AS studio-based home entertainment players shy away from episodic kids TV pitches that can’t produce iron-clad proof of built-in consumer interest, a new kid on the block is embracing this content with arms wide open. Headed up by former HIT Entertainment SVP of home entertainment and live events Debbie Ries, NCircle Entertainment has been on a genuine rights-buying spree since opening up for business last October, signing the likes of Pocoyo (Granada International), Word World (Word World LLC/PBS affiliate WTTW), Hopla (Bert Smets Productions), Hermie & Friends (Christian content provider Thomas Nelson), Mighty Machines (Seville Pictures) and a broad collection of DIC Entertainment content.
Based in Bonita Springs, Florida, NCircle is actually the licensing division of Alliance Entertainment Corporation, which manufactures in-store fixtures for home entertainment products and is a leading CD and DVD wholesaler in North America. AEC works with its retail clients in several ways: managing inventory at the store level through proprietary software for some, acting as a category manager for others, and handling some or all of the dot-com business for another set (including Amazon). The upshot of all of these variegated relationships is that the company controls real estate in and supplies more than 5,000 stores at every level of bricks-and-mortar retail, not to mention a healthy number of web storefronts.
‘Given all of its infrastructure, AEC really felt that there was an opportunity to bring family titles to the market that might not get as much visibility with other studios that manage larger portfolios,’ says Ries, the division’s SVP and GM. She adds that NCircle is able to customize its retail distribution approach by property using AEC’s client network (i.e. supplying Seville’s Mighty Machines titles to a tractor supply store), and this gives it the freedom to take on great content that doesn’t have much market exposure, as well as niche properties that will do decent business but aren’t likely to top the homevid sales charts.
Ries is looking for properties with at least a full season in the can that have a unique visual style and that focus on a specific target demo that falls within the kids & family umbrella. She’d really like to find a great live-action show as these are harder to come by than stand-out animation at the moment.
NCircle doesn’t tend to rely as heavily as other home entertainment buyers on ratings data as a barometer of whether a show will work in the medium. Instead, potential acquisitions are floated by an online panel of roughly 100 kids to assess their commercial appeal and value.
There’s no limit to the number of properties NCircle is looking to pick up because Ries says the division will grow to keep pace with its expanding portfolio. In the next month or so, Ries will be looking to recruit product development and marketing execs. Although most of NCircle’s deals to date cover home entertainment in North America (including digital rights) only, the scope of the Hopla license is indicative of how the company would like to grow. This deal puts NCircle in the driver’s seat of the property’s North American push as the CGI preschool series’ exclusive broadcast and merchandise rep in the US and Canada.
In terms of first-phase product that’s currently at market, Ries says the company has had notable success dealing in lower price points. Titles based on Mighty Machines and DIC Entertainment properties including Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Zelda are value-priced and doing really well. ‘Retailers love items customers can pick up for US$5 to US$6,’ says Ries, ‘and a lot of them have a special place in-store for this kind of product.’