When Cleveland, Ohio-based social expressions giant American Greetings established an IP hatchery and outbound licensing arm this past January, its motto must have been go big or go home. AG Properties launched with retro revivals Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake and Holly Hobbie in hand, and a scant four months later has 19 IPs in its development pipeline.
According to Tamra Seldin AGP’s senior VP of consumer products, the goal is to diversify the portfolio and capitalize on the parent company’s established presence in on-line and mobile as content distribution channels for new IP.
AG Interactive operates Blue Mountain Greetings, AG Greetings, egreetings and the e-card components of Yahoo! and MSN that together drew 14.6 million unique visitors in February alone. AG Mobile, meanwhile, creates wallpapers, ringtones and SMS messaging for various brands including Def Jam and Sports Illustrated, and through its partnerships with more than 65 wireless carriers worldwide reaches 500 million paid subscribers monthly.
The first digital media property in the works is Twisted Whiskers. L.A. prodco The Hatchery, in which AG holds a majority stake, has nine CGI shorts in development based on the line of greeting cards that feature slightly off-kilter but cute animals. The shorts will introduce a cast of characters and are targeted at an all-family audience. Seldin’s team is currently working on a grassroots on-line marketing campaign to launch the program this August.
Maryoku Yummy is a bit more traditional in target and platform. The company is pitching a 2-D, 11-minute episode TV treatment for the preschool girls property to broadcasters right now for a late-’07 delivery. Jeffrey Conrad, AGP’s senior VP of creative, came up with the idea for the Asian-inspired show about a land of wish-granting Yummies approximately five years ago. The stories will focus on the adventures of Maryoku as she tries to make kids dreams come true. Like all AGP projects, Maryoku Yummy has been designed with merch potential in mind and Seldin says beyond a TV deal, the company is looking to land DVD, publishing, and toy partners.
Next up is Sushi Pack, aimed at a slightly older demo of five to eight. AGP optioned this one from an L.A.-based designer and also plans to launch it via TV before moving it into digital media. The program proposes to answer the question: ‘What happens when a pack of bratty kid celebrities consumes some suspicious seafood?’ Well, to start, they’re transformed into superheroes with both powers and dysfunctional personalities. Tom Ruegger, the mind behind Pinky and the Brain, is writing the treatment and bible and AGP is aiming for a 2008 delivery. On the merch side, Seldin says she’s planning to pitch on the show’s hip look and feel, and has publishing, apparel and accessories in mind for the initial product launch.
While this space won’t permit coverage of all 19 IPs in the pipeline, another original worth noting is Pretty Freekin Scary, which aims to break into the edgy tween and teen goth territory currently occupied by the likes of Ruby Gloom and Emily Strange. ‘It’s definitely less mainstream than some of the properties we’re trying to put out there,’ Seldin says, adding AGP is looking to create webisodes as well as seed the property in R.L. Stine Presents, a theatrical-release in development at The Hatchery. She says the three monster-like characters named Pretty, Freekin and Scary lend themselves best to apparel and accessories applications and her team will be showing the property at Licensing Show in June.
If AGP wasn’t busy enough, the mandate to add 10 more properties to its portfolio by the end of ’06 should kick the division into overdrive. Seldin says Conrad has an IP development team charged with both hatching concepts internally and scouring all sources, including the web, mobile and merch, to meet this goal. AGP is also looking at straightforward acquisitions of existing IPs and projects, and Seldin says at least one of the 10 will fall into this category. While AGP wants to retain all rights, she concedes the division would entertain various financial and ownership scenarios for creators holding the right property.
Betts Fitzgerald, AGP VP of outbound licensing, is heading up all licensing efforts for the new properties and she’s looking for help. The company has an immediate opening for a director of licensing based in New York. Seldin says other hires will depend on how this first batch of new properties does at market. Meanwhile, Burbank, California’s DIC Entertainment, Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products in New York and fellow Big Apple-resident Joester Loria will continue to act as third-party agents for Strawberry, Care Bears and Holly Hobbie, respectively.