As merchandising capitalizing on the current tween fascination with boy bands and music-centric reality series escalates into a full-fledged frenzy, licensing programs for series spoofing the phenomenon are beginning to make serious inroads.
MTV’s made-for-TV boy band mockumentary 2Gether translated into a veritable success last February, with the soundtrack selling an estimated 600,000 copies and breaking the top 50 in Billboard’s 200 chart. By August, the movie had morphed into an MTV series produced in association with Alliance Atlantis, and two CDs have since been released, self-distributed in the U.S. by TVT Records and available in Canada through Universal Music Group. The series has garnered international sales success, airing in France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland and Canada, laying a foundation for a worldwide merchandising success story.
2Gether debuted in Canada last November on Much PopTV, and a merch program was announced in December by Alliance Atlantis, which holds worldwide merchandising, licensing and distribution rights (excluding the U.S., which is handled by MTV). But what are the considerations involved in licensing a property that exists in two mediums? Jennifer Bennett, director of sales, merchandising and licensing for Alliance Atlantis, explains: ‘Existing in two mediums increases the exposure for us, allowing us to pick up extra fans who might enjoy the show and not necessarily the music and vice versa. It also brings together several teams-the record company, the broadcaster and us-that can work together towards a mutually beneficial program.’
While the duality of exposure offers benefits, addressing two audiences creates a challenge. Tween girls tend to ignore the parody and take the series-and the band-seriously, while the series’ comedic element attracts an older demo. Bennett has to be careful not to alienate one or the other. That aside, she thinks a comedy series allows licensees to have more fun with the characters and the product. ‘Because they’re playing roles, the characters have more extreme characteristics and off-the-wall antics that can be incorporated into the merchandise,’ she says. ‘And because the actors know they’re portraying fun, quirky, fictional characters, they may be more open to certain licenses than a reality series actor might be.’
Bennett’s program will initially target tweens since they tend to be a loyal demo. Product began rolling out in December and continues this year through licensees Trends International (posters), Play Along Toys (toys and accessories), Prime Wear Apparel (apparel) and Customs Casuals (branded accessories). At press time, Alliance Atlantis was close to closing a publishing deal, and Sears Canada had just come on-board as the property’s first retailer, carrying a line of girls apparel for spring.
Bennett has no clear plans for the older demo, but a strong teen audience may convince her to go after some novelty licenses. ‘I’m open to any appropriate application of the license that will capture the spirit and humor of the show,’ says Bennett. ‘I look for partners who will support the property at retail and will work with my team to market and promote it.’
Last month, a British comedy-drama called STARStreet joined 2Gether in Spoofsville, targeting kids age five to 10. A 13 x 15-minute co-pro between U.K.-based Carlton Television and music management firm Byrne Blood, the show features a band called the allSTARS. Reminiscent of the S Club 7 boy-girl mix, the five band members-Sam, Thaila, Ashley, Rebecca and Sandi-all live together in a fantastical house. The series launched at the London Toy Fair in January, and is currently open for licensing in all categories, though the first phase will focus on toys, stationery, apparel, bags, toiletries and interactive.
‘The fact that the show contains a band that will be releasing records and performing live ensures that the program will receive mass exposure even when off-air,’ says Sian Facer, head of consumer products at Carlton International. ‘The band will stand out from the plethora of other teen and preteen bands because of its presence on television, and the show will act as a showcase for the band’s music.’ Although the series targets a young demo, Facer believes that the music element will reach a wider audience and allow Carlton to extend the licensing program beyond the core demo.
‘Unlike a reality series, where the outcome is uncertain, with STARStreet, we have been able to plan the `licenseability’ of the show from the outset,’ says Facer. ‘The fact that the series is fiction and set in a fantasy environment gives it a distinct and unique look that can be carried into product design and packaging.’ And the show’s non-musical elements-like a talking alarm clock and alien companions the Babus-offer further licensing potential. Facer claims these elements allow the program to encompass a broader range than traditional band-based merch such as dolls, stationery, backpacks and T-shirts. The challenge, says Facer, lies in striking the right balance between the series characters, known by their real names and playing `enhanced’ versions of themselves ,and the personality of allSTARS the band.
To bring out the series’ quirky and unique elements in its licensing program, Carlton is looking to work with licensees who can bring imagination to products and the marketing. At press time, Carlton was in negotiations for a global master toy license. Initial STARStreet product will be introduced for fall, with a bigger push in 2002, when Carlton expects to have a second series.