Mickey Mouse, move over; here comes Blinky Bill.

Blinky is a cute, cheeky, environmentally aware koala bear, and may well become Australia’s biggest income-producing licensed character ever.

Yoram Gross Film Studios’ “Blinky Bill,” due for release early next year, will be the focus of what looks to be the largest merchandising campaign for an Australian film. If all goes well, estimates Fred Gaffney, head of Gaffney Intl. Licensing, the merchandising agent for the film, retail sales may top $A10 million in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

When Yoram and Sandra Gross acquired rights to Dorothy Wall’s 1930s classic last year, they took a 50-50 stake in merchandising rights alongside Wall’s publisher, Angus & Robertson. “Every animation company,” Sandra Gross emphasizes, “has to make merchandising an integral part of its activities now.”

“Blinky” expects to receive a major boost from the Aussie branch of Pizza Hut, which has tentatively agreed to a promotional tie-in, the fast food giant’s first with an Aussie pic. Pizza Hut, which has had merchandising experience with Don Bluth’s “The Land Before Time ” says it has yet to sign a definitive contract for the “Blinky” deal.

Would-be licensees, covering everything from toys to souvenirs, are now submitting proposals to Gaffney, who says the collective advertising budget (what the licensees will be spending) now exceeds $A1 million.

That’s separate from the p&a outlay of Village Roadshow, which is distributing the films domestically. Just how that synergy of merchandising and marketing boosts the b.o. is hard to quantify, Gaffney says, but he’s confident that Blinky Bill will emerge a star.

Bigger than Mickey?

Avers Gaffney, who’s handled merchandising opportunities ranging from Lucasfilm to Sesame Street, “I’m certain Blinky Bill will be to Australia what Mickey Mouse is to the U.S. It could signal a new era of recognition for Australian animation, and a new awareness of what Australia can achieve.”

And, as a koala, Blinky has a further advantage. Apart from being the most recognized symbol of Australia (they’re particularly popular in Japan), Gaffney says koalas are the top-selling stuffed toy in the world. “There are more [ toy] koalas sold every day than Mickey Mouses,” he claims.

The success of “Blinky Bill’s” merchandising campaign is a vital part of the film’s sales push overseas. Tim Brooke-Hunt, YGFS business-affairs manager, recently returned from a U.S. trip where he sounded out Yank companies including MCA and Lucasfilm. The overall marketability of “Blinky Bill,” he says, was viewed as a “highly attractive proposition.”

Brooke-Hunt adds: “We have very little doubt that Blinky Bill will be as successful in Australia as a major U.S. character. And we have every confidence that when we have arranged U.S. sales, it will attract similar [ merchandising] deals there.”

He point out that as a major merchandising success, it “would not be unreasonable” for the character to generate $A50 million in retail revenue worldwide. Of that, YGFS and Angus & Robertson would generally take trademark royalties of 5% to 12.5% of wholesale revenues.

Although the merchandising drive will be mainly fixed on YGFS’ Blinky Bill – a more streamlined, modern version of Wall’s original, which was designed for print – it will mean an aligned push for what Gaffney terms the “classic” Blinky, particularly in publishing opportunities.

Sandra Gross also stresses this isn’t the company’s first taste of merchandising. Spinoff products relating to the “Dot” series of films had “limited success” in Oz/N.Z. “That only gave us an appetite,” she says. “Now we know the ropes and how better to go about it.”

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