“Newer brands will have to work harder to break through”

Source chats to Julie Kekwick, senior licensing manager at BBC Studios, about the opportunities in the preschool sector going forward.

Firstly, which preschool brands are you currently focusing on?

Hey Duggee, Bluey and Something Special are our key preschool brands. What’s makes all three of these properties exciting is there point of difference in the market. We’ve got Something Special which is well established in the licensing and retail sector. Hey Duggee is in a very strong place and continues to grow. While Bluey is the new kid on the block in terms of UK licensing, given the huge success of its licensing portfolio in home market Australia, and how well it’s doing in the US, we’re confident it’ll be a big hit in the UK sector, too.

I feel incredibly fortunate to work on such unique, high-impact content in the preschool space. They have all captured the imagination and hearts of of children and their parents, and they all have long-term commitments to future content.

Can you run through how the licensing programmes for each are shaping up?

We first launched toys for Something Special in 2013 and the brand continues to endure. We renewed our master toy agreement with Golden Bear at the start of this year. Their new toy range for the brand includes Mr. Tumble’s sensory seek and find Spotty bag with fun sounds and the Mr. Tumble touch my nose sensory soft toy. The new lines have been brought to shelves in new packaging too following updated product styling and a new design, which has been well received. Something Special has been flagship content for CBeebies since it debuted in 2005 and they continue to invest in the series. During lockdown they quickly commissioned new content for You Tube, the channel and iPlayer, including Stay In With Mr Tumble (25×2) for CBeebies and Mr Tumble’s Radio Show (15×15) for CBeebies Radio.

Hey Duggee continues to go from strength to strength. The Guardian ran a major feature on the show [earlier this year], dubbing it the ‘TV smash of lockdown’ and included an end credit for our toy partner Golden Bear’s Hey Duggee Adventure Bus. The piece even got a splash on newspaper’s front page, which is incredible.

There’s lots of positive news for Duggee from all of our licensees. Toy sales for the brand are up 148% YTD July (source NPD), which is fantastic. Golden Bear have been investing in some great new products for the brand, including Interactive Smart Duggee and the aforementioned Adventure Bus. TV adverts for both of these new toys are now airing nationwide. 8th Wonder has certainly made an impact with the brand in the wooden toy category, too. Both Trends and Ravensburger have reported good initial sales from their recent launches as well.  Our publishing partner Penguin Random House have expanded their Hey Duggee book range as a result of increased sales and listings. Looking ahead, we are working on launching licensed product in France next year.

Bluey – the Emmy-winning Australian animated series created by Ludo Studio – is our newest preschool property. Our master toy partner Moose launched product in Australia 2019, where it was an immediate break out hit, and the US toy roll out this summer has been strong. I cannot wait to see the Moose toy line on sale in the UK next year. Penguin Random House – already publishing partner for Australia – have been announced as our global publishing partner (excluding China and the Chinese language), after their Bluey books enjoyed phenomenal success, selling one million copies in Australia in only seven months. We also revealed a raft of new deals for the UK in October.

Hey Duggee continues to go from strength to strength, says Julie, with new product launches and licensees.
Hey Duggee continues to go from strength to strength, says Julie, with new product launches and licensees.

Have you seen any major trends emerging over the course of 2020 in the preschool space?

Some of the trends I have seen mirror the rest of the industry with outdoor and puzzle and games coming out on top, especially during lockdown. I am sure the importance of family time spent at home will continue into next year due to the impact COVID-19 has brought to everyone’s lives.

The high street will remain important, too. Of course digital marketing and online has seen massive growth. Hey Duggee’s digital footprint continues to grow for us, with its YouTube channel amassing over 2.8 billion minutes of watch time. With reports in the press about children being three months behind in schooling, I am sure parents will look for educational content and learning toys. We’ve found that learning content has performed particularly well on the Hey Duggee’s YouTube channel. The ‘Science With Duggee’ video, for example, has seen a surge in views, rising to 12.9 million at last count.

COVID-19 has also heightened anxiety from parents over their children’s emotional wellbeing. I have read that increasing occasions for bonding and playfulness can help foster your child’s emotional safety – all our brands address this need in different ways. The connection with Hey Duggee and Bluey is the high level of parental engagement, and Mr Tumble also serves multiple audiences, and is inclusive in its very nature.

How healthy do you think the preschool licensed sector is in general?

All things considered it is in a good place. It is dynamic and licensors such has ourselves have been able to continue growing and nurturing our brands. We’ve been lucky in that we have not been impacted in the same way as cinematic releases, when those defined cultural moments have moved into the digital space, or been pushed back. We have seen great success on iPlayer, especially for Hey Duggee which has 67 million requests during lockdown. Overall, the preschool content across the board is being consumed more, and that ultimately will pay dividends.

A raft of deals for the UK market for Bluey were confirmed in October.
A raft of deals for the UK market for Bluey were confirmed in October.

What are some of the key challenges that you think the sector is facing going forward (retail recovery from COVID-19, lack of shelf space, risk averse retail, etc)? How easy is it for new brands to break through at the moment?

The whole supply chain is under stain in some way. Newer brands will have to work harder to break through, and it is important that there is a sufficient fan base and point of difference ahead of launch – this is has always been important, and you cannot do this without the right licensee relationships in place.

There are still opportunities with online firsts, trials and so on, but our licensees are making that forward investment into stock and licensors need to support with flexibility. It is challenging as long-term investments into quality new content is considerable. Also key retail activity and launch timings are being firmed out a lot later in the calendar so we are all having to be understanding and agile.

What would you most like to achieve for your preschool brands from the remainder of 2020 and into 2021?

I would like for the size of our preschool licensing portfolio across all of our smash hit brands to increase significantly in the UK and the rest of the world.

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