Thanks to the strength and reliability of the kids industry even in the most turbulent times, LA-based entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA)—perhaps best known for representing A-List stars like Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt—is setting content strategies for its family-focused clients into motion.
The pandemic has been tough on most industries, but the kids space is alright. Family movies like Sonic the Hedgehog (US$319.7 million), Doolittle (US$245.4 million) and The Croods: A New Age (US$215.9 million) were some of the top-grossing films globally in 2020, while titles such as Cruella (US$222.1 mil- lion) and Jungle Cruise (US$186.9 million) have dominated the box office so far this year.
Data from market research firm The NPD Group, meanwhile, shows that global toy sales reached US$94.7 billion in 2020 (an increase of 2.6% compared to pre-pandemic 2019). And those numbers are only continuing to grow, increasing 15% to US$22.45 billion in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period the previous year.
Whether they’re learning at home or at school, sticking close to their families or playing with friends—children will always look to content and consumer products for comfort. So in these uncertain times, the kids industry is the place to be.
While CAA has repped family-focused properties in the past—the agency inked agreements with The Tiny Chef and Beano Studios in 2018 and 2019, respectively—it sees the kids space as much more significant opportunity post-pandemic, says agent Barry Kotler.
In August, Jazwares announced CAA would represent plush brand Squishmallows (pictured) across categories including film, television, video games, publishing and live touring. Since it launched in 2017, the brand has grown to encompass roughly 1,000 characters, with some big-ticket licenses among them (there’s a Baby Yoda and a Chewbacca, natch). And in June, Jazwares launched the Moonbug-produced animated YouTube series Squishville, with new episodes premiering through to the end of this month. CAA will expand these content efforts moving forward.
“Squishmallows is a massive consumer products business, but it doesn’t have a content strategy,” says Kotler. “That’s what we’re starting to talk about—how to work with the brand to build content for existing product lines as well as upcoming ranges.”
The focus, Kotler says, will be on creating content that is soft, comforting, and leaves kids feeling as safe as they do when they’re tucked into bed with their favorite Squishmallow plushie.
CAA is also developing strategies for other kid-focused clients. For London-based Beano Studios, which represents comics originally launched in 1938, the agency is in the process of assessing various characters to determine how they might be updated for screens both big and small. Imagine Kids & Family, meanwhile, invested in Tiny Chef a year before Nickelodeon ordered stop-motion series The Tiny Chef Show (working title) in August 2020, and CAA is helping to grow the property’s content plans moving forward.
“We’re in a moment in the industry when each of the big corporate media companies are treating their IPs as four-walled gardens,” Kotler says. “They’re trying to control the direct-to-consumer relationship through their platforms and create new viewing habits with young audiences and then grow with those viewers. Those young audiences and their families will help fuel the success of their platforms. We see this as an opportunity.”
The past 18 months have certainly altered the way kids connect with content— including increases in co-viewing and the takeover of short-form content like TikTok videos—and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. As the landscape changes and as viewing habits continue to evolve, Kotler sees family-focused IPs as poised for the kind of multi-category success that primetime content just isn’t supporting.
“I think family brands have the ability to push into innovation,” he says. “Kids and family brands have the ability to take advantage of all corners of the agency.”