INTERVIEW: Gill Pritchard, Director of Children's, BBC Worldwide

BBC Worldwide's remit is to take Cbeebies programming and extend it from TV into the home. Last year it struck gold with In The Night Garden. Samantha Loveday talks to director of children's Gill Pritchard about the Ragdoll show and what we can expect next from the firm's portfolio...
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Obviously, In The Night Garden has been a phenomenal success from a licensing and merchandising point of view. Could you tell us a bit about the licensing programme?

In the Night Garden is now the biggest licence in the licensed Toy and Game market* (based on share of value sales, NPD data March 2008), so we’re in the strongest place we’ve been to date. We have 40 licensees with – as you can imagine – a lot of strong interest from potential new partners.
Hasbro has the master toy license and has an exquisite range including the award-winning plush, (Blanket Time Iggle Piggle won Toy of the Year at this year’s Toy Fair) mini soft toys, puzzles and games such as the Shape ‘n Spin Gazebo.
Other stand-out products include MV’s Og-pog Triscooter – which is Makka Pakka’s vehicle converted in to a fantastic three-wheeled scooter. Worlds Apart has also successfully launched a range of pop-up products including the Pop-Up Ninky Nonk.
We also have tremendously successful DVDs – we’ve sold half a million units to date - Penguin’s books have continually topped the children’s publishing charts, the magazine has far exceeded expectations with sales – the first issue sold over 120k copies - and the audiobook and CD have also smashed sales records.

Before it launched, were there any inclinations at all that it would be so successful?

A success like In the Night Garden is never a certainty, let alone on this scale. However working with our joint venture partners Ragdoll and knowing the unique gift they have in developing stand-out shows for pre-schoolers, we were confident that the show would succeed and therefore were optimistic we had a big hit on our hands.

In your opinion, why do you think it has been such a hit? Was Ragdoll’s heritage key? Are you looking for it to follow a similar trajectory merchandise wise to Teletubbies?

Ragdoll’s success with the Teletubbies broke new ground on launch over ten years ago and the market has changed dramatically since then. What remains the same is the ability of Ragdoll’s creatives, Anne Wood and Andy Davenport, to understand the imaginations of young children and take them on a magical journey with every episode they make.
Our job with In the Night Garden is to continually refresh our merchandising efforts – we’re in a changing media environment and so need to be at the forefront of adapting to new technologies and the play habits of young children. We also recognise the need for growing with our audience – this is something that we’ve done with great success for the Teletubbies.

What's coming up next in terms of merchandise for the property?

This year, Hasbro has the Soft ‘n Cosy World Playset and Upsy Daisy and Her Chase and Play Bed coming out. Martin Yaffe is shortly due to launch a range of outdoor toys and furniture and Dan Jam are launching a range of wooden toys.
We’ve recently agreed outline deal terms with Golden Bear Products to manufacture and distribute a nursery range for In the Night Garden. The range is set to launch in early 2009 and will include teethers, buggie toys and first activity fabric toys.
Additionally, we’ve granted Golden Bear – who we’ve worked with to great success on Charlie and Lola – the (non-exclusive) manufacturing rights to supply BBC Worldwide appointed licensees internationally.

Do you think it has what it takes to be an evergreen property in this area? Is it pretty much near perfect for a licensed pre-school property do you think?

Our main challenge with In the Night Garden is to retain its relevance and success over a long period of time – but yes absolutely we believe it has the capability of being an evergreen property.

ITNG was obviously a major focus for BBC Worldwide in 2007, but which other properties were you building L&M programmes for? Are Charlie & Lola, Lunar Jim and Teletubbies still key focuses? How successful were these throughout 2007 (in terms of L&M) and what's planned for 2008/09?

Charlie & Lola is another brand that has such unique appeal that we’ll continue to develop our licensing efforts around it for years to come. The third series is currently being broadcast and this year we have the first-ever stage incarnation of the charming siblings kicking off at the Polka Theatre in the Spring – both strong platforms for us to launch new products that capture the imaginative humour of Tiger Aspect’s award-winning show.
The Teletubbies continued their success last year – at the height of the tenth anniversary activity there was a 86 per cent YOY increase in toy sales for Tomy (Source: NPD EPOS data September 2007) and the tween range of t-shirts licensed to BC International is currently enjoying great sales in New Look.
We also have some new properties entering the market including 3rd & Bird – the new pre-school title produced by Little Airplane – which we’re tipping for big things later in the year.

What does it mean for BBC Worldwide to be associated with quality children's programmes such as ITNG? Does it give the company more kudos in the pre-school sector to be associated with a big hit?

We are strategically aligned with CBeebies and our role is to take the very best of their output and develop a successful off-screen brand franchise. The commercial market is a hits driven business so we are constantly looking to pick, develop and deliver the next big hit.

In your opinion, do you think if a pre-school show is on the BBC, parents warm to it more simply because of the BBC's values?

The BBC’s values are to inform, educate and entertain and CBeebies specifically is all about ‘learn through play’ - we recognise that parents’ trust in those values is paramount so it’s our role to extend that philosophy in the product ranges we develop.

How do you choose which shows you develop a L&M programme for? Do you have a certain set of criteria as to which ones you think will work and which won't?

The best shows translate to a range of different products by having a unique visual identity. They enjoy wide support from a range of trusted and high profile partners and they have cross-generational appeal that allows parents to recognise the qualities in the show that inspire their children.

What's the next big thing for BBC Worldwide in the pre-school arena? What can we expect to see in 2008 and into 2009?

3rd & Bird is going to be a big priority for us – we’ve just confirmed the global distribution rights for the new animated pre-school series produced by Little Airplane who created The Wonder Pets. The show launches on CBeebies this autumn and it’s all about a community of birds that live, learn and play in the branches of a beautiful tree. It’s created in photo-puppetry animation and it’s been written and researched in the US and the UK so it’s going to have great appeal on both sides of the pond.

In such a crowded sector, how important is it for licensed product to offer a USP and value for money to the consumer?

A pre-school brand will not make the grade if it’s predictable or staid. The hits have a bit of magic about them – they stimulate the imagination. Our goal is to create affordable high quality products that retain the essence of the brand.

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