For all those TV fans hooked to their favourite programmes, BBC's popular characters cast a spell on them and they like these characters to be present intimately in their daily grind, to add some fun. Sensing this public sentiment, BBC Worldwide is now revamping its licensing activities, with deeper insight within a wider periphery.
Andy Fry writes For more than a decade, BBC Worldwide has delivered popular entertainment brands to the international licensing market. From pre-school hits, such as, In the Night Garden and Teletubbies, through to adult brands, such as, Top Gear, Doctor Who and Planet Earth, the company's portfolio is known for its quality, innovation and diversity.
In order to maximise the potential of such brands, 2008 has seen BBC Worldwide reorganise its activities around a new division called Children's and Licensing. Explaining the move, the division's Managing Director, Mr Neil Ross Russell says, “The new structure will enable us to make the most of licensing opportunities outside the UK. Each brand in our portfolio, whether originated by the BBC or our independent partners, will receive the focus and attention it deserves.” Mr Russell believes that the new division starts from a position of great strength, "At a time when there are more brands than ever in the market, we are fortunate to have an exceptional pipeline of content and some great broadcast platforms. This allows us to develop some fantastic licensing programmes, both for established and emerging territories."
In the Night Garden is a classic example - with BBC Worldwide responsible for the campaign, which saw the Ragdoll-produced TV property become one of the UK's biggest brand licences in its first year. Having established itself as the fastest-growing new toy property in 2007, In the Night Garden scaled new heights last Christmas, thanks to innovations such as Hasbro's Upsy Daisy and Her Chase and Play Bed. In the Night Garden is also attracting fans internationally. To date, the programme has sold to 24 countries - with France and Spain being the latest additions. In India, it screens on BBC Worldwide's own channel CBeebies.
In Australia, the award-winning Hasbro toy range is already neck and neck with established brands like Thomas and Dora the Explorer. This performance suggests that In the Night Garden will emulate Ragdoll's evergreen franchise Teletubbies - which is currently riding high on the back of Tomy's Dance with Me Teletubby plush and a new range of products for tweens. Now in its eleventh year, Teletubbies has aired in 120 countries - including Russia, India and China. Still in the children's arena, BBC Worldwide's action-adventure, brand Doctor Who, also continues to perform well - with the Dalek Voice Changer Helmet expected to be a big hit in UK retail this Christmas.
The goal now is to build the Doctor Who brand in the US market. "We have a strong broadcast partner in the US and a strong range of product is in development for Doctor Who,” says Ms Anna Hewitt, Head of International Licensing at BBC Worldwide. BBC Worldwide has made a concerted effort to engage with growing markets. "We recently opened our second Teletubbies Play and Development Centre in China.
On-the-ground activities like this make it easier for us to collaborate with Chinese companies on brands like Teletubbies and Charlie and Lola," she says. Citing India as an important target, Ms Hewitt continues, “Historically, it hasn't been easy to develop a full-fledged licensing programme in India because the infrastructure wasn't there. But India's television and retail sectors are both growing fast, so it has encouraged us to take a second look." The good news for the Children's and Licensing division is that India is regarded as strategically significant by BBC Worldwide as a whole. In late 2007, BBC Worldwide Managing Director, Content & Production, Mr Wayne Garvie opened an India-based production office. Designed to build on the local success of BBC formats such Strictly Come Dancing and The Weakest Link, Hewitt believes a beefed up production presence will aid BBC Worldwide's licensing activities in India. "
The growth of the Indian middle class represents a massive opportunity because our brands can meet the market's high expectations with regard to quality." The growing emphasis on non-children's brands is a key part of the new-look strategy at BBC Worldwide. Strictly Come Dancing (known internationally as Dancing with the Stars) is now one of the world's most successful TV brands - seen in 40 countries. That, says Ms Hewitt, creates a powerful platform for the launch of a fully-integrated brand licensing programme. The same is true for BBC Worldwide's motoring franchise Top Gear. Having developed a successful licensing programme in the UK, the race is now on to recreate that success elsewhere.
In Russia, BBC Worldwide has just completed a TV format deal with commercial broadcaster REN TV. In Australia, another format deal means Top Gear Australia is now a top-rated show on SBS - premiering in September 2008, with an impressive 9,33,000 viewers. Another significant addition to BBC Worldwide's licensing portfolio is epic natural history production Planet Earth. With Planet Toys and Scholastic showcasing innovative new products for 2009, BBC Worldwide and its US licensing agent, Joester Loria expects the brand licensing programme to generate tremendous momentum during the next year, with the theatrical release, Earth, being distributed by Disney Nature.
With this breadth of children's and adult brands under his wing, Mr Russell is confident about the future, “We're in the business of extending the experience of fantastic television content for people of all ages. Even in the current economic climate, the universal appeal and scope of our brands gives us opportunities across the world–it's a positive place to be.” The author is a freelance writer and analyst specialising in media, marketing and rights management.