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DreamWorks’ Penguins earn their wings at retail

The reception to DreamWorks Animation's first foray into TV production has been anything but chilly. The Nickelodeon US series' premiere of The Penguins of Madagascar - which sends the popular birds from the Madagascar film franchise into the wilds of New York - drew a record-setting 6.1 million viewers in March 2009. Subsequent eps continue to rank in the top 10 whenever they air. And with more 48 half hours now in the can, the CP team at DreamWorks is prepping the property for a new year-round merch line.
October 22, 2010

The reception to DreamWorks Animation’s first foray into TV production has been anything but chilly. The Nickelodeon US series’ premiere of The Penguins of Madagascar – which sends the popular birds from the Madagascar film franchise into the wilds of New York – drew a record-setting 6.1 million viewers in March 2009. Subsequent eps continue to rank in the top 10 whenever they air. And with more 48 half hours now in the can, the CP team at DreamWorks is prepping the property for a new year-round merch line.

‘We don’t specifically see it as transitioning our film property into a TV property,’ says Brad Woods, head of domestic licensing at DreamWorks. ‘We have been able to leverage some key characters that were very popular to really make the TV franchise its own entity.’

Accordingly, the style guide focuses on the four lead penguins – Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico. Kerry Phelan, DreamWorks head of worldwide licensing and consumer products, says the kinship between the characters is a major reason the series has been so popular. It’s been her goal to see the CP line reflect this element.’The camaraderie is something kids relate to,’ Phelan says. ‘I think the friendship really has a universal appeal.’ To wit, the Nintendo DS/Nintendo DSi video game being produced by partner THQ for a US retail launch in November allows users to join the Penguins’ elite squad to complete challenges.

Prior to the title’s release, a back-to-school line featuring toys (plush from Hugaloo), apparel (Freeze), home furnishings, greeting cards (Hallmark) and party goods will hit US retailers. As for target demo, DreamWorks is going broad, maintaining that kids from four to 12 will be interested in the property. So it’s taking a two-pronged approach, with plush and some apparel being geared towards the younger end of the demo, while video games and electronics will aim for older kids.

‘The 80% rule is covered,’ says Woods. ‘Right now, we have partners across the board. It’s a wide demographic and pretty evenly split between boys and girls.’ However, Woods did say the company is still looking for partners to fill out secondary categories, particularly seasonal goods and arts & crafts.

‘We are looking to explore something fun with water play for the summer,’ says Woods. ‘They are penguins after all.’

On the retail front, the program will stick with mass to mid-tier retailers, with a few lines entering the speciality market. Phelan says the company is not looking for an exclusive retail partner. ‘We’re going fairly broad with this,’ she says. ‘With a film, you want make product launches an event during a movie’s opening period, but TV is more ubiquitous, so broad-based partners are the way to go.’

Globally, the big merchandise push will wait for spring 2011, and it’s expected that production of the series will continue in the lead-up to the release of the next Madagascar film, scheduled for a summer 2012 release.

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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