Ask Andrew Carley, head of Contender Merchandising, to name the Contender Entertainment Group’s most successful brand and he laughs. “Do I need to answer this?” he asks. “It begins with P and ends with A.” He is quick to add though, that Contender is a lot more than Peppa Pig, taking in film, DVD and broadcast distribution, as well as licensing and merchandising.
The company has developed significantly in the 12 years since founder Richard Bridgwood had the idea of starting a DVD distribution business. Then came the idea to create its own IP. Hence, Tractor Tom was born.
“Tractor Tom was our first foray into children’s pre-school animation, so it will always be dear to our hearts,” says Carley.
The property still has a presence in the UK market through CITV and, as a licensing opportunity, is still sought-after in overseas markets such as Croatia, Poland and France.
However, it’s Peppa which has made Contender a major player in the pre-school market. But as Carley points out, it didn’t happen over night. “It took four years of hard work to get Peppa into the position it’s in now,” he explains.
And as far as Contender’s licensing and merchandising division is concerned, it has been a matter of nurturing the character, rather than forcing the pace. This means, for example, the non-toy business has only recently taken up a significant percentage of the licences awarded.
The careful approach has paid off, according to Contender, with more than 44 Peppa licensees, encompassing toys, DVDs and more diverse areas such as educational games, activity and novelty books, party ware and, in the not-too-distant future, computer games.
As Carley puts it: “Because Peppa has been built up very carefully over a number of years it stands a much better chance of becoming an evergreen – a classic property. It’s now firmly in the minds of many children and probably has been for far longer than perhaps parents and even the licensing industry are aware of.”
As the company’s experience in the field has grown, its licensing and merchandising work has also diversified into third party representation, owning or representing Humf, Mist – the Tales of a Sheepdog Puppy, Janet and John, It’s a Big Big World, Lost and Found, to name a few.
And it is still keen to develop new characters, but, “only if they’re right,” Carley insists. “There’s a vast number of properties out there that are, putting it bluntly, mediocre, and you have to question whether they should be promoted in the way they are.”
By contrast, he suggests, the care taken over properties like In the Night Garden, shows in the licensing programme. “It’s good quality, very clever, very well put together and well researched. Maybe the industry should take a hint from that.”
Looking forward, Contender has a new broadcast property in development with Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, and with it coming from the same studio as Peppa, Carley is confident it will generate a lot of interest.
This adds to the team’s recent representation agreement with US-based textile designed firm, Kim Parker.
Meanwhile, the company’s purchase by Entertainment One, an international and independent entertainment business, could give Peppa and its other properties a powerful ally.
“It’s going to throw up all sorts of additional opportunities,” Carley says. “The next five years are going to be very exciting.”