Property: Phantom Investigators
Licensor: Sony Pictures Consumer Products
Description: Created by Stephen Holman (PeeWee’s Playhouse) and Josephine Huang (Nightmare Before Christmas) and produced by Sony Pictures Family Entertainment, Phantom Investigators follows the adventures of a tween team of sleuths with psychic gifts. A combination of stop-motion animation and puppetry, the 13 x half-hour series is slated for a fall debut on Kids’ WB!
Concept: Pooling their psychic talents to solve supernatural mysteries each week, four Lugosi High seventh graders make up the PI team: Prunella Daemon (a.k.a. Daemona Prune), with an eye for the supernatural; Casey, a shapeshifter; Jericho, who has telekinetic powers; and the telepathic Kira. Rounding out the team as mascot is Wad, a sprite who takes the form of a huge wad of gum.
Demo: Kids four to 11
Categories open: apparel and accessories, collectibles, domestics, gifts and novelties, Halloween, housewares, interactive, publishing, stationery and party goods, toys and games
The latest: At press time, Sony Pictures Consumer Products was in discussions with three toycos and expected to announce a master toy deal in time for Licensing Show. A QSR deal with an as-yet-unnamed partner is already in place for Q1 2002.
Potential: Al Ovadia, executive VP of Sony Pictures Consumer Products (SPCP), sees Phantom Investigators-an original concept without the ‘pedigree of a spin-off from a theatrical’-as a way to cut through market clutter. Ovadia points to Power Rangers and Digimon as paragons of properties uniquely successful thanks to their breakthrough style, and thinks that his new property has that in spades, as well as crossover gender appeal.
And yet to hit upon a property with equal appeal among girls and boys is rare, and Ovadia is realistic. ‘It’s really important that this have the ability to fall into the boys toy category, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be interesting to girls in a crossover situation,’ he says. ‘And I think as far as our development is concerned, we want to avoid pigeon-holing it.’ Thus, SPCP will let the market tell it where to go.
SPCP’s short-term strategy is to sign a master toy license, and then look at secondary categories-video games, accessories, BTS product-for 2002. Thus, Ovadia is looking to work with licensees that have longer development times, and hopes to see some initial product hit retail for spring 2002, with the lion’s share rolling out in the fall to coincide with the series debut.
As far as licensability is concerned, Ovadia highlights the series’ role-playing aspect and thinks its numerous supernatural creatures, poltergeist-detecting gadgets and ghost-chasing vehicles are elements that will translate well to merchandising. ‘We will hopefully develop the cool gadgetry with our master toy licensee so kids can go out into their neighborhoods and deal with the kinds of things that the Phantom Investigators deal with.’
And while Ovadia is open to virtually anything from a licensing point of view, he doesn’t think licensing individual characters is in the cards. ‘At the end of the day, it truly is an ensemble cast, and I think from the standpoint of positioning the property, that has to be a constant,’ says Ovadia. ‘If you’re presenting it to kids as an ensemble thing, and they see an overabundance of, say, girl-based character product, then you’re sending mixed messages to the market.’
Asked to define initial territories of expansion interest, Ovadia says it’s simply too early to say. While Sony’s global agents are aware of the property, ‘typically, international opportunities really don’t surface until 26 episodes are in place,’ he says, and agents will only spring into action after a broadcast deal has been secured in their respective territories.
Market reality check: Considering the wealth of homegrown stop-motion successes in the U.K., competition will be the biggest challenge for Sony and the PI team when they begin to look across the pond. ‘If the [series] captures the imagination of kids, then you are 99% there,’ says Lisa Shapiro, managing director of The Licensing Company’s entertainment division. ‘The broadcast needs to be strong, with continual exposure and promotional activity around it.’
Two things that bode well for the property, says Shapiro, are that the concept seems original, and the four to 11 market isn’t really being catered to. Yet it’s that broad demo that concerns Tim Collins, director of HIT Entertainment’s U.K. consumer products division. ‘[Sony] may need to be more specific on age for merchandise.’ Collins claims that Sony will also have to keep the ‘global nature’ of the property in mind when completing the initial U.S. deals, since ‘international rollout is greatly enhanced once a success story has been created in the U.S. with product that can be distributed overseas.’