Sometimes you have to cast a wide net to discover a fresh new idea. That is just what The Jim Henson Company’s EVP of global distribution, Richard Goldsmith, did when he decided to meet with Sigurd Slåttebrekk at Kidscreen Summit a couple of years ago. The former concert pianist from Norway had developed a locally successful preschool property centered around a rescue boat named Elias that intrigued Goldsmith. “I pride myself on being an expert on kids TV, so I was pretty disappointed with myself that I had never heard of Elias,” he says. “When I actually saw the content, I was just blown away.”
In short order, Henson began working with the property owner, Norway-based Animando, to acquire both the media distribution rights for a proposed new Elias series and related global consumer products rights.
Seemingly unbeknownst to anyone outside Norway, Elias the Little Rescue Boat, which is based on a children’s picture book published in 1999, spawned a 39-episode TV series that aired on the country’s largest commercial broadcaster (TV2) in 2005, and two full-length movies.
Goldsmith says that he was struck by series’ aspirational main character and his relationship with other vehicles, including a helicopter and a submarine. “They are really great little adventure stories that impart the values of cooperation and friendship,” he says. “Like many of the most popular preschool heroes, Elias is a young person learning about the world around him.”
Equally intriguing for Goldsmith was the localized, but successful, licensing program that Animando had built around the property. “Their toy and DVD numbers were astronomical for a country that size,” says Goldsmith. “With a population around five million in Norway, they sold one million bags of Elias-branded chips!” In fact, since its introduction in 1999, the little tugboat has had Norwegian cash registers humming to the tune of roughly US$70 million spent on licensed grocery, toys and publishing products.
When presented with the IP, Henson EVP of global consumer products Melissa Segal immediately saw the potential for a substantial and sustainable licensing program, owing to a gap in the marketplace. “Water vehicle play is a pattern that has been under-served,” she says. “Elias has a combination of aspiration and adventure that is very attractive.”
Segal says toys will drive the program, with a special emphasis placed on bath and water toys. Apparel and accessories are also being considered. And if all goes according to plan, Elias merchandise will hit mass US retail in 2015.
With the assistance of Henson, new series Elias: Rescue Team Adventures is currently being produced by Animando, with production underway in Iceland. The new 52 x 11-minute series will have a global aim and tap into formidable children’s TV talent including UK-based consultant Theresa Plummer Andrews, who’s serving as an executive producer. The series makes its debut at MIP Junior, and the IP will also be introduced to potential licensees at Brand Licensing Europe next month.