Vrinda Oberai : VO: Which are the regions/countries where Symfollies is present currently with respect to business activities? Johan Casselman : JC: Symfollies is now sold in all continents to many different TV-channels. This is the first step to establish long term business based on the project. It is currently BMC-Group’s challenge to establish a local structure in each country where Symfollies is aired on television channels. Vrinda Oberai : VO: Where do you see Symfollies five years down the line? Do you see licensing and merchandising contributing in a big way to your revenue generation? Johan Casselman : JC: Symfollies is to be considered as a long term project, focusing on the promotion of classical music to new audiences. Classical music is very universal and relevant all times and ages. It is a policy to integrate Symfollies in the world of all children across the globe, as classical music is a real added value for everybody. Vrinda Oberai : VO: What is the kind of investment required when you enter into licensing arrangements? Johan Casselman : JC: Before entering the licensing business, one must acquire the licensing rights. This might require an important investment. In the case of Symfollies, BMC-Group developed the whole Symfollies project (production of the animation series/development of all the pillars etc). The initial investment of Symfollies reached a level of € 10 million (12.5 million $). Vrinda Oberai : VO: Is Symfollies a licensee for any brand? Which are the companies which are Symfollies’ characters’ licensees? Johan Casselman : JC: Symfollies, first of all, aims at becoming a strong brand, and does not only want to be considered as a license. Brands imply ‘long term’ profit, whereas licenses mean mostly ‘short term’ gains. Symfollies could be considered as an added value for many kinds of product categories. Before entering into a licensing contract or licensing deal, a first question is put on the table: is such a contract or deal good for Symfollies in the long run. If the answer is positive, then the negotiations can be continued. If the answer is no, then a second question is put on the table: will such a contract or deal harm the Symfollies project or not? If the answer is yes, then Symfollies will not enter into a deal or contract. Vrinda Oberai : VO: How, in your opinion has licensing helped your business grow? Johan Casselman : JC: The fundamentals of the company have always been the licensing business. The products that are derived from the Symfollies world are very important to children because they can relate with the imaginary world. The range of Symfollies merchandising products goes from multimedia products (like DVDs, CDs, games) over kids’ furniture to all kind of toys. Vrinda Oberai : VO: Which are the different product categories which Symfollies offers via licensing and merchandising? Johan Casselman : JC: Symfollies is a multimedia project. The whole project consists of many different pillars. The first pillar of Symfollies is the television series, which is sold to many different TV-channels all over the world. The second pillar is the Symfollies concerts. Based on the animation series different types of concerts are developed. For instance, concerts with a symphonic orchestra as well as concerts with a chamber orchestra. The concept is sold to concert organisers, or the concerts are organised by BMC-Group. The concerts take place in concert halls, or in movie halls. The episodes are projected on a big screen above the orchestra who plays the live music. The third pillar is education. Based on Symfollies, whole educational packages are offered to teachers. The educational package is developed for kindergarten and primary schools. The fourth pillar is new media. Symfollies is also on Internet, offering educational games, focusing directly on children. The fifth pillar is licensing and merchandising. All kinds of Symfollies derivated products are developed (apparel/ toys/ multimedia products like books, DVD’s and CD’s/ stationery….). And last but not the least sponsoring and promotions (sixth pillar) are also important to establish a project like Symfollies. Vrinda Oberai : VO: Since when has your company ventured into licensing and merchandising activities? Johan Casselman : JC: Based on this success story, other companies and institutes showed their interest to cooperate with BMC-Group. As a result BMC-Group became the business partner of many sport federations in Belgium (Royal Belgian Soccer Association/ Royal Basket Ball Association/ Schoolsport Association/ and many others). After many years of very successful business, however, a new trend was born: more and more TV-channels integrated the business, which they used to outsource the years before. And also the TV-production companies started to integrate the commercial business, which they also outsourced before. As a consequence, BMC-Group considered to set up an own production department, starting to produce animation series. Based on the experience BMC-Group has built up through the years, BMC-Group started producing ‘Symfollies’. Vrinda Oberai : Vrinda Oberai (VO): Share with us your company profile. Which are the various verticals you operate in? Johan Casselman : Johan Casselman (JC): BMC-Group was established in 1990 in Belgium by Johan Casselman as a ‘commercial consultancy company’. At that time, many new commercial TV-channels were established in Europe. Before, there was only one public TV-channel in the north of Belgium (i.e. Flanders). VTM (Vlaamse Televisie Maatschappij) was launched in 1989 as the first commercial TV-channel in Flanders. This new commercial TV-channel started to outsource many of their projects and productions to external companies. BMC-Group became one of their partners in 1990. As a reaction, also the public TV-channel (at that time BRTn – Belgian Radio and Television) started to set up cooperations with external companies. At the end of 1990, BMC-Group acquired from BRTn all the rights of a Flemish TV-program, which was called “Samson and Gert”, a TV-program all about a young guy living with his (speaking) dog Samson. This project became incredibly successful and was the start of a whole new industry in Flanders: the licensing and merchandising industry was born. During seven years BMC-Group was developing this project, selling millions of CD’s and video, as well as general merchandise with an annual turnover of € 25 million on retail level.
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