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‘Ultimately kids decide if a property is desirable’

We talk to Marianne James, vp, consumer products UK & Ireland & European retail sales and marketing, Viacom International Media Networks, about Paw Patrol and trends in preschool.

What were your big successes in 2015?

Paw Patrol was our biggest success of the year. Ryder and the pups not only performed extraordinarily well on Nick Jr. where it has become one of the top shows on the channel, but also on Milkshake where it has aired seven days a week since October. Counting both Nick Jr. and Milkshake audiences, over 10m viewers have seen the series and demand for Paw Patrol toys has been high at retail. The Paw Patroller was one of the most in-demand toys for Christmas with many retailers selling out of product.

Blaze and The Monster Machines was also a success for us in 2015. The series launched on Nick Jr. in March and joined the Milkshake line-up in the autumn. Not only is Blaze doing well on air but we know from our social media channels as well as retailer search data, that families are already looking for product so we are sure that it will do well when it hits market this month.

Our pre-school Turtles line, the Half Shell Heroes, also had an incredible year. Offering a bright range of Turtles product designed especially for younger fans, Half Shell Heroes is proving almost as popular as the core Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line.

What are your big properties within the preschool space for 2016?

We’ll be announcing a roster of Blaze and the Monster Machine licensees soon with a view to really building the property at retail across the year. Product hits shelves this month beginning with the beautiful toy line from Fisher Price.

We’ll also be building the line-up of licence partners for Shimmer and Shine across 2016. The series premiered on Nick Jr. in November with product due for launch this AW. The series has been warmly received by audiences with the colourful, magical world of the eponymous twin genies resonating strongly, especially with girl audiences.

Other priorities for the year include our properties from the UK. Digby Dragon premieres on Nick Jr. this spring while season two of Lily’s Driftwood Bay launches later in the year. We are keen to build a roster of licensees for both and will be working to secure the best partners across all categories.


What was the biggest change in the preschool environment in 2015?

I think the speed at which a property can go from being a hit on air to being a hit on shop shelves has been a massive change. The time frame is a lot faster than it used to be so licensor, potential licensee and retailers need to be poised to launch product quickly. It is all a question of preparation and working with research and previous case studies to ensure that all parties are as well-equipped as they can be before a series launches, as the property builds momentum on air and then product comes to market.

Just how competitive is the licensed preschool sector at the moment? What is the main challenge for you as a brand owner?

The licensed preschool market is incredibly competitive. Not only are there numerous new properties vying for shelf space but vintage and franchise properties are also pushing into the preschool arena more and more. The main challenge as a brand owner is securing shelf space at retail for new IP. Understandably, retailers are more likely to go for a property with which they are familiar. It is up to IP owners to showcase new properties and support the retailers when new properties arrive on shelves.

How is the retail environment for preschool properties currently? Are retailers willing to take a risk on newer brands or is it hard with so many classic brands still performing so well to get a break?

I think the retail environment is really strong in terms of sales and range but as mentioned, retailers can be predisposed towards classic brands as well as known licence partners that have proved themselves in the past. It is key that licensors and licence partners work closely together to present a compelling case to retailers as to why a property will be a success and then continue to support that property while it’s in market.


Do you think that the consumer is much more savvy now as to what they will buy? What do you think they look for?

I think consumers have always looked for value for money and are looking for well-made products that will last and remain popular for a long time. In terms of being savvy, I think that consumers are smarter about the sales seasons of retail, they have a better sense of when new lines are launches, when there are sales and how to shop around both  online and on the high street.

Is having a link with the parents vital? For example, older brands – such as Teletubbies and The Clangers – might have more resonance because they watched them/played with the toys growing up?

I think that nostalgia and recognisable brands can be an important influence, especially for those purchasing items as gifts for nieces/nephews, grandchildren, friends’ kids, etc. There is also an appeal to sharing a property that you have grown up with, with your own child. However, for preschoolers themselves, every property is new with a potential to be a favourite and ultimately it is the kids who decide what property is desirable. What is important though is that if a licensee is offering a new property that the licensee or the core brand from which the property is derived is already trusted by parents.

Do you see any major trends emerging for 2016?

I think preschool product with ties to the STEM curriculum will gain in popularity in 2016. We’ve seen with Blaze and the Monster Machines that there is an appetite for product with a science, technology, engineering, art and maths and I think this will continue. I also think that the popularity of large movie franchises over the next few years will also see a renaissance in dress up for preschoolers that will trickle across a variety of preschool properties.

What would you most like to see happen within the licensed preschool market in 2016?

I am open to greater diversity within the market. I’d like to see more properties that don’t necessarily have a TV or film background emerge.  Traditionally the model is screen to shelves and I would love to see a property succeed that breaks that model as I think it could refresh the whole market.

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