Television distribution and production veteran Peter Orton founded HIT Entertainment in 1989 with an eye towards creating a successful worldwide distribution company concentrating on high-quality animated programming. His original investment was approximately US$432,456. In 2000, that vision expanded to include publishing, video and licensing interests, culminating in HIT’s US$275-million purchase of Dallas, Texas-based Lyrick Studios–creator of preschool perennial Barney–this March.
While Barney (and his US$3.5-billion merch staying power) was one of the major incentives behind the Lyrick pick-up, the acquisition also enabled HIT to expedite one of its major 2001 goals–introducing HIT properties in the U.S. market. Bob the Builder’s January 2001 premiere on Nick Jr. went some way towards achieving that goal, but more importantly, says Orton: ‘Through the Lyrick acquisition, our licensing and merchandising unit has a sales and marketing team that will [facilitate] relationships with Wal-Mart, Kmart, Toys ‘R’ Us and Target–which are obviously essential to growing our business in North America.’
Ironically, Orton claims that the Lyrick acquisition was simultaneously HIT’s greatest achievement and challenge of 2001. At the start of the year, HIT was a company with approximately 70 employees. In March, through the Lyrick pick-up, that number grew to 300. ‘The challenge,’ says Orton, ‘was the integration of the Lyrick business with HIT. We reorganized the management structure to have global businesses managed by senior executives from both companies.’ Indeed, HIT now lays claim to a global video, licensing and merchandising business run out of Dallas, in addition to its London-based production business.
Looking forward to 2002, HIT’s goal ‘is to have five extremely strong brands in the U.S. marketplace,’ says Orton. Towards that goal, HIT is shopping for a U.S. broadcaster for new preschool series Plugg, already presold to BBC in the U.K. and Super RTL in Germany. The company also recently picked up the rights to Pingu in a US$23.1-million deal, with a view towards unveiling it alongside Bob the Builder, Barney, Angelina Ballerina and Plugg at next year’s New York Licensing Show.
Asked whether HIT’s growth will include exploration of new age demos, Orton says the company is committed to preschool–kids ages two to seven in HIT terms. ‘We won’t go above seven, so what you will see is the company expanding its activities to–hopefully–dominate the preschool arena over the next two to three years.’