Source chats to Those Licensing People about market challenges, retro power and overseas expansion.
When discussing the challenge Brexit is posing to the licensing industry, Russell Dever, md of Those Licensing People (TLP), philosophises: “Where there is adversity, there is opportunity. We just have to find it.”
And the more you talk to Russell, the more you realise this ideology carries through what he does and stands for, from the mundane, to life changing events.
In fact TLP was born out of possibly one of the worst adversities anyone could face. Russell explains: “I have to begin the story of Those Licensing People out of a sad place which was a family tragedy. Seven years ago, our son and Leah’s brother was brutally murdered in London. It was a complete shock to the family. There were two options emotionally. One was sink, the other swim. I decided to swim.”
It was then Russell decided to set up TLP. At the time, he’d been out of the industry for a few years, running a pub and making a living from the residual royalties of his 90s property, Little Monsters.
Russell’s background was in publishing, with stints at various companies, it was during his time at Victoria House he had his first taste of licensing, with the launch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Russell then set up a book packaging company, but eventually found his true love for animation production. He created his first series for Disney – Microscopic Milton – and later, Little Monsters for the BBC.
He continues: “I had always had the idea that my son Joel and I might eventually work on a project together. We had even talked about a studio in Hoxton at one point, but that was never going to happen in the end. However, I did have a property on the back burner, Boy and the Dinosaur, which bought me back into licensing.”
And he arrived back into licensing with a bit of a difference. The agency’s first client was a street brand, which they launched in skate parks. TLP set up a tour and sold its first licensed range direct to consumers, which Russell describes as “the beginning of a nascent idea.”
Leah Dever, licensing manager, explains: “The market place is changing, consumer buying habits are changing and we wanted our licensing strategy to reflect and adapt to what is happening in the retail sector.
“Consumers are increasingly taking control of where they buy their products and we want to work with our clients to develop ways we can introduce their brand and products direct to the customer.” She highlights the perfect example – the company’s partnership with Roobarb and Custard, which has seen it create its own online pet food and accessories company to sell licensed pet products.
And that consumer-centric model continues to be central. TLP has moved away from the traditional tripod of licensors, licensees and retailers. Russell outlines: “We have challenged that concept as retail has shrunk and cannot support the amount of IP seeking deal structures. Our challenge has been to take licensing direct to the consumers utilising digital marketing campaigns, drop shipping methods and digital delivery of product.”
Alongside Roobarb and Custard, TLP represents Sooty, The Magic Roundabout, Willo the Wisp, Olobob Top, Little Monsters and Microscopic Milton – all heritage children’s brands.
Russell explains that the company’s KidsCast subsidiary helped it move into the sector. The SVOD launched with the existing back catalogue of works, enabling it to create the leverage needed to obtain rights for classic brands.
“That relationship enabled us to be credibly seen by the industry as the natural home for some wonderful classics. It was a positive decision on my part to handle these as having worked through three recessions markets always go to ‘reset mode,’ around what they know and not what is new.”
Nostalgia is currently on-trend, providing a healthy landscape for the company to build its portfolio. Leah explains: “Social media in particular has been fundamental in perpetuating this trend, providing a platform for people to share in this nostalgia. Even amongst the torrent of new and emerging character brands, our brands continue to thrive because of their familiarity and the great memories they reignite.”
Following a busy year launching the KidsCast app, welcoming new clients and an expanded team, TLP has more in store. Leah headed to Licensing Expo in June with news of partnerships and a new classic brand on board. And the plans keep coming.
Leah says: “We are looking to take some of our brands overseas, particular in the USA. The rise in SVOD platforms has meant that there is plenty of opportunity to expand the reach of our brands, their shows once only enjoyed in the UK, to countries all over the globe. Sooty in particular has proven very popular in America.”
Russell concludes: “The main thrust of our business outside of traditional licensing will be how we work directly with the consumer. That is predictable revenue and predictable revenue means we can produce exclusive material for our own platform. That is an exciting prospect as there a lot of ideas in the pipeline and it means Boy and the Dinosaur will eventually be finished.
“I think Joel would be proud of that and the work his sister has done to make it happen.”
Casting to kids
KidsCast is a subsidiary company of Those Licensing People, and offers a safe, curated app for children aged from two to eight years old with no ads.
Last year saw the launch of the KidsCast app. Russell enthuses: “It’s now looking great and is home to more classic brands than any other SVOD platform, but its so much more than an SVOD. It’s a full entertainment app with music, TV, publishing, magazine and interactive games. It’s also growing at a pace and gives us unusual insights into the core markets.”