“Retailers love the show,” says Pindy O’Brien, VP brand licensing and retail, FremantleMedia Kids & Family Entertainment, about Strange Hill High. “They enjoy its laugh out loud humour, see how it immediately connects with the audience and appreciate its high production values and unique qualities.”
Strange Hill High is the UK kids’ comedy breakout hit of 2013, shown on CBBC. It has notched up more than four million viewers to date, with the audience attracted to the show’s distinctive look, quirky characters and funny storylines.
With such impressive viewing figures for a new show, 2014 will see the licensing programme step up a gear to match. There are 13 UK categories signed to date – master toy (Vivid), nightwear, underwear and socks (Cooneen & Misirli), lunchware (Spearmark), apparel (Fashion UK), bedding (Character World), stationery and bags (Blueprint Collections), seasonal confectionery (Kinnerton), calendar, cards and gift wrap (Danilo), watches, clocks, torches and accessories (Zeon), puzzles and games (Jumbo), annuals (Pedigree) and publishing (Carlton Books).
In addition to this, FM’s in-house home entertainment division holds the UK DVD and iTunes rights.
“The first products will appear late spring, around a year after the series premiered on CBBC,” explains O’Brien. “We wanted to ensure we left enough time for the show to bed in and let its quirky, subversive humour gain social currency amongst the core age group, thereby creating anticipation amongst the show’s fans for the products ahead of their launch.
“A key line in the initial product roll our is Vivid’s blind bag figurines. Leaving a year between the premiere and the product launch means, with numerous series repeats already having aired on CBBC and considerable online support through the popular CBBC website, the audience will be fully familiar with the large range of characters and will buy into their collectability.”
O’Brien believes that FM is in a really good position this early on in the brand’s lifecycle, however she does have her eyes fixed on expansion into a number of new categories. These include wheeled toys, personal care, food and drink, pocket money toys and some electronic and digital categories.
“Our product development team and designers have wholly immersed themselves in the show and have a close working relationship with our licensees,” O’Brien continues. “We have worked really hard with the CBBC production team and Josh Weinstein [The Simpsons’ writer who is involved with the show] to ensure that the unique look and humour of the show are reflected in the product range.”
O’Brien admits that FM has been lucky to have such a high profile programming platform in CBBC.
“The challenging retail landscape means it is still hard for new brands to gain cut through whilst the increased fragmentation of television and other platforms means the competition to gain children’s attention and loyalty is increasingly difficult,” she says.
“Josh Weinstein’s involvement, plus the talented team associated with the show, from excellent comedy writers to voice talent including Caroline Aherne and Richard Ayoade, coupled with the overall humour and stand out look of the series have really struck a chord with licensees – many of whom wanted to sign the show before an episode had even aired. Licensees immediately understood that this is a show that works on several levels.”
It’s not just the voice talent and writing that are helping Strange Hill High stand out in such a crowded marketplace. Innovative production techniques means that the show looks and feel totally different, states O’Brien, while the school setting gives it an immediate connection with the school-age audience.
So after such a good start, what would O’Brien most like to have achieved with Strange Hill High by the end of 2014?
“The second series is even faster paced and funnier, with more bizarre adventures and a host of new characters and strange new locations. We hope this will drive strong ratings and further engagement with the fans.
“Our aim is to translate the audience’s enthusiasm for the show into positive product sales, which in turn will help secure strong retail listings across all categories for the second phase of the product roll out,” O’Brien concludes.