It’s been 10 years since Keith Chapman’s Bob The Builder made its TV debut on the BBC. While the Bob-mania that swept the UK at the beginning of the decade has settled some, the property is proving it’s got staying power as new generations of preschool boys are readily tuning into the series, which is currently broadcast in more than 30 countries. And in Bob’s homeland, owner HIT Entertainment has built a licensee roster of more than 60 companies, covering most imaginable categories. So it seems appropriate that HIT is rolling out a multi-layered birthday cake of celebrations for the preschool property in 2009 and innovating for future growth.
‘It’s a critically important year for Bob,’ says Jon Owen, HIT Entertainment’s VP of consumer products, international. And perhaps the biggest Bob innovation is a new style guide rolling out to licensees this month that features three different design directions that should push the IP’s softlines programs into new territory.
‘There is a different look to it,’ says Owen. ‘The designs are a bit more contemporary.’ To that end, one has a comic book feel, the second riffs on a pop-art Andy Warhol-like look, and the third features sharper, more designer-inspired images. ‘We feel it moves the brand look forward,’ he adds.
To further mark the occasion, Bob is getting a previously announced CGI makeover with two new series, numbers 17 and 18, currently in production. The first is scheduled to hit BBC airwaves near the end of the year. Additionally, Bob’s first CGI special Legend of the Golden Hammer has already found a November 2009 broadcast slot on BBC UK.
Live events, an area that’s been successful in the past, will also be getting more attention in 2009. HIT will continue to co-produce Bob touring stage shows throughout the globe and is readying a UK production for an October return. There’s also a new deal with Legoland to present Bob the Builder in 4-D, a movie experience that features a 3-D Bob movie with an added dimension.
‘The fourth D is for a sensory experience,’ says Owen, explaining that the theater will be equipped to give the audience a sprinkle of water if it’s raining in Sunflower Valley, or a blast of air if a strong breeze should happen to blow on screen. The attraction opened last month in the UK and will roll out to other Legolands in Germany, Denmark and the US later this year.
On the all-important toy front, UK-based master toy licensee Martin Yaffe International is producing two major lines – one that features Dancing and Singing Bob, which leverages the character’s music background as the doll shimmies and belts out pop-inspired songs, and Tool Time Bob that recognizes each toy tool placed in its hands. The playthings will be promoted through window displays at UK toy retailer Hamleys and in-store signage and in-store events. The promotion starts this month and will run through the spring.
Owen is hopeful that the combined excitement surrounding the 10th anniversary promotions, events and retail program in the UK will help build momentum to re-establish the brand in the US, a market where it previously enjoyed success.
‘We do see the US as an opportunity at this point,’ says Owen. ‘We hope that the new initiatives coupled with the new content will work towards that goal.’
Another avenue through which HIT will be exploring ways to re-ignite Bob fever is its newly launched film division, established early last month in L.A. HIT CEO Jeffrey Dunn has appointed former Nickelodeon EVP of movies, Julia Pistor, to head up the operation. Thomas the Tank Engine is likely the first HIT property to make the transition to the big screen. ‘We are evaluating what characters would work best,’ says Owen, adding, ‘I like to think that in some form Bob will certainly be a part of that.’ GR