted London-based licensing exec Adrienne Collins to report to Guarino.
FitzGerald echoes Henson’s cautious approach to licensing, saying that since the major studios went into overdrive on licensing 10 years ago, ‘it has become more competitive, which keeps us on our toes. Having said that, the Henson brand is a big plus. It is like having the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.’