U.K. licensors in the driver’s seat of low-cost property promo vehicle

To successfully translate into the magazine medium, a preschool property needs: a broadcast presence, a strong story line, strong and diverse characters, and interactive elements that allow children to become involved with the characters beyond the TV platform....
February 1, 2001

To successfully translate into the magazine medium, a preschool property needs: a broadcast presence, a strong story line, strong and diverse characters, and interactive elements that allow children to become involved with the characters beyond the TV platform.

According to Toni Round, publisher of preschool and preteen magazines at the BBC, the scope of the broadcast presence is paramount in determining which properties will become the next BBC preschool magazine. The Beeb takes a look at how many eps of the series are planned, which provides a good indication of the level of commitment behind the program, and the transmission plan (Weekly? Daily?), which provides insight into the level of exposure the property will enjoy. In order to sustain a strong-selling monthly magazine, the television program has to create a high level of awareness.

Yet even properties with high consumer recognition may not necessarily lend themselves to a magazine format. According to Claire Derry, managing director of London’s Link Licensing, a property needs to be able to expand its story beyond what is seen on TV. ‘It has to be readable, whether you’ve watched the television program or not.’ Ethelbert the Little Tiger, a series about a tiger’s adventures with other animals in countries around the world, is one property Link plans to spin out into a magazine later this year. The monthly mag will expand upon the series by providing information on the countries Ethelbert visits, adding an educational element beyond what is offered on TV.

Another consideration lies in the characters. Does the property boast a diverse enough cast of characters? Are they strong enough to stand alone in a magazine bearing the name of their series? Do they find themselves in a variety of locations and settings on a regular basis? According to Lian Smith, publishing executive at HIT Entertainment, these are all questions licensors should ask themselves to determine whether or not they have a long-term brand on their hands, which in turn determines whether a magazine based on that brand would work or not.

Brands not cut out for the long-term might find their niche in the growing trend of compendium publications the U.K. is currently witnessing. Smith claims a property such as Cartoon Networks’ Cow & Chicken would not support a stand-alone magazine (having only two main characters), and so finds itself alongside other Cartoon Network properties in the caster’s monthly compendium.

So which properties have made the cut? In the U.K., international commercial successes such as Barbie, Star Wars and Sonic the Hedgehog have all translated profitably into monthly magazine titles. Homegrown successes such as The Magic Key, Tweenies, Teletubbies, Noddy and Bob the Builder can also be found at British newsstands and supermarkets monthly, with some of them spawning monthly special issues that make for a bimonthly double hit with consumers.

Yet having a mag-friendly property is only half the story. The other half lies within the pages of the magazine itself, and there are a number of factors to consider. One of the first decisions is what frequency can be sustained. The Licensing Company’s licensing manager, Rupert Waters, says strong properties launch on a monthly basis and will move on to a bimonthly if proven successful. At press time, TLC was close to signing a deal with a U.K. publisher for a monthly magazine on Nickelodeon UK preschool property Blue’s Clues. When success is less certain, TLC will try a property in a compendium title and then test the market with a one-off stand-alone title to gauge reaction.

Link Licensing also tests with one-off specials, and launches monthly or bimonthly mags based on the one-off’s circulation numbers. ‘We would like a monthly magazine to be doing about 50,000 copies in sales per month,’ says Derry. ‘Anything much less than 25,000 isn’t going to be economic.’

According to HIT’s Smith, one-offs are also a great way to support a property’s launch. This fall, HIT will produce a 32-page Angelina Ballerina magazine that will launch concurrently with the book publishing and the premiere of the series on ITV. Smith says that launching a special magazine acts as a promotional tool announcing the classic character’s U.K. return to the book scene, as well as highlighting the television series. ‘After that one special, we’ll sit back and watch the series and let the audience build, so by the time the second series is on-air or the first series is in repeats, we can launch a monthly magazine,’ explains Smith.

Demo positioning is another key factor to consider with licensed magazines, since it’s extremely difficult to have a children’s magazine with broad age appeal. If the core age demo of the property is three- to six-year-olds, then you must ensure that the magazine precisely targets three- to six-year-olds, cautions the BBC’s Round. ‘If you’re trying to get to a five-year-old, and what’s inside is too easy or too difficult, you’ve turned off that reader.’

Particular to the preschool market, says Round, is that parents see value for money in a magazine. Key to that is having a strong editorial team that knows how to write for preschool children. Designers who can create clear, colorful and simple designs are also important. ‘Marketing is very key in terms of creating awareness in the first place, and making sure the magazine is available in the right places,’ adds Round.

Even after the licensors of a strong property wade through all of the above considerations, ironically, consumer success ultimately comes down to the free toy on the cover. ‘Above all, magazines need a fantastic covermount offer,’ says TLC’s Waters. ‘Fickle as this may seem, unless the toy on the front offers equal perceived value for the child, the title will lose out on sales to titles with better covermounts.’ Round concurs, saying that what’s on the cover provides incentive to buy.

So, you’ve brought your property this far, and you’re ready to launch its new magazine title-what can you expect the magazine to offer your property and its licensing program in turn? Most licensors agree that kid mags act as a great vehicle for increasing market awareness for a property, due mainly to high-profile positioning in news agents and supermarkets-where they are bought by both adults and children. On the promotional side, they provide an excellent medium for the property’s licensees to promote product. They also help to reinforce the property’s story line and provide kids with a low-cost item-easily disposable-which firmly establishes the story in kid consciousness.

A further cost benefit, according to Link’s Derry, is that properties can be tested in a magazine relatively inexpensively compared with the tooling costs of toys or other licensed product. ‘It’s a very good promotional vehicle for a new property starting its life,’ she says. CITV Tellytots, a compendium title of Britain’s CITV channel launched last February by Link, serves as a research vehicle for testing property popularity. ‘We look at the preschool programming on ITV and select shows to feature in the magazine,’ says Derry. ‘It offers an opportunity to research which of the shows on ITV are proving popular, measured by how much mail we get for each, and it helps cross-promote the television program by giving the children more.’ And just what more should you give? More backstory, more news and information on the characters (since magazines tend to personalize a character more), drawing the child into the television series more actively.

A magazine is also a great way to reach new audiences. According to a Bob the Builder magazine reader survey of 1,005 parents conducted by the BBC last February, 48% of households share the magazine within the household, and 29% share the magazine outside the household, sharing it with an average of 2.17 children outside. The survey also concludes that parents buy on average 3.3 magazines of 12 different brands per year. Reaching new audiences further helps to build awareness of the brand with both children and parents.

Furthermore, according to TLC’s Waters, circulation figures released for six-month periods by the Audit Bureau of Circulation act as a fairly accurate barometer of where the property sits in relation to the competition. However, since ABC figures are used mainly to determine ad revenue and preschool mags in the U.K. tend to have very little advertising, many don’t issue ABC figures. The BBC’s Round estimates that out of 60 or 70 U.K. preschool mags, only 15 or 20 register ABC figures. Yet success may still be tracked and monitored via sales figures provided to publishers by a major U.K. wholesaler. While there is no official list of the top kid magazines, Round helped to create one based on circulation and sales figures (see Top 10 U.K. preschool mags by circulation and sales, this page).

Finally, licensed magazines offer some benefits that book publishing cannot. They are more immediate, creating the opportunity for spontaneity. They can be used to engender relationships with consumers and build a feeling of community through contests, letter pages and fan clubs. And they can reflect current trends surrounding the property. For example, Link uses their monthly Barbie magazine, published by Egmont, to comment on fashion for little girls, allowing them to keep up with the trends.

And with research showing that kids spend, on average, two hours with any one title (three times as long as the average ep of a television series), magazines emerge triumphant as a low-cost option to high exposure for your property.

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