Children’s entertainment is a dog-eat-dog world, where even the most popular properties can quickly fall out of favor. Spin Master Entertainment is launching two new ones—Dragamonz and Zo Zo Zombie (pictured)—in an effort to find the next PAW Patrol and keep tails wagging.
Co-produced with Nickelodeon, PAW Patrol was Spin Master’s first original preschool TV property and a bona fide hit for the company. The series launched in 2013 and went on to become a ratings smash, setting records and driving growth for Nick.
On the consumer products front, PAW Patrol triggered a myriad of licensing agreements and continued to be a driving force behind gross sales for its preschool and girls segment as recently as fiscal 2017 (up 7% to US$493 million) and fiscal 2018 (up 5% to US$517.5 million). The brand stumbled in Q1 2019, however, when declines in PAW Patrol contributed to the preschool and girls segment dipping 23.3% to US$63.3 million, proving that even good dogs can have bad days and that companies catering to kids always need to be on the lookout for the next big thing.
Spin Master’s new shows Dragamonz and Zo Zo Zombie will launch this fall across all major digital platforms (including on Amazon Prime via Amazon Direct Video), marking Spin Master’s first big digital-focused entertainment content launch.
The 50 x 2.5-minute action-comedy Dragamonz tells the tale of a hero working to save the dragon world of Dragamar. Spin Master worked with Australian studio Moshi on the show, which launched mid-August.
Zo Zo Zombie, meanwhile, is a wacky anime comedy that follows the adventures of the undead protagonist and his best friend, who is a real human boy. Spin Master is collaborating with Japan’s ShoPro on the 100 x three-minute series, which is a classic buddy story (where one of the buddies can remove his intestines to make a lasso).
Kidscreen sat down with Spin Master’s EVP of entertainment Jennifer Dodge to discuss the new series and how the company is using these digitally driven brands to experiment with new strategies for the launch of content and consumer products.
Why is Dragamonz a good fit for the company?
We’ve created a world that really goes to our key demo, which in this case is a sweet spot of boys five to seven (although it’s broader than that) who we know are on digital platforms. [Dragamonz is a series of] short stories, but with a larger arc. They can be viewed one at a time or in big chunks. We’re giving a lot of flexibility for how boys, and hopefully girls, view the content. We are also, for the first time, really focusing on comedy within the action stories we’re telling.
And what can you reveal about Zo Zo Zombie?
We really felt we could have the most fun, and the most freedom, if we did a digital strategy where our creative staff was unrestricted by classic broadcast practices and standards. However, this is for kids and we’ve been diligent to make sure it’s as appropriate as a disgusting zombie show can be. This is more comedy with a bit of action, and skews a little older than Dragamonz, with a sweet spot of boys eight to 10. It’s definitely the strangest thing we’ve done in the history of our entertainment group.
Because Zo Zo Zombie is a little outside the box, we decided to build it digitally first to leave the option to do SVOD or linear down the road. It provides more flexibility. Obviously, we are still doing our bigger, long-form series—especially for the preschool space. And those will launch in the more “traditional” fashion with a linear or SVOD partner. But even with something like Abby Hatcher or PAW Patrol [which both followed a more traditional, linear rollout], we are creating original content for digital platforms that works alongside the linear long-form series.
How did the digital-first launch influence the Dragamonz CP strategy?
The first toys for Dragamonz launched in August, including an app, trading cards and 72 collectible dragon figures packaged inside smashable eggs. There is a card game that works with an augmented reality app, an immersive experience that kids can use to send their physical toys into an AR battle. They can battle their friends in the app as they amass their army of dragons in the real world. [While Dragamonz, with its dragon-centric storytelling, presented a clear path into consumer products due to its battling play pattern, the undead nature of Zo Zo Zombie posed more of a challenge, leading the Spin Master team to focus first on building an audience before attempting to ink licensing partnerships.]
When the team does move forward with consumer products for Zo Zo Zombie, figures, plush and lifestyle categories including apparel are expected to be a good fit for the property. We know that kids like to play out stories with their toys at home, and [access to data from the entertainment, digital and consumer products teams] gives us the ability to create content that lends itself to different consumer products categories. Depending on the property, the consumer products may come really quickly, but in other cases—like for Zo Zo Zombie—it may take longer for the content to seed and really penetrate before we make that decision to pull the trigger on consumer products.
Why did you commit to such large first-season orders for both properties?
For something like Dragamonz, we had a toy line and content in development at the same time, and it really was about what we felt was the right number to start with—knowing we could always greenlight more along the way. With these digital platforms, we’re all still figuring it out. There is no right or wrong number. Traditionally with boys action, especially in the anime world, you’d greenlight 52 half-hour episodes—one for every week. There was a very specific methodology. Today, with these digital-first strategies, there’s no set formula. We’re creating a large amount to start so we can play with it and see what works. Maybe our orders will last us a year or more, or maybe they won’t and we’ll need to greenlight more episodes. I think the trick is to make enough to start, and then based on what the audience is asking for, figure out when you need more. And it is going to change. The “correct” way to launch something today may not be the right cadence and volume a year from now.
What is necessary for a property to succeed across both content and CP
There’s no formula—if there was, we’d do it time and time again. It’s important to have the best idea and the best talent. But on top of that it’s crucial to have incredibly high standards internally. It needs to be worked and re-worked until it’s perfect, and unless something gets to that stage, we won’t move it forward. While that doesn’t guarantee a hit property, I think it’s necessary to having a hit property.