When it comes to classic children's brands, few can say they have continued to chug through the imaginations of children across generations like Thomas the Tank Engine. The new season of Thomas & Friends is set to bring even more fun and excitement to Thomas' world, continuing to build on the themes of fun, acceptance and teamwork. Here, Kate Schlomann, VP & global brand GM, Thomas & Friends talks us through Thomas' plans for 2018.
How will the refreshed series bring something new to the world of Thomas & Friends?
Kate Schlomann: We have many exciting changes coming to Thomas & Friends in 2018. Story-telling is at the heart of our content and we are evolving our content to make it more inclusive, meaningful and entertaining – whilst ensuring all the favourite characters and storylines that fans around the world love, remain at the heart of the action. The show will have a new format, more contemporary feel and increased global appeal to both preschool boys and girls. For the first time ever, we will see the number 1 blue engine Thomas travelling farther than ever before, taking kids on a journey of wonder and curiosity as he adventures around the world to discover and experience new countries, learn about other cultures and make new international friends along the way! Additionally, the show has been refreshed with a more gender-balanced Steam Team comprising of three girls and three boys joining Thomas. This includes the first African steam engine Nia; a brand-new theme tune; and Thomas himself taking on the role of narrator.
In the new series, Thomas explores new parts of the world including China, India and Australia. How has this international scope diversified the content of the show?
Schlomann: Massively! The brand is undergoing an evolution to remain relevant for the next generation of parents and kids by opening up the opportunity to discover the world around them with a trusted friend. Thomas will bring the world into a child’s living room. When carrying out research with our audience across key territories, one quote from a child particularly struck a chord with us when he said, “Thomas is a train but he never really goes anywhere”. This definitive point informed the change that Thomas will now take us with him on his adventures around the globe as he visits many different countries to experience the diverse cultures the world has to offer, expanding themes and growth opportunities for the franchise.
Which consumer products performed the best for Thomas in 2017?
Schlomann: In 2017, we partnered with Pottery Barn Kids to launch a Thomas room décor program to great success; we also continued to partner with licensees such as P&G and Random House to deliver the Thomas brand across all key categories of business. We expanded our footprint and growth in focus territories such as China to further position Thomas as a fully global brand. Best-in-class partnerships drive this franchise portfolio of consumer products and we continue to develop new and exciting products – in 2018, we look for inclusion of our new characters and global destinations as we expand further internationally as well! We are always on the lookout for new partners with innovative products to join the team Thomas.
The brand is undergoing an evolution to remain relevant for the next generation of parents and kids
Kate Schlomann, Mattel
How has video streaming technology impacted the audience for Thomas?
Schlomann: It has got increasingly competitive with many new entries in recent years with rapid growth, however Thomas & Friends is a proven and trusted evergreen brand which has stood the test of time and enjoys its rightful place as being one of the top pre-school brands in several markets also growing in popularity in many new markets, such as China. The Thomas & Friends YouTube channel consistently performs well as the #4 most-watched toy brand channel on YouTube with over 2.8 billion lifetime views and 640k subscribers. Thomas also appears on many other top YouTube accounts, with features on Ryan ToysReview and Dancakes. Additionally, the Thomas Creator Collective (TCC) won the 2017 Cynopsis Kids Imagination Award for Best Preschool Series Exclusively for a Streaming Platform.
Tell us about your collaboration with the United Nations and why this is important?
Schlomann: As part of the redevelopment of content, the Thomas & Friends production team joined forces with the United Nations and several of its agencies to incorporate five of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the new series. The 17 Goals were adopted by world leaders at the historic Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015. Encompassing everything from health, to gender equality, and education, the goals will mobilize efforts around the world to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. We see great value in the Sustainable Development Goals and chose the ones that felt most natural to the Thomas & Friends storyline and provided the opportunity for a new type of life lesson using messaging that is easy to understand for a preschool audience. Our new show is all about discovery, curiosity and wonder of the new world Thomas is exploring so big issues are explored through Thomas’ eyes of innocence, much like that of our young audience. The content hopes to inspire the next generation of global citizens and produce meaningful conversation and learnings between children and parents.