Eighteen months ago, Nelvana Enterprises’ top brass decided to shift the company’s focus towards creating more gender-specific content, based on what it perceived to be a retail reality. It found that unlike with TV viewing, where it sees plenty of boy/girl balance, consumer products are still firmly segregated by gender—and brands seldom cross the retail divide.
Now, the Toronto, Canada-based brand management and consumer products firm, known for its mega-boy brands like Beyblade and Bakugan, is heading into Licensing Expo touting its girl-focused properties.
Selling 70 million units since launching in June 2014, Moose Toys’ Shopkins is on a roll with girls six to nine, and Nelvana has landed a deal to produce an animated series based on the mini grocery-themed collectibles for a spring 2017 launch. It also picked up EMEA licensing rights for the brand. (Toronto’s The Licensing Shop holds North American rights, while Bulldog Licensing reps the brand in the UK.) A series of short Shopkins YouTube videos already produced have a combined eight million views, but Nelvana will aim to tell “a different, additive, richer story,” says co-head Andrew Kerr. The new series will capture the essence of Shopkins’ core behavior, but also anticipate where the brand will be in a year to 18 months down the road.
Nelvana Enterprises has also recently acquired the rights to produce a new TV series based on 2009 TOTY winner Zhu Zhu Pets, which has generated more than US$2 billion in sales for St. Louis, Missouri-based toyco Cepia. Along with managing the brand’s licensing worldwide, Nelvana also plans to create funny, smart and intelligent content for Zhu Zhu’s core girls audience that will not only stand on its own, but also ultimately help drive a parallel toy range. Both will launch in 2016.
Accordingly, Cepia is taking care of the new iterations of the original “fab four” hamsters—Mr. Squiggles, Pipsqueak, NumNums and Chunk—as well as two new characters, Jilly and Tulip. Marrying content with the new toys will be central to the brand’s relaunch, adds Kerr. “It’s a really original, intelligent and proprietary toy at the heart of the brand—that won’t change, the sense of surprise and whimsy will always be there,” he says. “But the brand itself, and the toy offerings, will evolve to better connect with the setting, the circumstance and the humor we layer into the content.”
And let’s not forget Nelvana’s first-ever proprietary girls preschool property, Little Charmers. Since its North American TV debut in January, Little Charmers has rounded out its core US licensee lineup with several top-tier partners. Co-created by fellow Canuck company and master toy partner Spin Master, Nelvana has added the likes of Scholastic (global English-language publishing), Rubie’s (Halloween costumes), Baby Boom Consumer Products (toddler bedding/bath) and Bakery Crafts (cake décor) to the Little Charmers CP lineup.
Kerr expects to sign a number of Canadian partners—particularly in soft goods—coming out of Vegas. And with the series gearing up for its European Nickelodeon launch later this year and into early 2016, Nelvana will also be on the hunt for international licensing partners.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Kidscreen