FEATURE: Odds on favourites

The Warner Bros UK office in Holborn must be a pretty fantastic place to work this summer, especially after the success of The Dark Knight. And when Samantha Loveday met up with general manager of WBCP UK, David Binnie, he was keen to point out there's much more to come...
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Back in February, David Binnie confidently stated that 2008 was going to be Warner Bros Consumer Products UK’s biggest year yet. And he’s very probably on his way to being proved right.

After a disappointing start with Speed Racer, WBCP has hit its stride with Batman: The Dark Knight, which has been hailed by many as one of the best films of all time, and is continuing to pull in audiences throughout the summer holidays – with these bums on seats translating to some strong sales of consumer products at retail level.

And it doesn’t end there: there’s a new programme in place to inject further impetus into evergreen brand Scooby-Doo and, away from toys, WBCP is enjoying great success with its adult retro line (which was showcased to great effect at June’s Licensing International).

So, when Licensing.biz meets Binnie again in August, he’s quietly confident about the remainder of the year.

“I think with Batman, the story behind it and the vision we have for it, the investment we’re got against Scooby-Doo in the toy business and the growth that we’ve seen in Harry Potter, then all of those things do add up to being very confident,” he tells us.

So, where to start? Well, it’s obviously with Batman. “2008 was always going to be a big year for us with the release of The Dark Knight,” Binnie begins. “The feedback we’re getting from Mattel is that it’s [the toy line] doing really well and above expectation.

“Batman has always been the leading superhero; through the 60s, 70s, 80s and the 90s. Only in this decade has it been challenged for that top spot. And superseded, Spider-man has taken on its mantle over the last few years. We believe that with the success of The Dark Knight, plus the animation which we have running [on BBC2 on Sunday mornings, GMTV on Saturday mornings and on Cartoon Network every day], we believe that we can and will again make Batman the number one superhero.”

On top of The Dark Knight’s current box office success, new Batman animation The Brave and the Bold is due to hit screens in 2009.

“The new 26 half hour episodes will be for a younger audience,” Binnie explains. “So it’s less broody, it’s more humorous, takes place in different environments, not just Gotham City, and it has a brighter palette as well.”

Moving on, and the Harry Potter franchise is now building towards its cinema grand finale. The sixth film – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - is now due to arrive in July 2009, while the first part of the final book will follow in Q4 2010 with the last movie in the summer of 2011. “That means for a 12-month period from Christmas 2010, we will have two movies and two theatrical DVD releases, plus all the back catalogue on DVD, for what is already the biggest movie franchise ever,” says Binnie.

“We believe there will be a huge opportunity at retail because we will look to take permanent space for the year with key retailers.”

Warner’s aim for Harry Potter is obviously to get the franchise into a position where it is considered to be a classic, long-term brand. This shouldn’t be a huge leap, considering that after 2011 there will be eight films, each at three hours, making 24 hours of content which will be available on DVD, broadcast or new digital media channels. “There’s an awful lot of content there for people to access and still introduce new generations to the property,” Binnie adds.

Scooby-Doo, meanwhile, is already considered an evergreen, but WBCP is still anticipating further growth for the brand this year and into 2009.

“We’re working on an exercise to define the Scooby brand,” Binnie hints, “which will see us treat Scooby more as a brand rather than just a character licence. We’re going to focus on what is the essence of Scooby; we’re going back to ‘Scooby-Doo makes scary fun’.”

The first look that many in the business will get at a number of WBCP initiatives going forward will be at Brand Licensing Europe in October. After a brief absence, the firm is back and Binnie is looking forward to it.

“We heard from a lot of our licensees that there was a really high attendance of retailers,” he says. “I actually think that Advanstar has done a really good job in calling up retailers, inviting them and encouraging them to come down to the show. I think for that reason, the show has far more value than it had several years ago. For us it’s a great opportunity; we’ve got a lot to talk about so it just makes sense for us to be there.”

Looking from the outside in, it certainly seems that WBCP is in good shape to achieve many, if not all, of its goals. And if I’d had a bet on Binnie’s prediction at the beginning of the year, I could’ve been in for a considerable windfall.

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