Jenny Johnstone tells us how the company is making waves in the licensing business.
The origins of the CHF Media Group span over 40 years since its inception as Cosgrove Hall in 1976. For over four decades the team, renowned for producing some of the UK’s best loved and most memorable children’s shows such as Danger Mouse, Count Duckula and Postman Pat, has earned countless industry awards including six BAFTAs and two international Emmys.
Previously owned by ITV, the Cosgrove Hall team wanted to own its business and in 2011 it re-established itself as CHF Media Group and formed the subsidiaries of CHF Entertainment Limited and CHF Enterprises Limited. Each company was created to provide a different skill set to help support the financing, production and commercial exploitation of its new content and IP rights.
“In 2009 ITV shut down its animation department,” Jenny explains, “however, with such pedigree and brand recognition it was only a matter of time before Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove would be persuaded to front a new venture that would now create, own and monetise its own IP.”
CHF Entertainment is the creative and production arm of CHF Media Group and has a formidable animation team consisting of some of the most sought-after industry professionals, including a number of the original Cosgrove Hall award-winning animators, producers and directors. Also under the management of CHF Entertainment are the company’s commercial divisions, which include licensing and merchandising and broadcast distribution.
While the plight for funding for new animation projects is well documented, the funding for CHF Media Group’s shows and projects has been provided via CHF Media Group’s FCA regulated business, CHF Enterprises. CHF Enterprises promotes and markets the CHF Media Fund, which offers private investment opportunities into Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and SEED EIS qualifying companies, each of which owns original and unique Intellectual Property.
To date, the CHF Media Fund has raised over £11 million, invested across a number of shows of which CHF Media Group owns a significant portion.
In 2014 and 2015, CHF Media Group successfully delivered the first and second series respectively of Pip Ahoy! to Channel 5. Pip Ahoy! was fully funded utilising private investment, EIS reliefs and animation tax credits. Originally the licensing for Pip Ahoy! was handled by an agency, but with Jenny joining the company with some 20+ years of licensing and broadcast sales experience under her belt, the company decided it made sense to control licensing deal in-house.
“In the first instance, my role is to pre-sell the broadcast rights to the shows. This helps with the EIS funding, not least because it gives the series real credibility. I also to manage all global exploitation rights for IP including licensing,” says Jenny.
CHF Media Groups’ latest long form series, Daisy & Ollie, is currently in full production and is scheduled for first UK broadcast on Cartoonito from November 2017.
The series boasts an all-star cast with comedians Jason Manford, Brendan O’Carroll and Sarah Hadland voicing the key character roles in this 52 x 7 minute preschool series. Marketing launch plans are well underway with full cast support across broadcast and social media platforms.
Says Jenny: “It’s so exciting and the buzz is really building, particularly on social media, where, collectively the cast have a huge social media reach to start talking about the series.”
In 2018 the company will move into its third EIS production – Magic Marlon – which also has a UK broadcast partner lined up.
As well as its long form series, CHF Entertainment utilises SEIS funding to create short form content or ‘mini series’. The company currently has eight ideas at varying stages of development which are destined for digital distribution on its own YouTube channel.
“We can see an undeniable shift in viewing habits in all ages to on-demand content,” rationalises Jenny. “We plan to use the channel as a platform to showcase this new content and with appropriate marketing and partnerships we are hopeful of achieving not only a loyal audience, but gathering solid viewing data and audience reviews to assess the viability of creating more content or moving the series to long form for broader distribution and L&M possibilities.”
Jenny acknowledges that the business model for launching new animation is definitely more convoluted than it was even a decade ago – balancing the needs of licensees that want to see a visible broadcast partner, with the demand for quantifiable reach from retailers and, of course, the funding shareholders.
She explains: “Broadcast and licensing is undoubtedly the lifeblood of the company and we put as much emphasis into the commercial viability of a series or idea as we do the storytelling and creative design.
“Broadcast, in whatever guise, is the window for content, helping to deliver and retain a loyal audience and, in turn creating a demand for consumer products. It is extremely important that we get the distribution partnerships right. We certainly understand the needs for traditional broadcasters and their own requirements for content and, in part scheduling limitations, and we do our best to work within those parameters, however, when you are investing several million pounds into creating a series, you do need to be mindful of what you need from your broadcast distribution to earn that back (bearing in mind the continual squeeze on fees for acquisitions).”
She added that the crux is that licensees and retailers are demanding a far greater audience reach with SVOD distribution, YouTube, and social media reach all seeming to play a much greater part in the decision-making process.
“Perhaps with the latter two this is because these provide real quantifiable numbers,” Jenny suggests, “i.e. these are actual views from those making an effort to see the series as opposed to an average channel rating across a given period. Understandably, with so much content and easy access to it, licensees and retailers need to make more informed choices on the character brands they too invest in.”
Casting Off With Pip Ahoy!
• The series has secured continuous airing on Channel 5’s Milkshake.
• It has enjoyed additional scheduling on Cartoonito UK and WiZZ TV, a YouTube platform with almost 500k subscribers.
• Licensees are in place for master toy, app and apparel.
• CHF has concluded international broadcast sales, including TV and licensing distribution.
• Pip Ahoy! has launched in China across multiple platforms including IPTV, SVOD and Satellite and is expected to reach more than 900 million homes in the coming months.
• A third series of Pip Ahoy! is now in production. The series is the company’s first co-production partnership with China’s media powerhouse Shanghai Media Group (SMG)/Wings Media. Pip Ahoy! season three is due for first delivery Q4 2017.