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Literary Lions look to expand their turf

Property: Between the Lions
Owner: Sirius Thinking and WGBH Boston
Description: In January 1996, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting awarded a seed grant to Between the Lions co-production partners Sirius Thinking and WGBH. The half-hour daily series, which launched on PBS...
December 1, 2000

Property: Between the Lions

Owner: Sirius Thinking and WGBH Boston

Description: In January 1996, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting awarded a seed grant to Between the Lions co-production partners Sirius Thinking and WGBH. The half-hour daily series, which launched on PBS last spring, takes kids ‘between the lions’ that guard the doors of an ‘infinitely large imaginary library in which prefixes have personalities and vowels sing their own sounds.’

Concept: Lions Theo and Cleo and their cubs Lionel and Leona run a virtual library in which books fly off the shelves and open to worlds which the reader can enter. Click the Mouse and a dinosaur named Heath the Thesaurus round out the library’s staff.

Demo: Kids ages four to seven

Licensees: American Library Association, American Needle, BMG Video, Celebration Companies, Decopac, Disguise, E.S. Originals, Eden, Fisher-Price, Freeze, Golden Books Publishing, Handcraft Manufacturing, Hallmark, K&R Sportswear, Kids Headquarters, Kittrich Corporation, Mattel, PJ Kids, University Games, Westpoint Stevens, Worldwide Dreams, Wormser.

The latest: NBC-4 News in Washington D.C. chose the Leona Talking Puppet (SRP US$29.99) as a ‘hot toy for the holidays.’ And Kids Headquarters, which signed on as Between the Lions’ apparel licensee in September 2000, is developing a new spring line of children’s clothing with a literary theme. Featuring an outfit with a novelty zipper pocket that reads ‘zip’ when closed and ‘unzipped’ when opened, the line will debut March 2001 exclusively at 860 Sears stores across the U.S., as announced November 2, 2000.

Potential: The mission of the team behind Lions is to help kids learn to read while they’re having fun. To Erica Lindberg-Gourd, senior VP of merchandising, promotions and licensing at Sirius Thinking, it’s extremely exciting to be able to put television and video mediums to new uses.

‘We’re using them as a delivery system for solid academics,’ she says. ‘We see our property becoming part of the core curriculum of a lot of public schools. If a kid in a classroom just isn’t getting why phonics make the sounds they do or why certain consonants blend together, we have a music video that addresses that in a lighthearted way.’ Lindberg-Gourd describes the series as ‘a literacy-based, multimedia kids show that is very music-rich.’ The show’s first season featured 80 original songs that all embody the curriculum in a different way.

Currently broadcast solely in the U.S., Sirius Thinking and WGBH hope to expand the series worldwide. ‘Initially, we are interested in English-speaking territories and any country that’s seeking to have its population speak English,’ says Lindberg-Gourd. Although Canadian viewers with PBS in their cable packages may be watching the series, a deal has yet to be made with a Canadian network. Lindberg-Gourd cites Canada as a major broadcasting interest for the property. ‘Interestingly enough, many of our licensees have acquired United States and Canadian rights, anticipating that spillover,’ adds Lindberg-Gourd. And Lions licensing is beginning to make some strides, with five new licensees signing on between September and October 2000 for a total of 23 licensees as of press time.

Market reality check: While broadcast and merchandising spillover of U.S. properties into Canada is natural, translating to overseas markets is tough. Claire Derry, managing director of U.K.-based Link Licensing, says that it is difficult for a property that has an educational base to translate between markets. She claims that even a property like Sesame Street has not had licensing success in the U.K. An interesting aside, two of Sirius Thinking’s co-founders were previously tied to Sesame Street-Grammy and Emmy Award-winner Christopher Cerf for his musical contributions to the series, and Norman Stiles, 11-time Emmy Award-winning head writer. ‘Our two main broadcasters, BBC1 and ITV, are not keen on programming with an educational bias,’ says Derry. ‘BBC1 tend to push this type of programming towards BBC Education, but this does not get a big enough audience for licensing.’

A further stumbling block is the American language, to which U.K. educationalists would be quite resistant. Derry says that dubbing the series into the Queen’s English would help make it feel like more of an English show. ‘Also, our school curriculum and reading ages are different from the U.S.,’ claims Derry. ‘Penetrating our schools would be difficult and expensive, and school packs would need to be created that fit in with our national curriculum.’ According to Derry, it will be crucial for the property to build awareness in the U.K., ideally via TV on a major channel, as well as a consumer advertising campaign and direct-mailing schools. TV alone, she says, is no longer sufficient to build a licensing campaign, as the competition in preschool is so great. Plus, with HIT Entertainment developing a property based upon the most commonly used reading scheme in the U.K.-The Magic Key-’it would be very difficult to compete, as it is so well-established in schools.’

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