THE BIG INTERVIEW: Michael Connolly, SVP, Consumer Products, Viacom International Media Networks
Monday, 17th October 2011 at 9:35 am
We talk international growth plans, retail and the return of the Turtles.
“I’ve been a licensing professional for more years than I care to remember now,” admits Michael Connolly at the top of our conversation. It’s almost as if he could already see us writing his name, followed by the words ‘industry veteran’, and wanted to get in first.
Connolly does have an enviable CV, having enjoyed stints at Disney and Wal-Mart among others, working across some of the largest entertainment brands in the world. And his current role, as SVP consumer products at Viacom International Media Networks, sees this continuing. Connolly is responsible for heading up Nickelodeon Consumer Products’ international division and for driving licensed media, merchandising and recreation programmes and growth across its portfolio in all markets outside of the US.
He is also responsible for the management of several CP offices around the world in New York, Miami, Toronto, London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore, Madrid, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
“We’ve had a busy year sowing seeds for the future and putting the pieces in place for an aggressive growth drive in 2012, which is always exciting,” Connolly explains to Licensing.biz. “As well as supplementing our teams around the world with new hires and creating a specific retail division, we have given our existing staff expanded roles and put in place new systems, as well as optimising our business models in various territories such as Canada.”
One of Connolly’s main focuses has been on making product innovation a priority and, locally, this approach is already bearing fruit. Evergreen property Dora the Explorer, for example, has benefitted by TF1 Video introducing DVDs in special embossed packaging in France, while Wal-Mart was targeted for a back to school promotion with Victorious.
“One of our priorities is the importance of continued product innovation, be that improving or refreshing an existing line or launching and working with entirely new lines,” Connolly says. “If a product is right for the market and holds significant appeal for fans, it will sell.
“We see our evergreen properties Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer continuing to do well across the board, but clearly each territory differs in terms of a show’s appeal and different properties are at different stages in the life cycles. For example, Dora and Spongebob only recently launched in the Spanish market compared to say, Germany or France where we’ve already sold more than 12 million Dora books – more than one book for every French child.
“We also find that the retail environment differs from market to market. Italy and Germany have quite fragmented retail environments for example, and so in order to tackle that aspect we rely on our strong local relationships with both licensees and retailers, as well as rolling out our broadcast and marketing campaigns in tandem.”
Connolly is very clear about VIMN’s focus heading into 2012 – “growth, growth, growth” – and is confident he has the team in place to achieve it. A raft of new hires, all with what Connolly describes as “indispensable in-depth local knowledge” include Mark Kingston in the UK; Jose Maria Cendra in Iberia; Tanya Visano in Canada; Cristian Cabero in Latin America; and Claire O’Connor in Australia. All will be looking to identify and exploit the best opportunities, he says.
“We will spend time investing in strong strategic and proactive licensing strategies over the next few months, but it will be with retail that the major focus will lie and the formation of partnerships with both domestic and international retailers will be central to our growth strategy so that we have a presence in as many retail aisles as possible.
“We want to be the retail partner of choice, offering the best and most innovative products hand in hand with top tier retail marketing programmes.”
VIMN will continue to build on its core animation and live action titles – with consumer products for Victorious, for example, being rolled out internationally from this autumn. The eagerly awaited reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will also debut in the US on Nickelodeon in autumn 2012, before an international launch from spring 2013, while new girls’ property Winx Club is also set to take centre stage.
“By the end of the year I’d like to see us having a real impact as a team and I think we’re already making impressive in-roads towards achieving that and fulfilling our longer term goals,” Connolly continues. “We really are reshaping the business and making sure there is due focus on relationships and partnerships in the areas that can yield the most revenue for us.
“Our process management has gone from A-Z over the last year, which now has us looking at the lifecycle of a property, delivering assets in a more timely fashion and sharing game changing programmes from country to country in a more seamless fashion.”
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