Quality is the key to licensing success in France.
"Character licensing," asserts MC Girard, manager, international licensing at Sesame Workshop, "is less prevalent in France than it is, for example, in the U.S. or UK. It remains a market where good design, fashion, and brand names are paramount for parents when making purchasing choices for their kids." Marianne Michel, head of development at French animation mini-major Timoon, also emphasizes this tendency for the market to place a greater importance on values associated with the product rather than on the property. "Partnerships with public associations or schools are much more important than direct marketing or advertising," she insists. "For a French parent, it is very important to buy a value, not a product, so the more your product is 'certified' by important people or associations, the more they will buy it."
This is underlined in the execs' nominations for current leaders in licensed properties. Both cite Dora the Explorer as the current leader, although Girard also points to the success of French classics such as Asterix and Titeuf, while Michel taps Winnie the Pooh as a leading property.
Although Girard accepts that "character licensing is growing," she is adamant that "even in preschool, fashion is still the driving force. Look at any children's apparel floor at any department store, and you will find high-end designer labels such as Cacharel and Kenzo." As Girard points out, a significant consequence of this emphasis on the quality of the product is that in France "maybe more than anywhere else in the world, successful TV ratings do not guarantee a successful licensing program at retail. A lot," she stresses, "rides on the quality of your products."
Timoon's Michel also sees television ratings as less of a guarantee of success than in other countries because of the impact of new technologies such as VOD, mobile, and especially the Internet. "Right now," she acknowledges, "retailers plan their strategies based on the show's scheduling and performance, but a few years from now, they will pay much more attention to IPTV and mobile streaming." Citing the example of Timoon's Website, www.uptoten.com, which, claims Michel, "receives 2 million hits per month, bigger than a typical French cabsat audience," she goes on to make the reasonable assumption that "once retailers begin to understand it is possible to get bigger audiences on the Web than on television, they will start to pay it much more attention."
Whether this is how the market develops remains to be seen, but Sesame Workshop's Girard believes "France has one of the most structured and professional retail markets in the world. Hypermarkets," she explains, "are giant powerhouses with enormous bargaining power, especially over pricing. But one should not," cautions Girard, "overlook the mail-order sector, with giants such as La Redoute and 3 Suisse. Although, they can be very demanding partners, with a catalog in almost every French home, they also offer incomparable visibility." Visibility and cachet also are offered by the department stores, says Girard, but she accepts that "they do not always translate to huge volumes."