Iconic preschool IP Thomas & Friends is rounding the bend on its 65th year. And property owner HIT Entertainment’s New York-based office is ramping up the IP’s presence State-side with the launch of an innovative website and new toy deals to complement the latest CGI series iteration of the blue steam engine.
‘I see this as a watershed moment for the brand,’ says Rick Glankler, SVP of global brand management at HIT Entertainment, in reference to the launch of the most elaborate Thomas website to date, which was unveiled to US consumers last month. (A UK version went live last December.) With more than 230 million page views and 20 million unique visitors to the site across the globe annually, Glankler says the guiding principle behind the redesign was to give parents more reasons to visit the online destination (www.thomasandfriends.com).
‘It was a really great opportunity to give the site a new look and offer customization,’ he says. ‘It’s a much more immersive world for older kids, and we added games and activities for the younger children.’ Glankler adds that consumer research conducted prior to the redesign revealed that both kids and parents were asking for the inclusion of more information on each inhabitant of Sodor, not just Thomas. They also wanted a smoother navigation experience.
To that end, the new site is embedded with more than 60 new activities, interactive navigation courtesy of Sir Topham Hatt, and a new video player featuring exclusive content and trailers. As well, there is a linked mini-site that lists Thomas & Friends 65th anniversary events and activities that will be localized for users across the UK, Europe and North America.
The launch of the page last month coincided with the release of a new Thomas iPhone app and Facebook page. The iPhone app contains Thomas games and puzzles and will be followed up by a more robust version in March to usher in phase two of the website redesign. Phase two is scheduled to include registration, an updated parents section and a new area called My Station. It features customizable components that will alert children and parents to live entertainment events and programming stunts taking place in their region.
In terms of non-virtual offerings, HIT and recently appointed master toy licensee Fisher-Price are readying an all-new line of die-cast figures, puzzles, games and plush for its debut at Toy Fair in New York this month. ‘It’s the first time it has all resided under one global master toy partner,’ says Glankler.