Prime property preview – Let the Licensing Show deal-making begin…

Disney tunes into TV
June 1, 2007

Disney tunes into TV

With the third Pirates of the Carribean movie already in theaters and and Pixar’s Ratatouille ready to roll out on June 29, Disney Consumer Products is turning its attention to preschool at this year’s show. New CGI series My Friends Tigger & Pooh, which debuted on Playhouse Disney in May, promises to refresh the Pooh franchise for the toddler set. The division’s EVP of global retail sales and marketing, Jim Fielding, says the domestic dance card is pretty much full, with a toy-led mass-market program scheduled to roll out this fall. And the plan is to expand into all major categories, including apparel, home décor and food, in spring 2008. However, Fielding says, the international team is still on the hunt for licensees in toys and apparel.

Book-based films a focus at Universal

Universal Studios Consumer Products Group is prepping holiday 2008 release The Tale of Despereaux as its tentpole merch launch for the season. Based on a Newbery Medal-winning book by Kate DiCamillo about the journey of big-eared little mouse Despereaux Tilling and his affable rat pal Roscuro to rescue Princess Pea, the film is Universal’s first foray into CGI. When it comes to translating the magical, fairytale-like story into product, VP of global business development Cindy Chang and VP of global marketing and brand management Debbie Luner expect the property to appeal primarily to tween girls. Right now, the licensee field is wide open, but Luner sees softline categories such as apparel and accessories in the driver’s seat, and says the holiday timing makes the property a good candidate for collectibles and gift merch.

Also new to Universal’s lineup is Coraline. This darker yarn about a girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) who steps through a door into a parallel world and then fights to return to her normal life marks another milestone as the studio’s first CGI/stop-motion effort. The film should resonate with teens and tweens, and a mass-market licensing program planned around the film’s Q4 2008 launch targets tween girls. Softline categories are leading the charge, and no deals have been inked yet.

In other news, USCPG has just appointed The Beanstalk Group to handle North American licensing programs for Curious George and The Land Before Time.

Scholastic debuts toddler brand

Scholastic’s publishing arm is launching an imprint designed to shepherd the under-three set through basic developmental phases. Seven Little Scholastic titles that teach kids colors, shapes, numbers and more will land at retail this summer. And as the publishing effort is getting off the ground, Scholastic Media is prepping to move the fledgling brand into other product categories. SVP of marketing and consumer products Leslye Schaefer is taking it slow and views Licensing Show as a chance to introduce the property to potential partners and get their feedback. However, she does feel that early learning toys, room décor and home furnishings would provide a good start for a consumer products push.

Word Girl, the company’s animated half-hour series about a female superhero who wards off villains with her word power, is debuting on PBS this September. Honing in on the importance of developing a rich vocabulary at a young age, the show for four- to 10-year-olds skews slightly girl. Schaefer aims to build the property’s awareness, with the goal of launching apparel and accessories in time for back-to-school 2008.

Discovery Kids now under Big Tent

With much of the buzz centering on its iconic Japanese import Domo, New York’s Big Tent Entertainment has a few more irons in the fire. Just weeks before Discovery Communications announced the closure of its 103 US mall-based retail outlets in mid-May, Big Tent signed on as the State-side licensing agency for Discovery Kids and the net’s Ready Set Learn! preschool block. Partner and chief marketing officer Rich Maryyanek and his team will be seeking to promote the existing range of DK products, which includes the Discovery Star Theater Home Planetarium and Discovery StickerMaker. And the company will be licensing Ready Set Learn! as a brand, as well as singling out a few individual shows, particularly newcomer Wilbur. Big Tent is on the hunt for partners in music, toys, plush, board games, apparel and fashion accessories, novelties, household items, social expressions, paper products, video games, publishing and mobile entertainment.

Nick relaunches Neopets

With almost 140 million online users adopting virtual Scorchios, JubJubs and Kacheeks, Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products has decided it’s time to bring Neopets back into the world of retail. Limited product has been available at specialty in the two years since Viacom purchased the online pet portal, but a mass program is now in the works, says president Leigh Anne Brodsky. Targeting preteens and teens, Neopets merch should start rolling out in 2008, with plush, accessories, apparel, electronics, video games, stationery and books driving the program. Brodsky says NVCP is still looking for partners in these categories, with the exception of books, which will be handled by Random House.

Paramount comes to

the show with its

licensing back in-house

Newly minted Paramount Licensing is cutting its teeth in the kids sector on a full-blown program for the February 2008 release The Spiderwick Chronicles. ‘It’s the most merchandisable film that Paramount has produced in a long time,’ says Michael Bartok, EVP of licensing for the new division that was created in May when Paramount took licensing duties back from sister company Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products.

Bartok is banking on the film’s cast of creatures, magic-laced storyline and real-kid protagonists to propel merch sales. He says his L.A.-based division is on the verge of announcing licensees that will handle toys and interactive games for the movie based on Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi’s best-selling children’s book series. And he’s heading into Licensing Show with North American publishing (Simon & Schuster), greeting cards/party supplies (American Greetings), cake-decorating products (DecoPac) and calendars (Mead Westvaco) sewn up.

Abby Cadabby enchants Sesame Street

For the first time in 13 years, Sesame Workshop has introduced a new Muppet to the Street. Abby Cadabby, a fairy-godchild-in-training, started appearing in Sesame Street eps towards the end of last season. And come July, she’s making her consumer products debut via a retail exclusive at JCPenney. Dolls from Gund and a clothing line by Children’s Apparel Network will form the centerpiece of the seed program. And heading into fall, master toy licensee Fisher-Price will launch Abby items at mass retail, joined by Random House (books) and American Greetings (stationery). VP and GM Maura Regan says the Workshop is relying on goods from its key licensees right now while seeking out more retail relationships for the Abby program. She also hints that Abby and lead female Muppets Zoe and Rosita could be grouped as a ‘girl-power threesome’ for CP purposes, opening up new licensee opportunities and allowing existing licensees to hone in on girl consumers.

Granada Ventures

aims to expand US reach

London, England’s Granada Ventures has the US consumer market in its cross-hairs, and recently appointed VP of licensing Paula Miller will be working from its L.A. office to get the plan underway. Miller comes to Granada with 15 years of experience in the licensing industry, having worked as a consultant and executive producer at Media Home Entertainment, as well as doing stints at BKN, Eicon Communications and Golden Books Entertainment Group. In her new position, Miller will be focusing on launching preschool property Pocoyo in the US.

As for business in the UK, director of licensing Katie Foster is looking to build out a consumer products program for preschool series Numberjacks. A master toy licensee is at the top of her list, with partners secured for greeting cards, dinnerware, party goods and puzzles.

4kids goes literary with Nate the Great

Well-known for its boys action properties, 4Kids has picked up licensing rights to Nate the Great – Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s best-selling story and activity book series about the adventures of a curious kid detective. A TV show of the same name is set to bow on the PBS Kids Go! block in September 2008, but 4Kids is leaning towards establishing a program based on Nate as a book property first. An early publishing rollout is planned for fall 2008, and the company is currently on the hunt for toy, apparel and video game partners to launch product at mass retail in spring 2009.

4Kids is also getting down to the business of finding soft goods, video games, publishing, collectible figures, novelty, consumer electronics and mobile licensees for its premiere multi-platform property, Chaotic. The 2-D animated series bowed on 4Kids TV in the US and on Teletoon in Canada earlier this year, and subsidiary TC Digital Games was just rolling out Chaotic collectible trading cards at press time. The property’s sweet spot is boys ages nine to 14, and 4Kids is planning a specialty retail launch catering to that demo for fall 2008.

Fox monkeys with intergalactic CGI flick

With The Simpsons Movie heading to theaters next month, Twentieth Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising is shifting its focus to animated newcomer Space Chimps. The adventure-comedy CGI pic is about a circus primate who leads a mission to outerspace and crash-lands with his crew in a new world and is slated for a summer 2008 release. A corresponding boy-oriented merch program for the four to 11 set is in need of partners to cover off toys (particularly plush), back-to-school goods, health & beauty, publishing and room décor, says VP of domestic licensing Michael Peikoff. Product rollout will be in line with movie merch SOP, landing four to six weeks prior to the pic’s release at mid-tier and mass-market outlets in the US.

Super BadGuy to the rescue?

Though American Greetings Properties will be shining the spotlight on Sushi Pack, which debuted at last year’s show, SVP of consumer products Tamra Knepfer says the division will also be introducing upcoming series Super BadGuy to prospective partners. Still in early development, the show takes place in a town overpopulated with superheroes and villains, where protagonist Super BadGuy can’t ever catch a break. Knepfer is currently in negotiations with production partners, and she’ll be looking for non-traditional licensees to head up a mass-market program planned for 2009. Toys, apparel, publishing, video games, accessories and home entertainment for kids four to eight are at the top of the list.

Sony forecasts a food front headed to your area

Sony Pictures Consumer Products is concentrating its Licensing Show efforts on Sony Pictures Imageworks’ 2009 CGI feature Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Based on the Judi Barrett children’s book of the same name, the movie revolves around an eccentric young inventor who develops a machine to make food grow in the atmosphere, which produces the likes of spaghetti tornadoes. Juli Boylan, SVP of consumer products, says she’ll be talking to the usual suspects to lock down apparel and toys deals for product aimed at six- to 12-year-olds. And with such a food-centric story to play up, you can also expect Sony to have some fun with edible goods.

Entertainment Rights swings in with Classic Media

Expect a big combined booth for Entertainment Rights at the show in the wake of its recent acquisition of Classic Media. This year, George of the Jungle celebrates his 40th with a new series launching on Cartoon Network this fall. George also has placement on Teletoon (Canada), Nickelodeon UK and Disney Channel (Latin America). In terms of licensing, Nicole Blake, SVP of marketing at Classic Media, says the plan is to appeal to tech-savvy kids first via and recruit Jungle Maniacs to act as ambassadors for the show. Then the next step will be to follow up with a tech-based consumer products line, bolstered by back-to-school goods and costumes, for a fall 2008 mass retail rollout.

Cookie Jar bows new preschool

Cookie Jar Entertainment has a new property on its roster for the under-fives. Preschool series Will & Dewitt is slated to air on Kids’ WB! in the US and on YTV in Canada this fall, and its premise is all about encouraging kids to try new things. Aimed at the two to five set, the program will offer up licensing opportunities for all key consumer products categories, including toys, apparel and publishing. The mass-market program, led by toys, will roll out in 2009.

Taffy Entertainment takes on Geronimo Stilton

Though Taffy’s booth will primarily push Growing Up Creepie, Code Lyoco and Hero: 108, president of worldwide marketing and consumer products Cynthia Money says partners will also get a sneak-peek at the company’s newest acquired property, Geronimo Stilton. A deal inked with Italy’s Atlantyca Entertainment has given Taffy the greenlight to oversee a licensed merch program and a new animated TV series based around the best-selling book-based property. Though still in its early stages, the new series is a co-production between Atlantyca, 9 Story Entertainment and MoonScoop and should go to air in 2009. Money expects to launch a full-blown, worldwide licensing program six to nine months after the show’s launch and is looking at video game, apparel, toys and home décor for the seven to 10 demo.

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