Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How ViacomCBS Consumer Products is Eyeing a Strong Start to 2022

LicensingSource recently gathered four senior executives from ViacomCBS Consumer Products on a Zoom call to discuss business in their respective territories, growth drivers, the future of live experiences, retail and key focuses into 2022 and 2023. Just don’t ask them to choose their favourite between SpongeBob and Patrick!

Pictured, from left to right: Mark Kingston, Felix Ruoff, Simon Leslie and Venetia Davie.

“In general, off the back of a very tough year in 2020, we have been able to get our business back to pre-pandemic levels and beyond,” begins Mark Kingston, Senior Vice President (SVP), International Licensing at ViacomCBS Consumer Products. “Most of the European territories are now pretty much at the same level in terms of recovery from the pandemic, and restrictions are now similar across Europe. We did notice strong consumer habits changes as a direct consequence of the pandemic and various lockdowns across territories. Retail prices and shipping costs have considerably increased which has impacted consumers’ disposable income. But, on the other hand, we’ve also seen a sharp rise in ecommerce, and the binge-watching trend brought by lockdown has helped our properties gain visibility.”

Mark was been joined by three fellow senior executives from the ViacomCBS business on a Zoom call – at the request of LicensingSource. It’s a powerful quartet and all of them are keen to share details of how their respective territories have been performing.

“In Southern Europe and MENA, we have grown 38% compared to last year,” says Simon Leslie, Vice President (VP), Licensing, Southern Europe, ME and Africa. “We’ve managed to recover what was lost in 2020 and have also managed to grow above 2019 numbers (+25% vs 2019) thanks to strong CP launches such as Blue’s Clues & You, Baby Shark’s Big Show and PAW Patrol: The Movie.”

Venetia Davie, VP, Consumer Products, ViacomCBS UK, Ireland, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, says that the cluster had a great year [in 2021] thanks to its partners, with all three markets delivering strong double-digit year on year growth.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the company has experienced double-digit growth for the past five years and delivered a record year in 2021 establishing Germany as its biggest international market for consumer products, says Felix Ruoff, VP Consumer Products, ViacomCBS Northern & Eastern Europe. Central and Eastern Europe has also enjoyed accelerated growth over the last three years.

As for what’s driving this growth, every market has a strong PAW Patrol business – further buoyed by the 2021 movie. Felix comments: “Lidl, one of the global top retailers, executed its biggest entertainment activation in 2021 with The PAW Patrol Movie. The promotion delivered us record revenues as it was the biggest initiative we’ve ever done with one retailer all over Europe.”

SpongeBob SquarePants and Baby Shark are also universal successes. There are nuances between the territories though, as Simon points out: “One of the big gaps we’ve spotted in Europe is the different take up on online shopping. In countries such as Spain and Italy, we have a lower penetration of ecommerce – it has however been accelerated by the pandemic – compared to the UK for example or Germany which are really advanced on that front.”

Looking ahead to 2022 and 2023, there are further plans for PAW Patrol, including a live show which will tour cities across Europe. The launch of Paramount+ in the UK will also bring with it some new marketing and promotional opportunities for the pups, says Venetia.

Baby Shark’s Big Show will also be launching across international territories, while Santiago of the Seas will be joining the Nickelodeon family. “Star Trek: Prodigy will be a big priority for us in 2023,” continues Mark. “And, of course, we are looking forward to launching SpongeBob SquarePants’ spin-offs Kamp Koral and The Patrick Star Show across territories.”

On the Paramount side, the eagerly awaited Top Gun: Maverick will finally arrive, the 50th anniversary of The Godfather is approaching and the launch of Paramount+ across some international territories will be a “big moment” for ViacomCBS says Mark. “We’re also thrilled to see new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles content coming to viewers screens on VOD in 2023, as well as a new Paramount movie,” Mark adds.

The final word goes to Venetia when we ask what’s been the biggest thing she’s learnt about the licensing business in the last 18 months: “This industry is resilient. The way we’ve adapted to the situation has been truly amazing.”

The quick fire round

Favourite character in the ViacomCBS portfolio?

Venetia: “I don’t dislike Mondays as much, but I share his love of lasagna and enjoy his sardonic sense of humour – I’d say Garfield.”
Felix: “I’ve always loved Chase from PAW Patrol.”
Mark: “Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – he might be the comedy act but he’s always there to support his brothers and save the day.”
Simon: “SpongeBob, without a doubt.”

Who would play you in a movie of your life?

Venetia: “I think it would either be Statler or Waldorf.”
Felix: “According to Mark, it has to be David Hasselhoff… the one and only German icon.”
Mark: “Colin Firth!”
Simon: “Jimmy Carr apparently, though I don’t quite see it myself…”

SpongeBob or Patrick?

Venetia: “What? I couldn’t possibly choose.”
Felix: “SpongeBob to be honest.”
Mark: “How could you choose? SpongeBob for his eternal optimism and Patrick for his profound words of wisdom.”
Simon: “SpongeBob for me.”

“I’m excited about all our new licensed product launches for 2022″

Amscan’s Mel Beer talks new licences due for launch and design refreshes on some of its classics.

As we begin the journey through 2022, LicensingSource asks a selection of licensees from across various categories how they are looking to make the most of the first quarter of the year.

Today: Mel Beer, licensing director EMEA, Amscan.

“I’m excited about all our new licensed product launches for 2022 including the new Batman movie, Grease, Top Gun: Maverick, Baby Shark, Heinz Baked Beans and Tomato Ketchup, Slush Puppie and Blippi costumes, plus CoComelon and Disney Classics balloons.

We’re also introducing design refreshes for our classic balloon and party licences, such as PAW Patrol, Bing, My Little Pony, Barbie, Fireman Sam and Smiley. We’ve also got lots more licences in the pipeline…

I’m also looking forward to catching up with our customers, licensors and industry friends at the shows.”


‘Paw Patrol’ to the rescue for children’s TV creator Keith Chapman

The 2008 crisis forced the writer to shut down his company, but he bounced back with a multibillion-dollar success

When interviewing Keith Chapman, the British creator of global hit children’s TV show Paw Patrol, there could only be one killer question: which puppy is your favourite?

Admittedly this was a question posed by an eight year old (my son), who is one of the millions of children who have grown up watching Netflix and has a near addiction to the dayglo world of Ryder — the 10-year old boy who is the Paw Patrol leader — and his gang of puppies with oversized eyes.

Chapman’s canine empire — which now spans a hit movie, live shows, video games and a vast selection of merchandise — has given him an unexpectedly successful second act as a children’s TV creator.

To date, the franchise has generated $12bn in total, says Basildon-born Chapman, 63, who now lives in Monaco. “Basically more than Steven Spielberg’s entire movie catalogue. Paw Patrol is phenomenal . . . a one off.”

It has easily beaten Chapman’s previous creation: the early 2000s kids’ TV powerhouse Bob the Builder. This also spawned a franchise empire, even spinning off a song voiced by British actor Neil Morrissey that reached number one in the UK and Australian charts.

But the 2008 financial crisis — and a costly divorce — found him needing to do it all over again in a much-changed media landscape.

While his characters are recognised around the world, Chapman himself has kept a relatively low profile. That said, he has built several production companies and helped create hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars in revenues through his shows.

Chapman, who went to art college, was working in advertising when he saw an advert to work for Muppets creator Jim Henson in London. It was during the heyday for Henson’s creations in movies such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and on TV shows such as The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock.

When Henson moved back to the US in the late 1980s, Chapman returned to advertising. While walking out of his house one day he spotted a JCB — a bright yellow construction digger.

“I just thought that would make a really cool character. If you gave him big eyes . . . then some mates, a steamroller, a crane and a cement mixer. And some human characters like a father figure to look after because they were like the naughty kids.”

He pitched it to Peter Orton, a former colleague who had bought out Henson International Television (HIT). First there was a toss up about whether Bill or Bob should be the name of the lead character. “I went for Bob and I pitched it in and thank God they optioned it straightaway.” 

Two years later, at Christmas 2000, “Bob beat Westlife to the number one [slot] ”. For Chapman, this is the measure of success: the viewing figures of a show need to be seen alongside the commercial rewards of the wider franchise. Without one, he says, the other will not work.

Bob the Builder made HIT Entertainment a “tonne of money” in merchandising, he says. As creator, Chapman receives royalties on the brand, but did not get the same windfall.

“Bob was probably the one that really changed things. Everybody opened their eyes to just how big these businesses can become. Everybody got very rich apart from me, [but] I did very well so I’m not complaining.”

Chapman formed his own company, Chapman Entertainment, and started a production line of cartoons such as Roary the Racing Car. His company invested £9mn in TV shows like Raa Raa the Noisy Lion but this led to difficulties when the financial crisis hit.

“The banks were alarmed by people going bankrupt and not repaying their loans, and they suddenly called in our overdraft. The merchandising income had dried up because people weren’t spending so much on toys. The bank called in their loan but we couldn’t quite repay it. Sadly, we went into administration.”

Chapman was left alone in an empty office, having been forced to lay off all his staff. Chapman Entertainment was sold first to Classic Media and then to DreamWorks.

He needed to start again — and put his pen to work. Canadian toy maker Spin Master had started to hunt for a show that would show off its “transforming” technology in 2011. Chapman played around with the idea of dogs rescuing people.

The plot of Paw Patrol normally involves an accident or emergency in which a team of playful dogs use their different talents and (easily manufactured) vehicles to save the day. Lessons are learnt; quips are shared; credits roll.

Nickelodeon almost instantly picked up the show. “Within a couple of years, it became the most popular pre-school show in the world.”

For Chapman, toy makers such as Mattel — which now owns HIT — and Spin Master are a natural home for these TV shows. As many parents have suspected when being dragged down the aisles of a toy store by overexcited children, the plastic merchandising often drives the ideas about what should be in the programme.

In the case of Paw Patrol, the commercial element came before the content. Without the merchandising, Chapman says “it won’t last, you won’t be able to make a second series, you won’t be able to build it into a global brand”.

This is a change from the 1980s when he worked for Henson, whose shows made fortunes from being sold on primetime TV. Now the spread of media streaming platforms means that there are not just many more shows, but many more places to watch those shows.

“It’s easy to denigrate the commercial side. But I learned long ago that unless you have that, you don’t have a business. You’ve got to have the theatre show, you’ve got to have a film, you’ve got to have merchandise and books. It’s got to be big. I don’t just think about just a TV show. It’s got to be creating a brand.”

But he says that creating global TV success is now much harder than when Bob the Builder broke through two decades ago. “There are so many more studios, animation studios, designers, creative people, from all over the world now, trying to crack it. They’re all pitching to the same broadcasters.”

Children too are bombarded with content, often lost behind subsections of streaming services such as Netflix. Fewer children are now happy to wait to watch their favourite show at a set time. “You can still break through but you need a bit of magic dust. Kids just seem to find it, mums will start talking about it. Suddenly you’ve got one of those breakout hits.”

He says the UK’s ownership of the BBC — whose commercial freedom means it can take risks and experiment more than the US streaming services — is also important. The BBC was the first to show Bob the Builder, and produces its own hits such as Teletubbies and In the Night Garden.

He worries that the UK government will undermine the BBC for political ends. “We need the BBC, it’s almost a rock that everybody can go back to.”

To cut through requires bravery, he adds, to differentiate from cartoons coming from Asia and Europe. Creativity is also key, and thinking like a preschooler helps.

He remembers having to resist attempts by US networks to silence the talking vehicles in Bob the Builder.

“You have to put your mind into that of a three year old. To them, it’s perfectly possible to talk to an engine — they do it all the time and you just have to watch them,” he says.

“Rubble. I think my favourite character is Rubble. I love that little bulldog character, I love the voice,” he says, answering my son’s Paw Patrol question.

Three questions for Keith Chapman

Walt Disney with his creation Mickey Mouse
Who is your leadership hero?

Walt Disney and Jim Henson. They certainly inspired me to want to create my own TV shows and movies.

If you were not a writer/creator, what would you be?

A painter (not a painter and decorator!)

What was the first leadership lesson you learnt?

Always give credit to the team you work with. Everyone is important in the creative process.


How the hit show Paw Patrol became a Canadian export success

Jennifer Dodge, president of Spin Master Entertainment.

When Toronto-based Spin Master Corp., makers of the hit show Paw Patrol, launched its entertainment division back in 2008, executives wanted to create an action-adventure series for preschool-aged children.

With a loose idea of what they wanted, they reached out to five creators, including Keith Chapman, the creative force behind the successful Bob the Builder series.

“Keith had an idea of dogs that rescue and have jobs in the real world and, as we know, dogs doing jobs are part of the real world. There are police dogs and there are fire dogs and there are Coast Guard dogs,” says Jennifer Dodge, president of Spin Master Entertainment.

In Paw Patrol, a 10-year-old boy named Ryder leads a group of talking rescue dogs equipped with dog houses that transform into rescue vehicles to save the day whenever trouble arises for the good folks of Adventure Bay. “It was just a lovely idea,” she says.

The company worked with Mr. Chapman, animators, artists and writers to develop the idea and pitched it to Nickelodeon. Spin Master had an existing relationship with the U.S.-based children’s network and talked up the dog show to its international team at MIPTV, an annual international television market in Cannes, and to Nickelodeon executives headquartered in New York.

“They loved it immediately, and they wanted to partner on it,” Ms. Dodge says.

Toronto-based Spin Master Corp., founded in 1994, has grown from the maker of the Earth Buddy, a pantyhose-covered head that sprouted grass, to one of the world’s top toy manufacturers, a publicly traded children’s entertainment behemoth with toy, entertainment and digital games divisions, 32 offices around the world, and 2,000 employees. Its entertainment division has developed a half-dozen television series, including Paw Patrol, which began airing on Nickelodeon in August, 2013, and today is broadcast in at least 35 languages in more than 170 countries.

Spin Master sells the series in Canada to TVO, Treehouse, Netflix and Knowledge Network, while Nickelodeon (a division of Paramount Global) aired the series on its platforms globally and managed rights and distribution around the world. In addition, Spin Master manufactures and sells the toy line globally.

Over the years, Paw Patrol has won numerous Canadian Screen Awards and, in 2021, Paw Patrol: The Movie hit the big screen, grossing more than US$152-million at the worldwide box office.

To sell the show internationally, the Paw Patrol team had to ensure the stories were suitable for people around the world and across cultures, Ms. Dodge says.

“You have to tell stories that are relatable to the human experience and can travel outside of just your town or just your province or just your country. The great thing is kids are kids wherever they are, and we really focus on community stories and making sure the stories we’re telling are relevant across all those audiences.”

Paw Patrol is part of a Canadian creative export industry valued at $18.7-billion in 2019, accounting for 33 per cent of the country’s $57.1-billion culture gross domestic product, according to Heritage Canada. That was an 11-per-cent increase from 2018. The industry represents the equivalent of approximately 222,090 culture jobs in Canada that year, says Caroline Czajkowski, spokeswoman for Heritage Canada.

The United States, China, Britain, Germany and Hong Kong were Canada’s top creative export markets in 2019, with Hong Kong surpassing France in 2019 to become our fifth-highest export market. Up to that point, France had consistently been in the top five, she says.

The U.S. accounts for 59 per cent of all Canadian cultural exports but compared with other industries, such as manufacturing, the creative industries have good diversification, Ms. Czajkowski says. The fastest-growing creative export markets are China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Australia.

In 2018, the federal government launched a five-year, $125-million Creative Export Strategy. Led by the Department of Canadian Heritage in collaboration with Global Affairs, the Trade Commissioner Service and Foreign Policy Development Service, the program boosted funding for the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Music Fund, the Canada Periodical Fund and Telefilm Canada.

It also includes, among other things, funding through Creative Export Canada for export-ready audiovisual, interactive digital media, music, performing arts, publishing, visual arts and design.

In its first four years, the strategy has benefitted more than 1,900 businesses and organizations in all major creative sectors, many of them from several different services or programs and over multiple years, Ms. Czajkowski says.

“The sustained and targeted support they received helped them to achieve their international business development goals,” she says.

Canadian Heritage has also partnered with the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver Boards of Trade to offer creative industry specialized Trade Accelerator Programs to help businesses develop export plans and learn key skills to help them succeed when expanding into new and existing markets, she says.

She adds that some of the challenges for would-be creative exporters are doing the proper planning and analysis to find potential new buyers and finding the right market, given every market has different needs, cultures and requirements.

There are also duties and tariffs to consider, as well as currency exchange rates and foreign compliance procedures, she explains.

The right partners can certainly play a big part in global success, Ms. Dodge says. And she notes that Nickelodeon is among the biggest in children’s television. “We’ve built up a lot more of our international capabilities around television distribution from a merchandising and licensing standpoint and franchise standpoint, but yes, they’ve been obviously very helpful.

“I would say for a smaller independent entertainment company, they would probably be looking to partner with a larger global company that can help them fulfill those aspirations.”


Originally published: January 06, 2022.

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