Classic Media: The comeback kids

Exec director Andrew Kerr tells us how the firm turned itself around.
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“As a company we’ve ended up as far removed now as it possibly could be from where it was to begin the year,” muses Andrew Kerr when he’s asked about life at Classic Media now compared to 12 months ago.

It’s certainly been a very positive turnaround for the firm. At the end of 2008, the then Entertainment Rights was struggling with debt and it seemed that not a week went by without some kind of profit warning, staff shedding or City statement.

Then, on April 1st it was announced that Boomerang Media had acquired ER – and its subsidiaries Classic Media and Big Idea. The comeback had begun.

“It’s been a very positive turnaround and I think we’re excited about the prospects for our core content on the pre-school side and then the prospects for growing the scale of the business by acquisition or partnership thereafter,” Kerr says.

Kerr admits that the firm is probably half the size now that it was in London, with the headcount now in the region of 40 to 45 people. “Organisationally, in terms of our set up, we’re probably roughly the same. We have a marketing capability, a domestic UK licensing capability and then an international licensing oversight capability, where we oversee many agents which represent our content across the world. We have broadcast and international sales, plus a technical capability. So, those capabilities have remained, but obviously the teams are smaller. I think it’s been a very good opportunity for people in the business to grow; they’ve been through a tough baptism I would say.”

Kerr now believes Classic Media is in the position to grow on a variety of fronts, in terms of staff and brands. “One of the benefits of being a private company now is that we don’t need to impress the City in the ways we did before. We have the ability to manage brands on a long-term basis, while still obviously having an active eye towards the current, the every day bottom line.

“We have a very strong core now and we’ll add to that core on an individual or more substantial basis, whether it’s in big meaty chunks or individually.”

In terms of brands, that core focuses on pre-school, with three properties being pushed to the fore – Postman Pat SDS, Guess with Jess and Tinga Tinga Tales.

“Postman Pat is our staple; it’s a brand that is really beginning to hit its stride on the strength of having new content on Cbeebies in Q4 last year and growth from the Character Options toy range. I would be expecting it to be a top five brand by this time next year.”

Considering the competition that Pat has in the pre-school market, many might think this is a bold claim from Kerr. But Pat’s heritage, combined with its successful transition for the Noughties market, are big plus points in its favour.

“Pat is an anchor brand for us,” Kerr continues. “It’s ebbed and flowed over its life as you might expect in terms of its shelf presence, but I think we’re definitely on the rebound from where we were a couple of years ago with Pat; there’s fresh creative talent both on-screen and on-shelf breathing new life into it. I think we’ve got a remarkably strong licensee base and the opportunity to continue to grow the brand.”

Sitting alongside Pat, Guess with Jess makes its debut on Cbeebies in November and Kerr believes it has the potential to be a truly international property. “You don’t need to have any experience with Postman Pat to appreciate the brand. Our ambitions with Jess are global; we believe that Jess is a standalone property that can succeed in North America and the Far East, as well as the UK and Europe.”

Meanwhile, Tinga Tinga Tales is a major investment for Classic. The show weaves an African art style called Tinga Art with local stories and local folklore, telling the tales of how animals came to be. It is currently being created by Tiger Aspect in Nairobi with the help of local people.

“The nice thing about our portfolio is that we’ve got these three pre-school brands, all with a very different reason for being,” Kerr points out. “They all have a real point of view and a really strong point of difference from one another. You can see these three brands living on shelves at the same time, because they will speak to children and parents in very different ways.”

Aside from pre-school, Kerr also highlights Casper’s Scare School – of which we’re likely to see significant activity going forward (indeed, the character has already been named Halloween ambassador for Westfield shopping centres) – and Where’s Wally?, with Classic looking to expand on the robust book programme.

In more general terms, Kerr believes that the licensing industry is weathering the economic downturn as well as most and is looking forward to 2010. And as well he might – after all the tough times over the past 12 to 18 months, Classic Media’s story looks to be having a happy ending after all.

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