Given Cartoon Network’s deep property portfolio and US$500-million commitment to producing new toons over the next five years, its recent move to reclaim its licensing business from Warner Bros. Consumer Products seems like a natural move.
In June, the company’s 13-year-old Cartoon Network Enterprises commercial arm started taking back the licensing, merchandising and promo reins on original properties including PowerPuff Girls, Codename: Kids Next Door and its Adult Swim programs. And CNE’s Kim McQuilken, in a new role as executive VP of kids advertising sales and marketing, will now head up the division and oversee senior VP John Friend’s push to grow the global licensing business.
Friend already has Simon George (VP of Europe, the Middle East and Africa) stationed in London and Sashim Parmanand (executive director of Asia) set up in Hong Kong. So right now, he’s working on cherry-picking talent from North America’s licensing community to staff a new CNE U.S. headquarters in New York’s Time Warner Center. Friend hopes to have this team in place by September in order to ramp up U.S. consumer products and retail operations.
Although its not a pressing priority, Friend expects to start acquiring more third-party properties once CNE’s new infrastructure (he wants to fine-tune the division’s systems for approvals and royalty management) and initial property programs are up and running.
As for the immediate future, Friend is placing emphasis on five key properties. ‘Our consumer products business is the house that PowerPuff built,’ he says, and the hit toon from the late ’90s is in the process of being reborn. A new series with the working title PPGZ is in production with Japan’s Toei Animation and Aniplex. The show should debut on Cartoon Network Japan in Q2 2006 and then hit the U.S. in Q3. At press time, Friend and his team were in the midst of planning a licensing strategy for the property’s next incarnation.
Boys action entry Ben 10, debuting in May 2006, is inherently merchandisable and should lead to a strong licensing program. It centers around a boy who stumbles upon a strange watch-like device that attaches itself to his wrist. Lurking inside it are the spirits of powerful alien heroes that Ben can morph into when he needs to; he just has to figure out which alien abilities best suit each problem that crops up. Friend says a limited toy line (negotiations for a master deal with Bandai are rumored to be in the final stages) will hit retail when the show launches, including action figures that have texture and smell applications. With hundreds of alien characters in the making, collectibility will also be key to the licensing program. Beyond toys, Friend’s on the lookout for game, interactive, apparel and back-to-school licensees to follow up with product for holiday ’06.
Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi are next on the list. WBCP had programs for Codename and Hi Hi in progress, and CNE will pick up where it left off. As for Foster’s, Friend is getting ready to announce a broad program that should be ready to roll out by back-to-school 2006.