With the return of classic properties, the expansion of others, the release of new style guides for its evergreens SpongeBob and Dora, its flagship MTV brand and new properties, Viacom International Media Networks is well poised for a strong growth surge across major territories in 2013 and beyond.
Following more than two years of strategic planning, reorganization and hiring of new executives, Viacom International Media Networks has created a more diverse and on-trend organization that is about to enter a new phase of international growth in brand extensions that will be driven by new properties, a revamp of its longstanding franchises and various new marketing and promotional initiatives.
With the premiere of the new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" TV series on Nickelodeon this month, VIMN officially begins a new phase as a brand licensor with a broader portfolio that includes boy's, girl's, preschool and adult properties across a greater breadth of categories.
Nickelodeon acquired TMNT in October 2009 from The Mirage Group and 4Kids Entertainment for $60 million, and it has been gearing up on all fronts for the relaunch of the iconic 80s property ever since. The buy strategically established the brand licensor as a major player in the important boy's toy sector.
"'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' shares a comedic sensibility with the Nickelodeon DNA, with added layers of action and fantasy that have kept this property an evergreen favorite with multiple generations of audiences," said Cyma Zarghami, president, Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group, at the time of the acquisition.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, produced four independent theatrical films and more than 350 half-hours of TV programming, held a perennial position in the top 10 worldwide sales of toy action figures and boasted more than 600 worldwide licensees.
From a leadership perspective, the appointment in 2010 of Michael Connolly, a former Disney Consumer Products executive, to head up international consumer products and brand licensing, began a complete metamorphosis of the international organization and its approach to the marketplace.
"The most important factor for licensors in today's competitive marketplace is international expansion," says Connolly. "If there is one property that could have an immediate and long-term impact on a company, TMNT is that property, and it will have a huge impact on VIMN."
VIMN was clearly the beneficiary of Connolly's extensive experience. He spent six years with Disney Consumer Products in Europe and the U.S., along with 11 years held in various positions at Walmart. Connolly brought a much-needed change to VIMN's international business with his strong leadership skills and knowledge of brands, licensing, marketing and retail, creating a more entrepreneurial-driven organization and esprit de corps that is influencing its market position and reputation in all parts of the world.
Connolly is doing this with a very simple script that he casually describes as "The Five P's"–people, properties, process, products and partnerships.
"The toughest thing about licensing is that you are always convincing senior management that it takes six months to come in and assess the business, and 12 months before you can see a change in the market," says Connolly, who has gone through much of the internal processes, is bullish about the growth potential and just as anxious as anyone to start seeing results. "VIMN will begin seeing the fruits of our labor in the first quarter of 2013."
Connolly assembled a new team of territory and regional leaders, which has been in place for almost a year. (See sidebar "Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products Regional Heads"). This structure gives VIMN a strong representation in key markets as well as a much stronger understanding of local cultures and consumer preferences.
With a management team in place, Connolly also had the fortuitous position to be part of the relaunch of one of the most popular properties of the 80s, and he believes that the return of TMNT will drive growth and quickly become one of the top performing boy's licensed franchises once again.
The new CG-animated TMNT series premieres on Sept. 29 in the U.S. with a one-hour television special, and launches in October in the U.K. and other English-speaking territories. In November, the series will begin airing in non-English speaking territories.
The four turtle brothers will once again bring their comedy and action to millions of fans worldwide, with extensive merchandise to follow over the next several months.
The series stars Jason Biggs (American Pie) as Leonardo, Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) as Raphael, Rob Paulsen ("Planet Sheen") as Donatello and Greg Cipes ("Teen Titans") as Michelangelo. Additional stars include Mae Whitman ("Parenthood") as April O'Neil, Hoon Lee ("Royal Pains") as Master Splinter and Kevin Michael Richardson (The Penguins of Madagascar) as Shredder.
According to Connolly, almost 50 licensees are already on board throughout the U.K. and Europe with major commitments.
"The reaction from licensee and retail partners to the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is unlike anything that we have ever seen before," says Mark Kingston, vice president, consumer products, the U.K., Australia, Russia, Israel and CEE, retail sales and trade marketing, Europe, VIMN. "I think the enthusiasm around the property speaks to the extraordinary appeal of the brand. Our partners recognize the strength of the Turtles, the opportunities that lay in the series' unique mix of comedy and action, along with its striking visual style."
The first products to come to shelves–action figures from Flair, the master toy distributor on behalf of Playmates Toys–will be available in the U.K. in December. Other licensees include:
- Worlds Apart will develop bedroom and outdoor play;
- Sambro will launch wheeled goods, games and arts and crafts;
- TV Mania will be the outerwear partner;
- Cooneen Misirli will produce nightwear;
- William Lamb will produce footwear;
- VMC and Zeon will create various accessories and gift products;
- Character World and Vogue International will create homewares;
- Egmont will handle annuals;
- Parragon has master publishing rights in the U.K.;
- Copywrite Designs will develop stationery products for back-to-school;
- Hallmark and Amscan will handle greeting cards and other party supplies; and
- BIP, Kinnerton and Lightbody will handle the food category.
In addition, Connolly says that various apps and video games are being developed as well as designer fashion collaborations with recognized artists. Connolly also believes that the new TMNT underground sewer play sets in development will bring new life to an otherwise soft category.
"The best thing about this property is that you can slice it and dice it in so many ways," he says.
Nickelodeon also launched a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles website in July in 13 regions and 10 languages.
According to Mark Levine, senior vice president, international marketing, VIMN, the launch of Turtles is being done more cohesively and globally than the company has ever done before.
According to Levine, the three phases to global marketing are: "Embrace super fans (or the comic book geek crowd), traditional consumers and reinforce the property in media."
Adds Levine, "While the new TMNT respects the core anthology, it's much funnier, it has a great sense of humor and the stories are relatable, but it still comes back to four brothers having fun, kicking butt and saving the world."
While the Turtles franchise will dominate headlines worldwide and provide the VIMN portfolio with a much-needed boy's property, it also broadens VIMN's strategic approach and offerings.
Another new kid's property that Connolly says has been a pleasant surprise is Bubble Guppies, for which merchandise is being developed. On the other side of the spectrum in the adult sector–Connolly believes there is fresh and new opportunity for MTV.
"We have completely revamped how this company has licensed the popular MTV brand, so we have actually established a game plan to market that, partnering with top fashion retailers such as H&M."
Another factor that influenced change and expansion was the company's partnership with Italian animation studio Rainbow, and its series "Winx Club," which provided VIMN with a much-needed girl's property.
Connolly believes that VIMN now has a much stronger position among retailers and licensees.
"The retailers this company called on two years ago was more of a comfort factor," says Connolly. "We felt comfortable with several retailers, but the ones we were extremely uncomfortable with were the big ones. We didn't find ourselves at the right table for Argos, Tesco and others largely because we were basically a two-trick pony. The company has worked really hard to diversify the portfolio to offer something for everyone.
"When our competition is out in the market, they are selling four properties per segment and that's tough to compete with," he says. "In order to compete effectively, you need at least one property per segment and VIMN has done a great job to expand the offerings."
Connolly says that with this new content and approach to brand licensing, VIMN will see aggressive growth in 2013 with the launches of Winx Club and TMNT, but also solid growth with the revamped SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer offerings.
One of the most important developments for the two evergreen properties is a new style guide for each, as well as a major launch into the infant's category.
"We are excited about SpongeBob baby and Dora baby, and retailers are as well," says Connolly. "We haven't reinvented these properties in years, and we have to be careful and take our time to get it right and make it last.
"Winx has been a huge surprise, considering the program is not on free-to-air in the U.K.," continues Connolly. "We put toys in Argos and in just three days we experienced sales like this for a doll range unlike we've seen. I have never seen a girl's property take off like this with near zero content out there for the customer to see."
In addition to people, properties, products and partnerships, Connolly has spent a lot of time and effort on one of the other P's: process. He believes that VIMN is a better licensor to work with now because "we are small and agile. We believe that our licensees know what they are doing. We can't go out there and design toys," he says.
Connolly believes that VIMN is going to become a "destination licensor," in part because of a new, fully immersive online system. He says that all aspects from licensee forecasting to licensee product approvals to contracting and marketing assets and style guides are built into one system.
Connolly admits that in the retail aisles, VIMN has not been overly relevant in several years.
"While SpongeBob is a great franchise, it has never been a heavy hitting toy aisle property," he says. "With TMNT, that's all about to change as buyers are excited because they believe that TMNT will re-invigorate the toy aisle. Winx puts us more prominently in the girl's aisle and offers wider opportunities, while SpongeBob and Dora will offer additional opportunities in the infant's sector."
Connolly's excitement and enthusiasm about the future is also driven by two major theatrical releases for SpongeBob and TMNT in 2014, and potentially other new content as well that will enhance its brand licensing efforts.
For Connolly and VIMN, the journey of change over the past several years is about to produce solid results as the licensor leverages a broader portfolio with TMNT and other properties, extensive merchandise offerings, marketing and promotions and new media.
Perhaps Connolly will add a sixth "P" for "power," to his list–"Turtle Power" that is.
Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products Regional Heads
Mark Kingston–vice president, U.K. and Australia and European retail development, NVCP; based in London.
Andreas Niedergesäss–vice president, NVCP North, covering Germany/Austria/Switzerland, Benelux, Nordics; operating from Berlin and Dusseldorf.
Laurent Taieb–vice president, NVCP South, covering France, Italy and Greece; based in Paris.
Jose Maria Cendra–vice president, NVCP Iberia; based in Madrid.
Dan Frugtniet–director, NVCP Russia, Israel and CEE; based in London.
Americas (excluding the U.S.)
Cristian Cabero–vice president, NVCP Latin America; based in Mexico City.
Tanya Visano–senior director, NVCP Canada; based in Toronto.
Jack Yew–vice president, NVCP Asia, covering all of Asia; based in Singapore.
Claire O'Connor–director, NVCP Australia and New Zealand; based in Sydney.
Same Turtles, Different Decade
With the enthusiasm and excitement of kids in the 80s watching the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" show, Rich Magallanes is looking forward to the debut of the new TV series.
As senior vice president of Nickelodeon Animation, current series, the 15-year Nick veteran is overseeing production for TMNT.
"The TMNT series has always had buzz–it never really died," says Magallanes. "We're not resurrecting this property, we're just hitting the reset button. We are trying hard to keep the integrity of the property and at the same time take it to the next level."
Magallanes says the combination of CG, along with an anime look and vibe, will help make the show different, however the story line will still be reminiscent of the original series.
"The Turtles are teenage brothers who are still kids and who are learning and growing into their shells," he says. "It's about being a kid and about not being perfect, but being okay with yourself."
Playmates' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Toy Encore
Playmates, the original master licensee for TMNT in the 1980s, is back with an extensive line of toy products.
"There are a lot of similarities today to when it was originally launched," says Pat Linden, vice president of marketing, Playmates Toys. "Kids loved the heroism, brotherhood, humor and action, and parents loved it for the value of the toys. Consumers are looking for something new in the male action aisle and TMNT really fits that bill."
The 2012 toy line will offer more detail and articulation. For the original line, Playmates only sculpted one Turtle body, but for the new launch the company sculpted each individually.
The line consists of three tiers of products: basic action figures, deluxe power sound FX action figures and the classic collection of original TMNT replicas to appeal to collectors.
The collection also includes vehicles, play sets, role play and combat gear, which includes ninja weapons, bandanas and throwing stars.
The Secret Sewer Lair playset, which is exclusive to Toys 'R' Us, will be among the retailer's hot holiday products.
"A lot of kids who were fans back in the 1980s are parents today and will share the turtles with their children," says Linden.