With Thomas the Tank Engine’s 65th anniversary just a year away, HIT Entertainment is racheting up its licensing gears to support the upcoming milestone. Along
with introducing the property to new demos, the UK-based IP owner is refreshing the core program that currently generates around US$1.5 billion at retail annually through the development of a new TV series. All pistons should then be firing by Q4 to transition the brand into its 65th year in 2009.
Admittedly, keeping an evergreen property fresh is a challenge, especially with a core program that involves coordinating more than 750 licensees in 145 territories. So a key part of the plan for this refresh (the last one was five years ago) is to branch out into uncharted demos, giving existing licensees a chance to innovate product and also bring new ones into the brand’s fold.
For the first time, HIT is developing an infant line for babies ages zero to two based on Thomas & Friends. Planned categories include demo staples such as bedding, sleepwear and nursery accessories. A new style guide softens up the color palette and train imagery and encourages a more upscale interpretation and very subtle branding. HIT EVP of worldwide consumer products Peter Byrne says licenses are currently being negotiated, and product will roll out this fall on a global scale.
Also a departure for Thomas is a design-centric apparel program in the works based on the original book art from titles that were published in the ’40s and ’50s. The retro line is meant to appeal to boys ages six to 12, and will feature old-fashioned engine motifs. Byrne says the line will get off the ground at high-end retailers in Japan before moving into other territories.
HIT will also be refreshing the core program for its all-important two to six Thomas demo. In August comes the launch of a new DTV, The Great Discovery, with Pierce Brosnan stepping in as narrator. Brosnan will then take his performance into the new season of Thomas & Friends (series 1200). Byrne and company are banking on the former Mr. Bond to delight not only preschoolers, but also their moms. ‘Moms are the key purchasers of Thomas product,’ he says,
implying that Brosnan’s sexy presence will likely boost co-viewing.
Additionally, new characters are being added to the series, including new engine Stanley, Colin (a crane), Flora (a steam tram), and Hank (a big American engine), and they’ll find themselves in new settings. The characters and locations will be worked into the existing Thomas wooden railway line to help generate new interest and drive collectibility.
The whole shebang is set to get a promotional boost in the US, in particular, through a planned limited theatrical release of The Great Discovery. Last fall, the company experienced success with a Regal Cinema promotion for the ‘Thomas & Friends on the Big Screen’ event that saw sell-out crowds at 50 participating theaters.