With more than 200 hours of original science-based content delivered to schools in 20 countries, transitioning to major media and merchandising platforms might seem like a no-brainer for Montreal, Canada-based The Mad Science Group. But the 13-year-old company has eschewed that approach – until now.
‘There is tremendous opportunity for this sort of thing, but we wanted to make sure that we were ready with a strong, established infrastructure, great national coverage, and reach to enough kids so the brand had a critical mass that could be leveraged effectively,’ says Mad Science CEO Ariel Shlien. The company now conducts more than 150,000 shows in 13,000 public and private schools in North America that collectively reach about five million families. And it boasts a separate affiliate organization – Mad Science Productions – to produce touring shows that visit large venues like the Kennedy Space Center, Six Flags theme parks, Sega City and Ontario Place.
And it was that distribution reach that first attracted MGM to the company about a year and a half ago, prompting a deal that was unveiled just before Licensing Show in June. In Mad Science, MGM spotted an opportunity to incrementally build its business in two strategic directions. On the home entertainment side, acquiring worldwide TV and related DVD/home video distribution rights to the programming will allow MGM to expand its kids business and portfolio, which remains a focus for the studio.
To that end, MGM Home Entertainment is launching a new label called MGM Kids (complete with lion cub logo) that will cater to the two to five set. The company has signed deals with Nelvana (Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Kids), WGBH (Peep and the Big Wide World), Southern Star Sales (Hi-5), DIC (Movie Toons collection), Broadway Video (A Freezerburnt Christmas, Second Star to the Left and Hamilton Mattress), Scholastic Entertainment (Stellaluna), Monster Distributes/Brown Bag Films (Why?), NBC Enterprises/The Jim Henson Company (It’s a Very Muppet Christmas) and The Film Consortium (Christmas Carol: The Movie). MGM features transitioning to the MGM Kids collection include the Hello Kitty line, the All Dogs Go to Heaven franchise, The Care Bears Movie, The Secret of Nimh, The Pebble and the Penguin and Prancer.
On the consumer products side of things, worldwide licensing and merchandising rights to Mad Science will enable MGM to tap into a burgeoning product category.
‘We did a lot of research and discovered that science-based products represent one of the hottest growth categories at retail,’ says Travis Rutherford, senior VP of MGM Consumer Products and Interactive. ‘There’s a lack of entertainment that supports fundamental, fun, science-based content, and we know that there is a demand for it,’ he adds. Case in point: Mad Science licensee Scholastic has sold more than a million units of a series of Mad Science novelizations through its in-school channels.
As MGM maps out development plans for a half-hour, live-action television series for the six to 12 set that’s targeted for delivery in 2004, the consumer products team is currently scouting for sponsorships, promotional partners and licensees in toys, apparel, interactive, creative play, party goods and magazines. ‘Depending on the content of the show, we’ll also spin off additional lifestyle classifications such as greeting cards and social expressions,’ says Rutherford.
The Mad Science line will be split between higher-end, techy SKUs and fun, innovative and wacky products for mass. For the mass retailer, Rutherford envisions applications that ‘really take what Mad Science is all about – experience – and turn that into related kids product,’ such as Make Your Own Slime and Make Your Own Candy kits.
But beyond the obvious product applications, MGM is looking forward to the opportunity to leverage Mad Science’s existing grassroots business from a marketing perspective. ‘It’s as simple as connecting the franchisees to the broadcast partner and tying in the retailer to support those initiatives,’ says Rutherford. An example of this strategy at work would be to offer opportunities for kids and parents to participate at the show level, on the website or at retail through coupons and sweepstakes when they experience Mad Science in the field or at major theme parks. ‘That’s a really strong formula from a marketing standpoint,’ says Rutherford.