On-line portal companies are increasingly linking up with bricks-and-mortar toycos in an effort to bring their brands more consumer eyeballs, and in turn, more hits. However, most kid portals are first thinking long and hard about which products will fit their brands.
Ask Jeeves, which has licensed the Jeeves name only from the P.G. Wodehouse estate, is one company gathering a roster of licensees for helpful or educational products based on its portly butler character, says David Hellier, VP of marketing and licensing. Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz’s company Artists’ Management Group is repping the indispensable Englishman in licensing, merchandising and programming deals. Plans are to launch the first Jeeves product-two self-published Jeeves books, including an adult book and a a Net activity book for kids ages seven to 11 called Jeeves, I’m Bored-in May. The books are essentially how-to titles. The next likely Jeeves categories will be curriculum products for classrooms, along with games and merch that will launch on-line (likely at both the Ask Jeeves site and its kid sister site ajkids.com) and at the specialty store level.
Hellier says although portals like Yahoo! have ‘excellent brand recognition,’ Jeeves has a ‘very human aspect. There are properties in Jeeves that go beyond just Net destinations.’ He adds: ‘It’s not a Disney character. We will focus Jeeves as a guide and mentor to kids. I think there’s room [on shelves] for that unique position.’ AJ is also discussing an animated series with a number of prodcos.
Toronto’s Nikolai.com, a kid-only portal and community, recently signed an agreement with Applause for its boy and cat characters. President and CEO Isabel Hoffmann says the deal will not only create broad awareness of the Web site, but also, more importantly, ‘lead to actual revenues and a retail presence of our characters. We are going to be able to reach those children who are not yet connected to the Net, and we are going at it in a very nonstandard way, from a toy to the Internet.’ According to Neilson Net ratings, the site has 200,000 unique visitors per month. A TV deal is also in the works. Merch such as puppets, plush, novelties, magnets and computer accessories will launch worldwide by 2001.
Educational kids game site funschool.com signed a licensing agreement last month with American Champion Entertainment to handle worldwide licensing and merchandising for its characters. The first toys from Timeless Toys will debut next month on-line and in specialty stores, and more merch is planned for back-to-school. Sashi Boinapolli, president and CEO of funschool.com, says although he doesn’t think licensed merch is crucial now for kid portals, in a couple of years, it will be the norm.
One portal that has been actively pursuing adult licensing since 1997 is Yahoo!, but the cyberbrand now also sees the potential of kid products bearing its name. Yahoo! has linked with Tiger Electronics to develop kid electronic toys over the next three years. At Toy Fair, Tiger debuted a digital camera, along with a music downloader. The digitoys mark the company’s first foray into branding off-line products for kids, says Nancy White, director of brand marketing for Yahoo!, although she expects the number of licensees to rise shortly. Other kid opportunities might be to develop a Yahoo! character icon or use the Yahoo! scream from the TV spots in electronic merch. A global music CD from Rhino Records is also on the way to promote the fact that Yahoo! is a global brand.