Strap in, because Nickelodeon is ready to take consumers on a wild ride.
The kidcaster is investing in live and location-based brand extensions, and has upped Ron Hines to lead the charge as SVP of creative development and global experience design. In his new role, Hines will head up a team of designers and art directors working with partners to develop, produce and implement Nickelodeon-licensed theme parks, water parks, resorts, cruises, live entertainment productions, exhibits and corporate events.
A 22-year veteran at Nickelodeon, Hines started out as a designer and art director, migrated into a senior studio director position at Nickelodeon Recreation, and was then named VP of creative development for Nickelodeon experience design in 2016. “It was a real shift of focus from project design, development and execution, over to the initiation of projects and setting them up for success,” he says. “Now it’s my job to influence the direction of these projects and to get the projects in alignment with creative intent, scope and budget.”
The variety of projects now under his purview is immense, and requires a broad range of expertise. One partnership might see Nickelodeon building an entire theme park from the ground up, while another could require a single ride that fits into a larger project. Different territories also have a variety of needs, and that means a live show touring the US can require an entirely different focus from the same show being performed in Singapore.
“From a cultural standpoint, it’s very important to understand how guests around the world like to experience themed entertainment, what resonates with them and what doesn’t,” Hines says. “There’s also the question of what those guests are aware of. When we’re in mature markets where Nickelodeon is a household name, like in the US and Europe, we are focused on leveraging opportunities to enhance affinity for the brand. As we find ourselves in newer markets, it’s an interesting challenge and an opportunity to make ourselves a household name.”
One of these newer markets where he’s focusing on growing Nick’s brand recognition is China. Hines will continue to lead two Nickelodeon Universe projects currently in development—the American Dream Mall in New Jersey (slated to open in 2019) and the Mall of China in Chongqing (scheduled to open in 2020).
At nearly seven acres, the project in Chongqing will be the company’s largest indoor theme park, featuring 14 properties (including PAW Patrol, SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dora the Explorer) across 29 themed attractions. Its TMNT-themed coaster is expected to set four new world records for an indoor roller coaster ride, including longest track, highest drop, most inversions and fastest maximum speed.
The project in New Jersey is unique, Hines says, because it marks the first ground-up theme park project that Nickelodeon has executed. In the past, the company has worked to renovate, revitalize or redevelop existing sites.
Those theme park and walk-around character programs are really the gold standard for Hines when he is trying to explain live and location-based brand extensions to potential partners. “Experience is really becoming king. People want to share, and with theme parks, they get to immerse themselves in these fun, fantastical IPs that they otherwise only see on air,” he says. “At the parks, they actually get to experience these worlds. Parents get to watch their kids hug SpongeBob SquarePants, and that engagement goes way beyond the attendance of any individual park or attraction.”
Explaining that importance to potential partners is key, because as the company’s live and location-based efforts continue to expand, much of Hines’s work will focus on finding the right partners.
“In the past, we would staff up and do the development ourselves. But the growth of the opportunities has outpaced that as a viable option,” says Hines. “Now we’re partnering with companies all over the globe to help spearhead development, and it puts us in a smarter place of working toward our expertise, rather than just working toward our ability. That’s the mindset that’s going to take us into the next 10 years as far as how we’re going to operate.”
These significant changes in strategy reflect the immense growth undergone by the industry in his more than two decades with Nickelodeon. “I think what we’re seeing now is a move toward people’s expectations rising. It’s really fantastic for the industry,” he says. “Our group has been identified within the company as a huge sector of potential growth. We’re poised to do the greatest things we’ve ever been able to do for the company in the next several years.”