At six-month-old Playground, Mattel wants all-in on digital distribution

David Voss, SVP of Mattel's Playground Productions, a six-month-old division that specifically manages storytelling across all of the company's brands, opens up about the digital direction of key brands like Ever After High and Hot Wheels - and why all roads will eventually lead back to the toy aisle.
April 3, 2014

Late last year, El Segundo-based toy company Mattel announced the formation of Playground Productions, a new division that would specifically manage storytelling across all of Mattel’s brands, including Barbie, Hot Wheels, Monster High and Max Steel.

In February, the first 22-episode series Team Hot Wheels—The Origin of Awesome hit Netflix in the US, and the plan for Playground is to follow that up with more episodes throughout the summer, culminating with a full-length movie direct-to-DVD by the end of the year.

Perhaps Mattel’s hottest brand du jour is its tween-girl focused Ever After High, and accordingly, Playground Productions is working on creating digitally distributed content to support the label.

While mixing production and consumer products is nothing new – Mattel started a successful Barbie-based home DVD program in the late 1980s – the company’s use of Netflix’s digital distribution model to bolster its brands is now a key component to their production strategy. And Playground Productions SVP David Voss opens up to iKids about how Mattel is taking full advantage of the wealth of metrics and consumer information to steer the digital direction of its brands.


Why is it important to add digital content to traditional toy brands like Hot Wheels?

The Hot Wheels team recognized the importance of investing in new ways to engage boys with Hot Wheels’ powerful brand values. Creating Team Hot Wheels – Origin of Awesome gives us the opportunity to have boys experience the thrill, excitement and outrageous vehicle action boys have while playing with the brand.  Our hope is that the animation, like the products, will inspire imagination and storytelling.

For our newer brands like Ever After High, we recognize the value story can bring to the relationship a girl can have with the brand.


How is this digital content being distributed and marketed?

Team Hot Wheels – Origin of Awesome debuted on Netflix this past February and on  The original 22 minute episode introduces the audience to the larger story that will span short form webisodes on through the summer, and then lead into a 74-minute Team Hot Wheels: The Origin Of Awesome direct-to-video movie that will be released this fall.

For Ever After High, we will offer 110 minutes of original content across TV, digital and mobile platforms. The brand is introducing several longer-form content specials this year, including Legacy Day that’s already on Netflix, a 22-minute True Hearts Day webisode special on Nickelodeon, and a 44-minute Thronecoming TV special.  In addition, kids can follow the fairytale chapters with 22 two-minute webisodes debuting every other week on


What has the reaction been so far?

We are extremely proud of the rich content we’ve developed this year. We know that we are delivering on the brands’ needs while maintaining stories kids love. Through the development process, our consumer testing has shown very positive results that you can already see being proved out with nearly three million views for Ever After High in just a few months. Today, online platforms give us immediate consumer feedback and the ability to know exactly what the fans are enjoying about the content.


Is there a do-it-yourself aspect to any of this digital content? Is there interactive properties?

For Ever After High, one of the central brand themes is inviting girls to write or rewrite their destiny.  So it is fitting that girls get to choose the ending of the Thronecoming special this fall.  The fans themselves will help decide the ending to a very special event at Ever After High.


How is the content connected to the consumer products?

For one, the Hot Wheels animation incorporates the essence of the new Hot Wheels Track Builder, a system of tracks sets and pieces that connect together.  What we have found so far is that kids see the entertainment content as an interpretation of what it looks like in their minds when they play with their Hot Wheels. The team in Mattel’s Playground Productions and the brand team worked side by side to make sure we delivered animation that celebrated the core to Hot Wheels success.


About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at



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