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The Licensing Lookout: London calling

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes picks up Time Out and discovers how licensing fits into London life.

There are a range of things that help London have a unique identity. I think one of these is Time Out magazine.

I know Time Out the brand has evolved and expanded, but the London edition will always be part of London life for me. As a teenager in the early 80s it was the go-to title to plan your social life especially if you liked live music. And yes it did have lots of ‘looking for love’ classified adverts. A classified form of Love Island.

Shuttle forward to 2019, Time Out is now free and distributed at locations like train stations. It still remains part of the fabric of London life. Bad news is I don’t go to as many gigs as I did, but the good news is I found love and in fact celebrated my 28th wedding anniversary this week.

Time Out remains a window on the cultural life of London.
Time Out remains a window on the cultural life of London.

Time Out remains a window on the cultural life of London and a good insight into the live event scene.

Last week’s issue featured a Summer Holidays special focusing on ‘things to do’ in London for families and children.

Licensed properties featured prominently. Indeed I felt like I had picked up a special edition collab between Licensing Source Book and Time Out!

The Time Out feature was a vivid reminder of the growing links between licensing and live entertainment in all its forms. Live licensing seems to be an area of growth and opportunity for the industry, but it is a marketplace that the industry needs to develop in a responsible way. As easy as it is for a business sector to fall in love with licensing ,they can fall out of love as quickly. Being ‘on brand’ and developing a live product that represents a good experience for consumers are essentials.

Brainiac Live is based on the now cult classic Sky TV series.
Brainiac Live is based on the now cult classic Sky TV series.

Some of the highlights of my London Live tour, courtesy of Time Out, included a Brainiac stage show. Based on the now cult classic Sky TV series of the same name, this is a great example of the potential for longevity in the category. I actually helped set up the original deal for this stage show over ten years ago when working as a consultant for Sky. Since then, the fast paced popular science show has appeared on national tours, in arenas, at Butlins and in the West End. A strong theme and live concept has created a flexible format that has fitted into a variety of venues. An original IP has been built upon in an ‘on brand’ way and also promoted in a proactive way – it is important to remember a good show that the audience tell their friends about is the best promotion. The Brainiac team have kept standards high.

It is also interesting to see new venues and locations popping up. I noticed a ‘new to me’ venue, the Troubador White City Theatre, were promoting a show based on Little Baby Bum and another one called Aliens Love Underpants.

Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear is running at The National Theatre.
Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear is running at The National Theatre.

There is a strong link in the live world between publishing properties and theatre shows. Successful books deliver good plots, stories and brand recognition. There is a natural crossover between book purchasers and theatregoers. The National Theatre was promoting Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear based on Andy Stanton’s book. He actually writes the lyrics for the musical songs. The National Theatre’s advert proudly announces the musical is ‘based on the anarchic children’s books’.

Other well known IP having live outings in London this summer include The Very Hungry Caterpillar and, as part of the South Bank’s Underbelly Festival, the Twirlywoos have a residency for most of August. The latter is an interesting example of how the live space can help IP have a second life off screen and extend a franchise. Twirlywoos Live is a great opportunity for the brand to connect with its audience in a hands on way.

The summer is also an opportunity for established museums to dial up their kids offers and major museums like The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum and the V&A all curate and present a programme of family events. This is a great opportunity for them to reach families, get new people to visit and reinforce their brand credentials; all of which help reinforce their licensing credentials.

Outside of conventional shows, the Time Out listings reminded me that live licensing increasingly dovetails into experiential offers. There were listings for themed events such as The Ultimate Harry Potter Marathon an all night screening of the Potter movies and an intriguing event, CSI: Peckham, allowing youngsters to immerse themselves in the world of forensics. These may not be licensed events as such but are examples of how theming and branding can be applied to events.

Bristol's M Shed is hosting a behind the scenes exhibition of Aardman's Early Man.
Bristol's M Shed is hosting a behind the scenes exhibition of Aardman's Early Man.

Of course this kind of licensing is not confined to London. On cue as I arrived in Bristol this week I was greeted by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who I presume was promoting the SS Great Britain, while near the station there was a big poster for a Bristol Old Vic production of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers.

Aardman has made great strides in live events and experiences. It is a distinct part of its licensing business and covers a whole range of events including model-making workshops. This summer, Bristol’s M Shed is hosting a behind-the-scenes exhibition of Aardman’s Early Man, giving an insight into film making: A great example of live events extending the lifecycle of IP and a hands-on way for consumers to ‘meet’ a brand.

It really is time to take Time Out and experience licensing. There is definitely lots of choice.

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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