Over the course of his 30-year career, Simon Philips has helped shape the strategic direction of some of the world’s most iconic franchises – including Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, CoComelon, Pokémon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Yu-Gi-Oh.
Now, in his new role as president of leading global entertainment development company Falcon’s Beyond, he is responsible for overseeing the future growth and expansion of the company’s entertainment-based business and the development of its IPs.
LicensingSource.net caught up with him to discuss Falcon’s’ flywheel and licensing strategies – and Star Trek’s Holodeck.
Can you tell us a little about your career history, and how your previous roles have led up to this one?
I’ve been fortunate that in many of the roles that I’ve had, I’ve been at the tip of the spear of change within the industries that I was in. Going back to the very early 1990s, I worked on putting together the first-ever video game for the Olympics [for the Barcelona Games in 1992]. What was transformative about it was that it was the first console game – there was a PC version, too – to have third-party advertising in it; a blimp flew across the screen and it flashed names of the Olympic sponsors. I would argue that that defined an era of the incorporation of marketing/promotions inside games. Of course, today, platforms like Roblox and Fortnite all have third-party branded partnerships, but we were doing that back in the early 1990s.
From there I worked on the Paralympics, establishing its first ever licensing programme, then I was fortunate to be able to bring Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh to the forefront of the world when I was md of 4Kids Entertainment. After that, in my role [as president] at Marvel Entertainment International, I had that rare opportunity to help guide that company and bring it to where it is today… then I was at Disney, and, of course Moonbug – which was about defining a whole new way of consumption of content for kids, and helping to create a different path for retailers and licensees that wasn’t just about what the ratings were on a linear or cable network; it was about understanding how you have a relationship directly with the audience and how that can then drive consumption of product. So, all of that led me to where I am today.
What attracted you to the role at Falcon’s Beyond?
When Scott [Demerau, executive chairman] and Cecil [D. Magpuri, ceo and co-founder of Falcon’s Beyond] reached out to me in November last year to gauge my interest, what really excited me – besides the fact I wanted to work with both of them – is that what Falcon’s is doing is redefining the entry point for storytelling. Our Katmandu theme parks immerse consumers in a mystical world, the Hidden Realms of Katmandu, via a physical experience, and coming out of lockdown, we all crave physical experiences more than we ever did before.
That entry point of a shared physical experience provides a truly unique opportunity for Falcon’s to extend its storytelling into all different mediums. It’s a transformative way to approach the business and I knew I wanted to be a part of the team. When I wake up in the morning with jetlag – I still have terrible jetlag, two weeks in – I get up and I say, imagine what we’re going to be able to achieve today. Because we are literally starting with a blank sheet of paper. We are defining a new way of working and bringing content experiences to life.
What will your role as president involve?
My role is to work closely with Cecil and Scott and bring all aspects of the business to life. How do we expand our location-based entertainment businesses? How do we then use LBE to bring content to life beyond the physical space? What are the right age groups to focus on? And what’s the right content from the parks that will drive audiences? How do we work in the licensing space? What are the right gaming spaces? It’s an all-encompassing role that’s about strategy and delivery. What I enjoy is when there is responsibility to not just come up with an idea, but to oversee its implementation from beginning to end and really make a difference.
Can you explain more about Falcon’s Beyond’s ‘flywheel’ approach?
These days you can enter content through the metaverse or Roblox or Fortnite; you can enter content through AVOD or SVOD, and if you’re in Europe, you can still enter it through linear television. Our entry point is physicality – a real living environment.
We have Katmandu parks in Majorca and the Dominican Republic, with future parks in the planning, and the fact that they are physical entry points differentiates Falcon’s from nearly every other company. When you visit our parks, you get a cohesive storytelling experience. They’re not parks with disparate rides within them, where you might enjoy every part of it separately – our parks have a continuous story, and visitors are part of an exciting world.
All that means we have the opportunity to expand that continuous story into all different avenues of content, from gaming to animation and beyond. And then, of course, we can translate that physical experience into physical product as well. At Falcon’s, we call it our flywheel. Everything works together to drive you from one point to another to another. You might enter the flywheel via animated content or any different point, but then you have the opportunity to experience it as a ‘whole’ as you go around.
You’ve talked about ‘explosive growth’ in the LBE industry. Where’s that growth coming from?
I think lockdown reinforced to us the fact that perhaps we’d gone too far from being together in a physical sense. People crave the opportunity to meet other people, and during the pandemic, we couldn’t do it. Not being able to go out and see your friends, only being able to wave to them in the park during your one hour of walking a day… looking back, it’s hard to believe.
It reinforced to us that human nature is to come together and have a collective experience. And yes, there is a place in the digital world for that, of course, but there’s a definite place in the physical world. So, our physical location brings people together, and then we expand the storytelling beyond it.
Another way that people can extend the experience that they’ve had at our parks is via the new virtual world we’ve created; guests can join our BeyondME metaverse and then upload a selfie to generate an avatar, and interact with rides, attractions and experiences across our destination properties, long after they’ve returned home. It’s a virtual experience, but again, it’s rooted in a physical, shared experience.
Are there any tech developments that you’re excited about?
I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and the Holodeck is one thing from the series I’d love to see made real in my lifetime. Being able to augment a physical experience with technology is exciting. Are we going to eventually be able to touch the AR? I wouldn’t be surprised if in the not too distant future, that experience exists; whether we’d have to wear glasses for it, who knows? That bringing together of the digital and physical worlds is the North Star that every company is aiming for.
Falcon’s is a hugely technologically advanced company when it comes to the rides and the experiences that we have created and are creating. Technology can, if used correctly, extend and expand storytelling in incredible ways, and it’s constantly advancing. You just need to keep up with it and have the ability to showcase it and bring it to the consumer.
What’s Falcon’s strategy when it comes to licensing?
Both licensees and retailers have been used to IPs coming first and foremost from movies, then from linear and cable TV, and most recently from AVOD and SVOD. What Falcon’s is doing is bringing in immersive storytelling in a physical environment, and then extending that experience into everything that we do – and this is where the next frontier is for consumer products.
I remember the first time at Moonbug going in to meet retailers and licensees to talk about CoComelon; we had to explain that this is how kids are consuming content today, this is what the audience numbers mean, this is what views mean versus what a subscriber means… we were taking them on a journey into something new, and with Falcon’s, we want to take licensees and retailers on the next big journey.
We’re really looking forward to Licensing Expo when we’ll have the opportunity to showcase what we’re doing and how we take our stories and bring them into all the different touchpoints.