Inside the business of children's digital media


With profits up, Mattel launches in-house studio Playground Productions


Hot Wheels

Mattel, the world’s largest toymaker, is getting into creative storytelling with the launch of Playground Productions, a new division that will create original content for multiple platforms. And Mattel’s own financial story is remaining positive, with  Q3 global sales rising 6% to US$2.21 billion.

Housed within the California-based Mattel Global Brands group, the new division will create content based on all brands including Barbie, Monster High and Max Steel, with David Voss, a 20 year veteran in the toy and entertainment business, at its helm as SVP.

Working closely with internal and external partners, Playground Productions’ scope will encompass script development, story boards and greenlighting theatrical productions, as the business unit will function as a one-stop-creative shop supporting all aspects of multiplatform storytelling.

First up for Playground is the development and launch of the new animation Team Hot Wheels: The Origin of Awesome, which will debut in 2014. Mercury Filmworks has joined the project in a story that delivers new Hot Wheels-inspired stories in three formats including a 22-minute origin story for spring, 11 two-minute shorts for summer and a 74-minute direct-to-video movie for the fall. The plotline features daredevil kids who live in the fictional town of Hilly Woodlands. The four main characters alongside iconic Hot Wheels vehicles including the Bone Shaker and Twin Mill must team together to catch a mysterious car wreaking havoc on their town.

Joining the group’s leadership team is Rob Hudnut as executive producer and chief story strategist, producer Audu Paden, producer and former Nickelodeon executive Julia Pistor, who will act as producer and executive producer of feature films, veteran producer Lloyd Goldfine, and Margaret Dean, who joins as director of production.

The group will also manage and provide creative direction for the recently announced live-action feature film based on Max Steel. In co-development with Dolphin Films, the movie will have a wide release in theaters in the fourth quarter of 2014. The division is also partnering with Columbia Pictures on an upcoming Masters of the Universe theatrical project.

The news comes as the toyco reported net income of US$422.8 million during its third quarter compared to last year’s net income of US$365.9 million over the same period. North American gross sales rose 3% and international sales were up 9%. Leading the charge once again was American Girl, with sales totaling US$122.3 million, up 20% versus the prior year.  Sales for Barbie were up 3%, while Hot Wheels saw a 2% dip in sales.  Global sales for the company’s entertainment business were up 7%, primarily driven by the Disney’s Planes property.

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