Miami Ink and LA Ink

Tattoos are now seen as commonplace in mainstream culture - and the success of Discovery shows Miami Ink and LA Ink underlines this.
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Along with the art deco buildings, the Scarface mansion, Gloria Estefan’s home, South Beach and Ocean Drive, there’s one other place which is a major draw for tourists to Miami – the Miami Ink tattoo parlour.

Being a fan myself, I took a look this summer while on holiday in the Sunshine State – this place is on the map for the Duck Tours, taken by thousands of visitors to Miami every day. Tattooing here is certainly big business.

Miami Ink premiered in July 2005 and finished broadcasting after its fifth season on Discovery Communications-owned US cable channel TLC. Since then, the show has aired in over 160 countries and has led to a number of spin offs including LA Ink (more on this later), London Ink and Rio Ink.

Viewers get to see a number of customers go into the store and hear their back stories and motivations for their tattoos. There is also some focus on the personal lives of the artists, which include Ami James, Darren Brass, Chris Nunez and Chris Garver in Miami and Kat Von D, Corey Miller and Kim Saigh in LA.

It was the appearance of Von D in series one to three of Miami Ink which led to the launch of LA Ink. It premiered in 2007 and was the most watched series debut for the cable channel since January 2003.

In terms of licensing, there are currently a dozen licensees and lots of further opportunities available. FremantleMedia Enterprises acquired North American merchandise licensing rights in October 2009 and is now actively looking for a number of new partners to build on the brands.

“Categories that have enjoyed marked successes to date with the LA and Miami Ink brands include apparel, accessories and tattoo-related novelty items,” says David Lunar, SVP interactive and consumer products, FME, North America. “We believe the key to success is to embrace the mass distribution route, create critical mass through the depth of our licensees and strive for cohesive statements at retail.”

A major focus for Lunar will be on the interactive category, in particular social network gaming, mobile gaming and online/downloadable games.

“Other previously untapped licensing spaces that we are hoping to conquer include accessories to complement the apparel line, health and beauty items, home décor and textiles, musical instruments, stationery, toys, gifts and novelties as applicable. As awareness of the brands continue to grow, we will look to expand the breadth of licensees accordingly, exploring arts and crafts and back to school.”

Tattoos are now seen as commonplace in mainstream culture – you only have to witness the wide range of demographics in the shows – and Lunar truly believes it is a growth industry. With no new series of Miami Ink planned, the onus is on LA Ink to keep the brand awareness high, but FME is confident the success of the licensing programme shouldn’t be affected by whether the programmes are airing or not. Public awareness of the artists – Von D in particular – is also rising, although this presents FME with a new set of challenges.

“The licensing programme focuses on the show logo and assets and is much larger than any individual talent,” explains Lunar. “Public awareness of Kat Von D is growing, subsequently increasing the brand profiles of both LA and Miami Ink. Although we do have approval to use images of Kat on products, the branding must focus on the show itself and not her as an individual. Kat has a licensing programme of her own and a bestselling book, which adds some additional opportunities and awareness in the marketplace.

“Approved ‘official’ tattoo artwork that is instantly recognisable to fans of the show is available for licensees. The designs are pleasing to the eye and will work well visually on creatively-skewed items such as arts and crafts and speciality apparel.”

FME’s focus is on the US market, while the Discovery Communications licensing team is seeing good growth among new partners in other territories. “The combination of the international distribution of the television programmes means that there is a global fan base,” says Lunar. “While the particular players in each show are localised, the stories and the brand values remain appealing around the world.”

The aim now for Lunar and his team is to take the brands to the “next level”.

“We would love to see LA and Miami Ink still going strong [in five years time], with a comprehensive licensing programme,” he says. “Discovery Licensing has done an impressive job of taking these television shows and moving them into recognisable lifestyle brands. FME will look to take these brands to the next level by leveraging existing relationships to expand the physical product offerings and enter the digital licensing space.”

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