HBO is that rarest of beasts – any genre of programme it turns its hand to is a critical and commercial success: Sex and the City, The Wire, Entourage, Flight of the Conchords, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and, now, True Blood.
I have to admit being ever so slightly addicted to the first season on FX: it’s weird, wonderful, slightly disturbing in parts, but eminently watchable. And it seems like I’m not the only one who thinks so.
For those who don’t know, True Blood takes place in the not too distant future, where vampires are freely living among humans thanks to the invention of mass-produced synthetic blood meaning they no longer need them as a nutritional source. The show follows the romance between waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), who can hear people’s thoughts, and 173 year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer).
In the US, the second season of True Blood averaged 12 million viewers per episode across all HBO platforms, making it the network’s most watched series behind The Sopranos.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the first season has already aired on FX and begun its run on Channel 4 in early October. It went straight to number one on the iTunes UK TV episode chart for ten consecutive weeks, outselling new titles which broadcast on much higher profile channels such as Gossip Girl (ITV2) and House (Sky 1).
“[True Blood] has all the qualities – flair, fantasy and sex appeal – that we associate with the vampire genre, but it adds the trademarks that HBO is known for; intelligence, originality and style,” says Rob Wijeratna, joint managing director at Rocket Licensing, the agency responsible for the True Blood licensing programme in the UK. “It’s an irresistible combination with mass appeal among a wide demographic, making it a significant licensing opportunity. True Blood is one of HBO’s most exciting franchises to date and provides a multitude of opportunities for products that reflect its popularity and originality that transcends beyond the television screen.”
The firm is targeting a number of key product categories including apparel, accessories, paper and stationery, homewares, gifts, collectibles and PC accessories. Bravado is already on board for t-shirts and sweatshirts, along with Danilo for calendars and cards and GB Eye for posters, prints, badges and postcard packs. The next wave of product will then tie in with the second series and DVD in 2010.
“The show’s popularity and appeal, to both a core target market from ages 18 to 30 across both genders and a significant primary market among over 30s, should further boost our licensing initiatives,” Wijeratna continues.
Due to the adult content of the show, however, product won’t be aimed at the under 18s and will not be suitable for the whole of the High Street. Key retail tie-ins will be planned where suitable though, including exclusive product offerings, in-store cross category displays and seasonal activity, including around Halloween.
Even though True Blood has the HBO heritage, there are still a lot of vampire-themed brands around at the moment, but Wijeratna is confident of achieving product stand out. “By keeping true to the brand we’ll ensure that all product, whether a t-shirt or glassware range, reflects the innovative, high quality and truly unique nature of HBO’s original properties and franchises.”
And where does he see True Blood as a licensed property in five years time? “Still engaging consumers and performing at key retailers, with new and innovative product. Furthermore, the Halloween seasonal gifting period gives us a great opportunity to really establish True Blood as a perennial favourite.”