THE BIG INTERVIEW: Richard Hollis, UK Head of Consumer Products, DreamWorks Animation

In his first full interview since joining the firm, Hollis tells us why DreamWorks now has all the foundations and brands in place to make its mark in the UK.
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Firstly, can you just run through the structure of the UK office for me and how it's structured?

I now have my UK Consumer Products team in place and ready to go making us a fully integrated in-house licensing team. From a category perspective, Softlines are covered by Amanda Ould, who has just joined us from Disney and Catherine Murison, whose existing experience with the Classic Media brands is invaluable. Hardlines is headed by ex-Tesco toy buyer Nick Cooke, and supported by Erica Di Bacco. Andrew Dickson is leading on the retail perspective: and Adam Reed is the Marketing lead, with a particular focus on Trade Marketing. The team has a wealth of licensing experience, having worked at a diverse range of licensors, retailers and licensees, so we all add something to the mix.

With the expansion of the UK team, do you still work with agents in the territory for certain projects?

Bulldog has done a fantastic job in building the DreamWorks business in the UK, and, although we're working towards a directly managed licensing business, Bulldog will continue to help us build out our publishing programme.

What were some of your big successes in 2013?

2013 was a year of transition, but some important foundations were laid for subsequent years. Dragons moved from being a film property to a constantly supported franchise property, especially with the TV show airing, and the licensee list continued to build. The Croods performed well at the box office, the Postman Pat Movie went into production and Where's Wally continued to consolidate its position as a performer in non-toy categories, namely apparel and publishing.

How has 2014 been for the firm so far?

2014 has so far been a great year, based purely on the fact that we now have a dedicated team in place! Licensee relationships and product lines are in development - we have great content releasing at the cinema (Postman Pat, How to Train Your Dragon 2), a continual presence on TV, further live experiences being launched and some exciting retail plans being drawn up.

Can you run through your plans for Licensing Expo for me? Which properties will you be showcasing?

Our key 2015 theatrical movies will be shared at Licensing Expo: Home, Penguins of Madagascar and B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations. Plans for our classic properties will also be shared, not just Postman Pat and Where's Wally, but also the exciting plans for a big relaunch of Noddy amongst others.

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How To Train Your Dragon 2 is the stand out from your film portfolio this summer – can you tell me a bit more about the CP programme supporting the property? What do you think is the secret to its appeal to both children and adults?

Indeed, a recent article on boxofficemojo.com placed Dragons 2 in number one position for this summer's box office... above Transformers, X-Men, The Amazing Spider-Man and others. We are expecting a huge hit. Spin Master is the global toy partner for Dragons 2, and have developed a great and diverse range of products that will suit everyone, from low price collectibles to plush and flying toys, all tying into the play patterns reflected in the film. Apparel partners include Smith and Brooks, Aykroyds, TDP, and others; and great products are also coming from Ravensburger, Character World, Roy Lowe, and many more.

The film really connects with children and adults for a wide number of reasons: slapstick comedy, incredible animation, a strong sense of storytelling, to name a few. In a theatrical schedule filled with superhero films, Dragons features children at its very heart, behaving heroically themselves meaning the children watching can really empathise with the characters. The key themes are also very aspirational - learning about the importance of family and friends, discovering themselves, and understanding how important it is to explore the world around them.

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What other highlights can we expect from your film portfolio?

Our movie Home stands out and has had incredible reactions in retail meetings. Home is a road trip movie with a difference; a group of Aliens land on earth, and one forms an unlikely friendship with a teenage girl called Tip, to escape their mortal enemy. Tip is voiced by Rihanna, and an album of her songs from the movie will be released alongside the movie.

The irrepressible Penguins of Madagascar return [later in 2014] in their own hilarious movie, and BOO: Bureau of Otherwordly Operations will hit screens in summer 2015.

How does the former Classic Media business now fit into the DreamWorks structure?

Classic Media fits seamlessly into the wider DreamWorks Animation structure, and the properties represented by Classic provide the perfect complement to DreamWorks Animation. Pre-school is covered by Pat, Noddy and others; DreamWorks Animation targets boys and girls audiences; and for teens and adults, we have Where's Wally, with some other design-led brands in the pipeline.

How important is the Postman Pat Movie to the brand overall? What kind of reaction has it had so far from fans? Will there be dedicated CP ranges to support it?

The movie has a big part to play in bringing Pat to a new generation of children. It appeals to a wider audience than Pat's core fan base, with lots in it for older kids and parents to enjoy. It also cements Pat's reputation as one of the UKs national treasures. It has allowed us to develop a tight range of new products to capitalise on the movie buzz - a small toy range, including a feature plush dancing Pat, and a line of apparel. At time of interview, the movie had not released in cinemas, but the reaction of the pre-schoolers at the premiere indicate that it will be a family favourite and that Pat is still very much in demand.

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I also understand that a new Noddy TV series is planned for 2015?

Noddy still has massive appeal and recognition. In the UK 93 per cent of parents know Noddy, whilst amongst kids, that figure is 74 per cent, so we're looking at a number of ways to re-introduce Noddy to kids, in the UK and across Europe. In France, Noddy (or Oui-Oui in French) is still one of the biggest pre-school consumer product characters.

What would you most like to have achieved in the UK market by the end of 2014?

The biggest achievement in 2014 is for the licensing industry to recognise that a new team with big ambitions is firmly in place at DreamWorks Animation UK. We have all the foundations and brands in place to deliver great licensing programmes from 2015 and beyond. By the end of the year, we will have secured vital category relationships, made our mark at retail and established ourselves as an essential partner. We are confident that the success of the second Dragons movie will propel the franchise to evergreen status, and a strong movie slate in 2015, along with the enduring popularity of our Classic properties, will give us a fantastic range with which to excite retail.

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