Growing lineups crowd preschool merch biz

Reared in a more simple world in which Sesame Street, Barney and the Teletubbies ruled the airwaves and the toy aisles, the average fourth-grader might be baffled by the sensory overload of today’s crowded marketplace for preschool entertainment.

“Ten years would put us back in time when there were fewer preschool properties and fewer ways to build awareness,” says Rich Maryyanek, partner and chief marketing officer of licensing agency Big Tent Entertainment, which recently signed on to rep the Wiggles in North America. “Sesame Street, Barney, and Winnie the Pooh were all the rage, and PBS and Disney were still the key retail drivers.”

Since that time, he continues, “We have seen a dramatic change in the landscape. Nickelodeon has become a powerhouse and … we now have at least five major networks airing preschool content every day, plus digital channels, plus Saturday morning blocks, and the list goes on.”

Indeed, denizens of the preschool market express a common refrain of the entertainment licensing biz these days.

“Clearly from a licensing perspective, the market is extremely crowded,” notes Maura Regan, VP and G.M. of global consumer products for Sesame Workshop. “There are so many properties competing, and yet so much consolidation at retail. With more programs and fewer outlets, there simply is less opportunity to secure shelf space.”

That crowding is due in no small part to the emergence of Nickelodeon, which is behind the biggest generator of licensed goods for the preschool market, “Dora the Explorer.”

From products related to “Dora” spinoff series “Go, Diego, Go!” to the “Backyardigans,” Nick never has any less than half-a-dozen of its own properties competing in the marketplace.

With the launch of “Wonder Pets!” in 2006, it will soon have one more jockeying for position.

“While homevideo is already in the market, the big product push will occur in fall 2008,” says Jim Davie, senior VP of marketing and retail development for Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products.

Meanwhile, the emergence of “Playhouse Disney” on the Disney Channel has been another key force of shelf crowding.

“The success of ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’ and ‘Little Einsteins’ has inspired an assortment of interactive toys and playsets with apparel and home decor launching soon,” says Simon Waters, global VP of infant, toddler and preschool franchises for Disney Consumer Products.

The spring debut of “My Friends Tigger & Pooh” on Playhouse Disney will generate even more consumer products, he adds.

Add this to other big programming blocks, such as PBS, and it’s tough for purveyors of new preschool-targeted properties to gain a merchandising foothold — but not impossible.

Take “Dittydoodle Works,” a new show from Rogar Studios that currently reaches 30 million homes in markets including New York, L.A. and Chicago. According to series exec producer Cory Rosenberg, establishing a presence for the skein at retail requires Rogar to first establish it on TV.

“The biggest mistake people make in the licensing biz is to put out product too soon,” he says. “Clearly we’re not the Disneys and Viacoms of the world, so we need to create an appetite for the brand.”

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