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Open to Question: David Binnie - Licensing.biz

Open to Question: David Binnie

In the first of a regular series of special interviews, Licensing.biz invites the members of the licensing community itself to ask the questions. First up in the hotseat: David Binnie, General Manager, Warner Bros. Consumer Products UK?
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Given that you work for a global media owner, are you still able to develop new business with new licensees at a local level? It would be interesting to understand your approach to new business development.
Ian Downes, Managing Director, Start Licensing

In the toy category we will have four major toy lines in the market next year. Two of these are licensed to UK companies – Character Group with Scooby-Doo and Corgi for the Harry Potter toy line. The other two, Speed Racer and Batman, are licensed to Mattel which has global rights. Additionally, there are always opportunities to work with good quality UK toy companies such as David Halsall, Flair, Golden Bear, Hornby, Winning Moves and Hy-Pro.

In other categories, such as apparel, the business is far less globalised and most of our partners are UK owned. We prefer to work with blue chip brands and the best of the licensing industry.

What do you think will be the next big kids’ property and why?
Pindy O’Brien, Vice President, Brand Licensing & Retail UK, Fremantle Media Enterprises

We are very confident that it will be Speed Racer, which releases on May 16th next year. This is our live action car racing movie for kids that will have stunts and production values that only the Wachowski brothers of Matrix fame, can deliver. Combine this with fantastic toy lines from both Mattel and Lego and new animation and we have a winning formula.

Which category is going to be a key earner for WBCP in 2008?
Michelle Pearce, Senior UK and International Licensing Manager, Jetix Consumer Products International

Toys is actually the fastest growing category for licensed goods so far in 2007, according to NPD. This is also true for Warner Bros, and especially so for 20087 when we will have toy lines for Scooby-Doo, Speed Racer, Batman and Harry Potter.

How does WBCP balance the workload between properties that are from the Warner portfolio and those that are from third parties?
Samantha Loveday, Editor, Licensing.biz

We have dedicated headcount to manage the licensing strategies and first party relationships with our sports properties including UEFA’s Euro 2008 and Champions League. We also have a football champion in each market who supports the local licensing teams in implementing these strategies.

Does the increased volume of high profile films being released throughout the year, especially sequels following hard on the heels of the originals, have a negative effect on merchandise sales?
Janet Woodward, MD, Coolabi

Sequels, just like new series for a TV property, keep the property fresh and introduce new directions, characters, storylines, vehicles, etc. Encouragingly, licensed toy sales are up 18 per cent YTD which is to a significant extent down to movie sequels this summer. The Batman and Harry Potter sequels will be key to maintaining this trend in 2008. Of course, there has to be a balance with new movies releasing and we have a great example next year with Speed Racer.

You’ve developed a Tweety vintage licensing programme. Could you explain why and how you developed this? Is this a European or a global opportunity?
Marie Laure Marchand, Vice President of European Marketing and Licensing, Nelvana Enterprises

We haven’t actually developed a Tweety vintage programme, but we have developed a single character programme using Tweety individually from the rest of Looney Tunes. This is a global opportunity that was first rolled out in the UK in 2006. The launch has been supported by high-end fashion designers including Dolce and Gabbana.

Tweety has always been one of the strongest licensed characters globally and this strategy allowed us to give more focus and resource to developing this and fulfilling Tweety’s potential.

Why has there never been a Wacky Races feature film, and if there was, who might star in it?
Richard Hollis, Head of UK Licensing, BBC Worldwide

True, we’ve had a Flintstones movie so why not Wacky Races? It would be interesting to have a competition to find out who are the true Dick Dastardly and Penelope Pitstops in the UK toy industry. Any nominations?

In the context of Warner Bros overall licensing strategy, how important is the development of partnerships with companies new to brand and character licensing?
Charlie Donaldson, Rocket Licensing

There is in the UK an established and successful licensing industry across multiple categories with expertise on all sides – licensor, licensee and retailer. Those involved can instinctively calculate the potential of a property whereas those without that experience often struggle to establish the right level of expectation. However, to avoid the business becoming stale and formulaic, it is important to keep introducing new companies and talent into the industry. It is especially important to partner with brands like Dolce and Gabbana, Dell, Royal Mail and Adidas, all of whom we have worked with recently.

With the ethos of The European Community to be to create a ‘free trade cross border environment’ how does Warner Bros manage the differing product standards from member countries as diverse as Poland and the UK?
Sean Clarke, Head of Licensing, Aardman Animations

We contractually require each licensee to ensure their product complies with both their local and national requirements and those of the European Union. The highest applicable standard will therefore apply.

In light of recent counterfeited product in Britain and on the Continent, how does Warner Bros protect its brands at retail?
Andrew Levy, MD, Licensingpages

Firstly we work with retailers to ensure they know who our licensees are and where they can access legitimate licensed product. Secondly, we require our licensees to work with approved manufacturers and distributors so we can monitor legitimate product all the way down the supply chain. All our licensed products go through a brand assurance approval system, so that our brands are used consistently and according to current agreed branding strategies. This, and the fact that we keep a visual record of every approved design and item, assists in identifying whether a particular item is counterfeit.
Thirdly, we have dedicated anti-piracy personnel who liaise with licensees, retailers, the police, customs and Trading Standards officials and who co-ordinate all queries and investigations on possible counterfeit product.

Where do you stand on direct to retail deals?
Ronnie Dungan, Editor, ToyNews

When considering DTR deals, we always think how they affect the balance of interests between the retailer, Warner Bros and our licensees. DTR may be the only route to securing broad and deep distribution with a retailer, in which case the decision is simple. However, DTRs can reduce the distribution potential of our licensee and therefore their willingness to invest resources into developing great products for our properties. So, we take a very considered approach to DTRs and strive to maintain a balance that works for all our stakeholders.

In your career, what was the consumer product deal you're most proud of and why?
Pindy O'Brien, Vice President, Brand Licensing & Retail UK, FremantleMedia Enterprises

They say that you're only as good as your last deal. The last big deal I was involved with was with Corgi for the Harry Potter master toy rights. I am incredibly proud of the high quality of the line and the success it has had. It was the sixth best selling toy line in July and looks set to have a strong fourth quarter. We've turned around the brand and produced a line that is appropriate for the biggest movie franchise ever.

What is Warner Bros' strategy on food licensing?
Jon Owen, VP Consumer Products, Hit Entertainment

We work closely with our licensed partners who manufacturer branded foods to ensure that our properties are used in a responsible manner.
On licensed 'non treat' products we work with our partners to ensure they meet or exceed the Food Standards Ageny guidelines on sale, fat and sugar. And for 'treat' products, our licensees do not advertise on TV and, in many cases, take the extra step of including portion control messages on their packaging.

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