FremantleMedia casts a spell with Merlin
With the BBC debuting new family drama Merlin in a prime-time Saturday slot this fall, licensor FremantleMedia is hoping to grab the attention of six- to 14-year-olds (action and adventure for boys, medieval fantasy and romance for girls) with the story of Arthur and Merlin’s friendship, chock-full of courtly love, swordplay, sorcery and a vast array of creatures and villains. Licensing plans are already well underway, and SVP of UK licensing Dominic Burns is looking for partners in games, publishing and toys (figurines, playsets and roleplay) to feed into a September 2009 mass-market rollout in the UK that will coincide with the second season launch. For phase two, he’s on the hunt for stationery, housewares, confectionery, apparel, cards and calendar licensees, and would like to enter into discussions about theatrical shows and live events further down the line. Burns is betting on Merlin to be a long-term franchise for the Beeb, and hopefully for international broadcasters as well. The series is likely to span at least a five-year cycle that will eventually culminate in that pivotal moment when Arthur draws the sword from the stone.
TLC believes in Gruffalo’s evergreen potential
In celebration of The Gruffalo’s 10th anniversary in 2009, The Licensing Company is looking to roll out a program based on the book’s iconic and loveable creature from the deep, dark woods. Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the publishing property fills an evergreen character brand hole in TLC’s lineup, and Magic Light Productions is working on developing a TV series that should give it some extra weight in negotiations. There hasn’t been any licensing activity on The Gruffalo to date, and TLC MD Lisa Shapiro plans to fill the blank slate with a broad program for kids two to six that involves apparel, room furnishings, hard lines, soft toys and gifts featuring art from the TV series rather than the book.
Contender offers up a preschool two-pack
With programs for The Humf and Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom slated to roll out at retail in late 2009/early 2010, Contender Entertainment is applying roughly the same strategy to both preschool properties.
The Humf is a charming 2-D cel-action series for the one to four set from the creators of Maisy that will debut on Nickelodeon UK by year’s end. Its cute title creature is described as a ‘purple furry thing’ who lives in an urban high-rise with his extended family and best friends Loon (a bird) and Wallace (a bull). Andrew Carley, head of L&M, would like the property to seed on-air for a year before product hits, and he’s open to discussions on all categories. The initial plan is to find partners to hone in on the series’ soft pastel aesthetic in toys, publishing and DVD first, with Contender’s home entertainment arm handling DVD distribution. For phase two, Carley will be looking hard at ancillary toys such as jigsaw puzzles and creative play.
As for Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom, which hails from the same studio that created Peppa Pig, this project for kids ages two to five is about an elf and a fairy living in a microscopic kingdom at the bottom of a garden, where flowers and blades of grass tower over the castle and provide a backdrop for adventure. Carley says the blueprint for this property will mirror that of The Humf in every aspect except the publishing rights, which have already been assigned to Penguin. Carley expects the series and the merch range to launch first in the UK before rolling out internationally.
RDF gets creative with Mister Maker
Given that Mister Maker has been the top-rated series on CBeebies since its launch last September, Rachel Barke, director of consumer products for RDF Kids and Family, is expecting to do some serious business with the property at Brand Licensing. She says the make-and-do preschool show has generated quite a bit of interest from licensees already, and rights in its most obvious category – arts & crafts – have been snapped up by Creativity International. This line has a retail exclusive with Asda this fall, along with a series of DVDs from 2Entertain extending into ’09/’10 and a publishing program by Penguin imprint Dorling Kindersley due out in spring ’09. Barke is now on the hunt for partners in apparel and novelty foods to round out the range.
RDF has secured a third season commitment from the Beeb for fall 2009, and the company also recently signed Exim Licensing Group to rep the property in Latin America, where the show airs every weekday on Discovery Kids.
Another property getting a high-profile push is Big Barn Farm, a preschool series starring talking barnyard animals à la Babe, powered by the magic of CGI. The show launched on CBeebies this past spring and quickly became one of the channel’s top-rated shows for the season. RDF was quick to sign Penguin imprint Ladybird Books for publishing (story and activity books are rolling out in spring ’09) and 2Entertain for DVDs this fall, but toys and apparel are still up for grabs.
Target takes a whirl with The Nutcracker
Target Entertainment will be working on initiatives with higher-end retail accounts this year to build up to the Christmas 2009 release of The Nutcracker. Head of licensing Shelley Kerridge has Tudor Models Limited on-board to manufacture dollhouses that will sell for roughly US$335 in specialty and mass outlets in the US and the UK. With that category locked down, Kerridge is looking for partners in Christmas decorations, apparel, accessories, dress-up, collectibles and toys to release a range for kids ages four to nine in October ’09.
FABric Animals start banging on UK doors
Based in Londonderry, England, plush manufacturer Bang on the Door is looking to build awareness and an initial partner base for its newest girl-skewing design property, which applies photographic imagery of fabric patterns to animal characters. The result is a charming collection of FABric Animals, the style guide for which is chock-a-block with product translations that make you want to reach out and touch the little critters. Apparel and plush rights are still open, and from there, Bang on the Door hopes to expand into the gift category with a clean, crisp visual style featuring individual animals on plain white backgrounds.
Jetix spices up its portfolio with Combo Niños
With a distinctly Hispanic flavor, Combo Niños is poised to yield a CP program that will hit retail shelves in Spain and Portugal as its first ports of call. The latest original series from Jetix is about four kids who transform into animal-esque superheroes and defend their city from the evil Divinos using a Brazilian martial arts form called capoeira, and it debuts on-air this month. The merch program will skew more towards boys, says international licensing manager Michelle Pearce, who’s hoping to secure publishing, back-to-school and video game partners at Brand Licensing. Product should be ready for fall 2009, embodying the striking, warm color palette of the show and playing up the property’s mythical elements and characters. For phase two, Pearce would like to explore digital licensing opportunities such as mobile content and ring tones before expanding into toys and games.
BBC adds two more IPs for wee kids
From Little Airplane Productions, the studio behind The Wonder Pets!, comes 3rd and Bird. Having secured international L&M rights to the series, which is already airing on the Beeb, BBC Worldwide is making a big push for the avian-centric property at Brand Licensing. Senior licensing manager of toys Julie Kekwick says she’s already received proposals from potential partners, and at press time, she was close to announcing master toy and publishing licensees. BBCW is looking to launch a limited range of product for preschoolers (with a sweet spot of kids ages three to four) at UK mass retail by fall/winter ’09, with toys, DVDs, melamine, nightwear and bedding leading the way. She’s planning on a second wave for spring 2010 and is open to discussing partnerships in outerwear, gifts, stationery, greeting cards, bags and food.
Harry and Toto, meanwhile, is another preschool highlight in BBCW’s portfolio this year. This series is based on the age-old tortoise-and-hare fable and aims to teach kids about opposites. Kekwick is looking for puzzle, greeting card, tableware, gift, stationery, nightwear and bag licensees to launch product in fall/winter ’09. She’s pushing the property’s learning values and is planning a slower retail rollout, preferring to launch in specialty retail outlets with an educational bent rather than mass-market venues.
TV-Loonland gets into character
The wise old bird who meets the reaper at the end of every episode of The Owl has racked up a pretty long list of phase one licensees for starring in such a short-form series. So far, Vivid Imaginations (plush, plush backpacks), Player X (mobile phone content) and Universal Strategic Marketing (DVDs) are on-board. TV-L’s head of L&M Bernd Conrad says that because the dialogue-free series relies so heavily on expressions, the program should be driven by character art, and he plans to develop it into a fashion brand for the seven to 12 set. Conrad is still in the market for partners in accessories and textiles, and a website is currently in development.
Meanwhile, YouTube sensation Pat & Stan, whose animated music video for ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ has climbed the charts since its debut last year to become the site’s 10th most-watched clip, is already making consumer products moves. TV-L is co-producing a full-on 39 x seven-minute CGI series with France’s MacGuff and TF1, and the project is presold around the world and on-track to deliver at the end of the year. Conrad has already lined up a multimedia accessories partner in Eurotek (mobile phone accessories, laptop cases, iPod cases, MP3 player cases) and a couple of DVD partners (Panini Video for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and DNC for Italy). He’s cultivating a spring/fall ’09 mass program similar to the one he rolled out for Little Princess, with a focus on licensees that have international relationships across territories. Targeting kids ages six to nine, Pat & Stan is open for business in all other categories, and licensees should play on the range of characters in the series.
Big & Small gets ahead with Start
As Kindle’s first offering prepares to debut on CBeebies in the fall, the studio has tapped Start Licensing to begin filling out a medium-sized music- and book-led L&M plan for Big & Small. The agency’s founder and director, Ian Downes, is looking for a music download partner and a publishing house to do storybooks and activity formats that complement a pre-existing deal with CBeebies’ comic-style magazine. Downes is also sussing out opportunities in apparel (including a range of mother and child T-shirts) and toys – particularly early learning ranges and feature/interactive plush. Start is currently working with Rainbow Productions to create costumed characters and hopes to move the property into live stage shows down the road. The bulk of the program will roll out across mid-tier, book and specialty toy retail in spring 2009, teased by music downloads and the magazine effort this fall.
Parthenon makes sweet L&M music with Freefonix
Parthenon Entertainment is looking to hit all the right licensing notes with its blueprint for Brit prodco Cinnamon’s music-based animated series Freefonix. The show, which currently airs on CBBC, features a fashion-forward character style that brand consultant Caroline Mickler is hoping to tap into with a strong apparel and accessories effort for kids 10 to 12. Key categories in this vein including apparel, headwear, footwear, bags and accessories are all open, and the property’s style guide will offer licensees plenty of potential to play up Freefonix’s urban street spirit. Mickler is also looking to introduce the first phase of the program at record retailers to further establish the
IP’s dominant music theme. A second merch wave that’s in the planning stages will rest on a broader distribution strategy and roll in additional product categories such as musical instruments.