Kid brand relaunch isn’t child’s play

Classic properties must cover all media bases

In the kidvid biz, there’s nothing more valuable than a beloved classic property that appeals to both poppets and parents.

But while relaunching such brands is easier than developing and establishing new, unknown properties, it still takes the right mix of entertainment, merchandise and, increasingly, interactive and online elements to truly earn the rank of a classic.

“One of the most powerful ways you can launch a brand is online,” says Lisa Judson, president of Warner Bros. Animation.

The company is putting its money behind this belief with T-Works, an interactive site set to launch next spring that will feature classic and new animation programming, games and a customizable online world that mixes characters from the studio’s libraries, including Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics.

“It’s going to enable us to relaunch and redistribute many of our characters who the audience has a deep relationship with,” she says.

Nancy Fowler, head of global sales for DIC, agrees that online and interactive have become increasingly essential to launching children’s brands.

“No longer can you have a few (Web) pages,” she says. “It has to be a more experiential initiative.”

But the rise of interactive in no way diminishes the importance of traditional entertainment content. For example, Fowler says the lynchpin of DIC’s plans for the just-acquired classic girls brand “Eloise” is a feature film the company is developing with Handmade Films for a 2009 release.

Meanwhile, Foothill Entertainment is developing the classic amusement park game Whac-A-Mole into a brand that can support interactive, television and merchandising properties.

“People don’t think of it as anything other than a game, but that is in some ways the real strength,” says Foothill CEO Greg Payne. “It isn’t automatically a preschool show or a boys action show. It really is cross-generational.”

The company did a soft launch of the property at last year’s Mipcom to gauge interest. After extensive research, Payne says it is developing Internet projects and two TV projects: a family-oriented reality/game show and an animated children’s program.

For regional brands, expanding into new markets is almost like starting over. EM.Entertainment managing director Susanne Schosser says taking brands like “Maya the Bee” and “Heidi” that are huge in Germany to new markets like the United States has been very difficult.

“A classic brand is a classic brand because it’s well known,” she says. “For us, ‘Maya’ is a classic; for a U.S. child, it’s new.”

Market trends can present opportunities for library owners to revive certain brands — Judson says Warners looks “at where is the marketplace saturated and where is there opportunity.” For example, the popularity of superhero properties has opened the door for WB to go deeper into its DC Comics library than perennials Superman and Batman to older properties like “Teen Titans” and “Legion of Super-Heroes.”

Still, the number of classic brands is finite, and execs say finding properties to revive will at some point become more difficult than developing new properties.

“The trend is that we’re running out of them,” Fowler says. “When you think about all the classic brands for the ’70s or ’80s, they’ve all been launched.”

Adds Schosser: “If there is somebody knocking on my door and offering a classic brand, I wouldn’t say no. My goal would more be on the side to develop these (existing) brands and make them more interactive, or develop new series.”

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