Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Marianne James Talks Nickelodeon's Plans for BLE 2018 and the Year Ahead [Updated]

With Brand Licensing Europe fast approaching, The Source caught up with Marianne James, Vice President (VP), commercial partnerships, consumer products & experiences at Viacom Nickelodeon UK & Ireland to find out Nickelodeon's plans for the remainder of the year, thoughts on the retail landscape, trends, which shows are so important for Nick, and about Nick Jr. retaining its position as the ‘home of preschool’!

Which preschool brands will you be showcasing at BLE?

We will be presenting plans for established Nickelodeon hits like PAW Patrol and Shimmer and Shine, as well as its strategies for newer shows like Nella the Princess Knight and Rusty Rivets. Moreover, we will be sharing retail, product and programming plans for our exciting new CP lines launching in 2019 like Top Wing and Sunny Day.

Can you run through how the licensing programmes for each are shaping up?

PAW Patrol remains the number one preschool licensed property and ranks within the top three total market. It is the fastest growing girls license in the UK and with the launch of series five this year, we will be introducing new themes and fresh style guides to our partners to create must-have ranges. This year we have also introduced new publishing products via Centum; we have a new agreement with Subway; and we have moved into a new sector with the launch of a PAW Patrol Kellogg’s cereal.

Shimmer and Shine dolls have performed well and Mattel’s basic doll has taken the market by storm making NPD’s Top 10 in the doll category in the first year of sale. The launch of series four this year will see the introduction of new characters and the new Mattel range will also include the highly anticipated Zahracorns.

In January 2018, we had the CP launch for Nella the Princess Knight through master toy provider Vivid. This was followed by the apparel launch in May 2018, with George being the first retailer to market. Series 2 has now been confirmed and the introduction of new characters, new locations and new powers will lead to new style guides and assets to produce captivating new ranges for retailers.

The apparel launch for Rusty Rivets at the end of June was again with George, the first retailer to market. The CP toy launch for Rusty Rivets took place in July, and the Botosaur remains a popular purchase from the line. Series 2 recently launched on Nick Jr. and it is performing well. Next year, we will be launching the CP range for popular CG-animated show Top Wing. Our master toy partner is Hasbro and we have high hopes for the product line given its popularity on the UK network.

Sunny Day launches in AW19 with exciting products for girls aged 3-6 courtesy of master toy partner, Mattel. The Sunny Day Van tour with Walmart in the US was very successful and there will be a delightful style guide which bodes well for a marvellous doll and play-set range.

Will there be any new launches or sneak peaks of upcoming brands?

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is our key Nickelodeon priority. Flair is the UK distributor and will be introducing an awesome range of toys to market on October 5. In May 2019, JoJo Siwa will be celebrating her 16th birthday, and we are putting together a comprehensive CP program to celebrate the moment. Additionally, JoJo will be coming back to Slimefest at Blackpool Pleasure Beach later this year.

And 2019 will be the year of our eternally optimistic SpongeBob SquarePants, as he celebrates his 20th birthday! There will be a new TV series coming to Nicktoons along with a new CP range via master toy provider Alpha Toys – both ahead of the new SpongeBob movie in 2020.

Have you seen any major trends emerging over the course of 2018 in the preschool space? As a brand owner, how have you been able to react to those?

Our philosophy is ‘kids rule’ and ‘play’ is at the heart of the Nick brand. From our research, we know that kids learn how to grow up using play, and these insights guide everything we do form consumer products perspective. This year we have seen collectibles continue to perform strongly and evolve. For Shimmer and Shine we launched the Teenie Genies via Fisher-Price. The range comprises different themed genies inspired by the show. Retailers sold them at accessible price points, and the range is already a great success amongst its core fan base. We are now going far and wide with a product line featuring new accessories, such as a carry case and collector’s guide.

How important is BLE for you when it comes to showing your preschool brands?

BLE is attended by all the key European players in the industry across the retail and licensing business. It provides an excellent platform for Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products to share its plans for the next 24 months, as well as giving us the chance to introduce new properties to market.

What messages will you be looking to convey to licensees and potential licensees at the show?

We are keen to communicate that Viacom Nickelodeon is now one unified, global consumer products organization led by Pam Kaufman, President. As Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products we have a single voice at retail for ‘Every age, Every aisle, Everywhere around the world’. Nickelodeon is still the home of preschool. PAW Patrol, as Nickelodeon’s top rated show continues to be a major retail success for us.

Furthermore, we also have a wide range of new property launches, such as Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Top Wing. Each series in our pre-school portfolio offers something unique to audiences and is supported across the Nick Jr. team; not only those working on the consumer product side of our business, but all areas including, insights, programming, digital and marketing. We really are kids’ experts at Nickelodeon and our continued success in the market proves that.

How healthy do you think the preschool licensed sector is in general?

The preschool landscape has become more competitive with new properties launching every year. Sales have been affected across the market, but PAW Patrol remains the number one preschool licensed property. Digital has become more important for our properties, and it will be interesting to see how new preschool block on ITVbe will impact the preschool market.

How easy is it for new brands to break through at the moment?

It’s never easy launching a brand. New properties need to be innovative and brand owners need to think outside the box. We are fortunate that Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products has an agile cross discipline team to successfully nurture and bring new brands to market.

What would you most like to achieve for your preschool brands from this year’s show?

We are keen to ensure Nickelodeon remains the home of preschool and that BLE delivers us some exciting new partnerships and retail campaigns for our key properties.

Also, from LTW.MEDIA:

Interview: Taking brands beyond retail

Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products’ Marianne James sits down with LTW.Media to share what the company’s rebrand means for its brands, its focus on taking properties beyond retail and cultivating evergreen licenses

Rebrands can signal lots of things for a company, but for Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products, which recently joined its kids’ entertainment business, Nickelodeon, with Viacom, the global media and lifestyle arm, it means opportunity.

“The rebrand was a deliberate move, unifying our varied consumer products markets into a single, global operation,” Marianne James, VP Commercial Partnerships, Products and Experiences at recently formed VNCP, tells LTW.Media.

The aim is to be more responsive, proactive and pioneering – goals that live or die by a team’s ability to move quickly and pool their talents.

“What the move has allowed us to is pull together all our expertise and deliver global programmes as opposed to working as separate units,” Marianne says. “Now we are a global team rather than separate but connected units we can go quicker. If something is working particularly well in one area of the business, we can now take that momentum and bring it across the business. On the other hand, if something is not working as well as we hoped, we can recognize that and react. Being a more connected and nimble consumer products organization gives us huge advantages over the structure we had in place in the past. It’s a very positive move for Viacom overall.”

In the UK, where Marianne is based, the market for Nickelodeon’s core pre-school and kids’ properties is a vibrant place. The team kick-started its biggest-ever events schedule this Easter with the Sime Time tour and heads to Blackpool later this month for Slimefest, an annual celebration of Nick brands, music and, of course, slime.

“Building on experiential is a big focus for us currently – not just this year but heading into the future,” reveals Marianne. “Consumer products is a very important part of the journey for the fans, and will remain a cornerstone of how we extend our brands, but to grow and bring our properties to a bigger audience we have to move beyond retail. Through events we build emotional connections, and that benefits the entire business.”

So will experiential brand building the foundation of every Nickelodeon property? Not necessarily, says Marianne.

“They require huge investment and they have to be authentic or they just don’t work. Fans will be the first to tell you when something doesn’t feel right, and we don’t want to let them down. Events need to be baked into the strategy and not opportunistic; the audience needs to be right and timing is everything.

“But for the right property at the right time, events are incredibly effective. But they are an evolution of a brand, the next step beyond consumer products and retail. We have been focused on building a framework for our events over the past few years which we can then bring our properties to. We are at that point now with many of our brands.”

Nickelodeon’s powerhouse pre-school business is a good starting point for this new expansion. PAW Patrol, the jewel in its pre-school crown, is at the vanguard of these new moves, and Marianne says this has been in the works for sometime.

“I think we’re really owning the pre-school space now – more than ever. That’s something we consciously set out to achieve – and we made a big statement with PAW Patrol. It still feels fresh, but the brand has actually been around for several years now and is moving beyond the exciting new kid on the block firmly into an evergreen property. That’s how we’re repositioning it.”

Not every brand has the staying power or the audience to make that move into evergreen status. Sometimes a show shines bright but burns out quickly; others simply fail to hit the mark. But Nickelodeon is no stranger to evergreen brands. Its surprise breakout star SpongeBob SquarePants – who would have guessed it turns 20 next year – has become a ubiquitous character in pop culture and is as popular with adults as it is with kids.

“SpongeBob is unlike anything else. He’s really taken on an almost ethereal quality – an iconic status for Nickelodeon as our spiritual figure head. He is very different to everything else that is down the aisle for kids – and that, I think, is the secret. He’s unique to Nickelodeon in that way, certainly, and I think he’s just a one off in general. There’s no other property out there you can turn to for comparison.”

PAW Patrol is following in SpongeBob’s footsteps.

“We have had lots of success with PAW Patrol in toys, alongside our partner Spin Master, and it’s a huge property across the core categories, so now we’re following new opportunities to bring the property in to fans’ lives beyond the toys and the show and the content they already love. It could be something as simple as the partnership we launched with Kellogg’s. Extending that connection to the brand into an every day part of life – eating breakfast – means they can enjoy a little moment with the PAW Patrol pups without necessarily playing with it.”

Now in its third year, Simmer and Shine has taken a different route to its success, and Marianne says it is a great example of how a different approach pays off for each brand.

“Shimmer and Shine has been growing at a nice pace. Not everything explodes onto the scene – and quite often the brands with the most impact and staying power grow their fanbase naturally and organically. That’s the approach we’ve taken with Shimmer and Shine top 10 in the doll category. It’s a wonderful example of a brand that grows steadily and organically over time – often the key ingredient to remaining in the market and building an audience.”

Beyond animation and traditional scripted series, Nickelodeon has been busy cultivating its own pool of talent to rival the influencer and YouTube community. JoJo Siwa has been at the forefront of this. The 15-year-old has had a dazzling career already and 7 million YouTube subscribers can’t be wrong. With millions of views every time she posts a video and a fanbase that singlehandedly revitalized the humble hair bow as the must-have accessory, in many ways she is the first example of a new type of media personality.

“In many ways she is one of the first of a new kind of entertainer – and entertainment property – and I’ll be the first to admit that when we first started working with her it was a real learning process,” says Marianne. “But JoJo has trailblazed the way for us in the influencer space. Yes, she had an incredible audience and amazing fans and is a genuine talent – but we had to ask ourselves how that fit with us and how could we add to that?”

The secret is simpler than you might think. “Behind the millions of subscribers and views, JoJo is a performer – she’s a real talent who can sing and dance and has what seems like limitless energy, particularly when it comes to her fans, the Siwanators,” says Marianne.

The starlet turns 16 next year and enters a new chapter in her life – and while JoJo isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, her success has given the team the confidence to bring in new influencers and talents “realistically within the next 18-24 months”.

This all loops back around into VNCP’s focus on experiences, and feeds into its live tours and new ways to engage fans away from screens and retail. “JoJo has always been at the heart of our Slimefest – and because she is a real talent, she can take to the stage alongside that biggest stars out there,” says Marianne.

The future is a bright and busy place for Nickelodeon, and that’s without mentioning Top Wing, an exciting new property that brings Hasbro on board with a full range of licensed toys in a global campaign of product roll out, marketing support and content.

Sunny Day, from the team at Silvergate Media, is another bright spot on the horizon, with Mattel and its Fisher-Price bringing an innovative toy range to market next S/S. And no mention of Nickelodeon would be complete without the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which has just returned to screens and the toy aisle with a refreshed, edgy visual overhaul for Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“Everything we’re focusing on is to make VNCP the best place for entertainment and the best place for fans to interact their favourite characters and stories,” says Marianne. “At retail, beyond consumer products and in their every day lives.”


More Nick: Pam Kaufman Says Licensing 'Best Industry in the World' | BLE 2018!
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