The Entertainers: ITV Studios Global Entertainment on retail, Thunderbirds and new IP Robozuna

Licensing.biz talks to EVP kids' content and distribution at ITV Studios Global Entertainment, Steve Green about the firm's plans for the year ahead and what to expect from Licensing Expo 2018
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Robozuna

The issue with retail at the moment is that as a landscape, it is playing it safe.

Given the tough start to the year that the high street’s retailers have seen, reported through a multitude of media outlets, it’s no real surprise that when it comes to the brands they back, big name retailers are relying on the tried and tested ‘safe bets,’ rather than exploring new opportunities.

Not only was this the focus of LIMA’s recent expert panel at its 2018 Spring Fling event, but also the belief of Steve Green, EVP Kids Content and Distribution at ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Steve Green

There may be a lot of challenges in retail at the moment, but there are also some unique opportunities being presented,” he tells Licensing.biz.

“As the pressure on the high street mounts increasingly, we see those retailers making safer brand choices as a risk-aversion strategy, whereas online retailers are giving new or niche brands more of an opportunity to gain traction.

“High street retailers could benefit from this mind-set – giving consumers the chance to discover new brands and products in the offline world enhances the shopping experience.”

Coincidentally, Green and the ITV Studios Global Entertainment team are heading to Las Vegas’ Licensing Expo this year to present just that, a brand new animated series called Robozuna that, with a master toy partner waiting in the wings, is the key focus point for the company this year and beyond.

Licensing.biz catches up with Steve Green to find out more.

How has business been for ITV Studios over the last 12 months? What growth have you seen as a company and within the licensing space?

We are busy building towards the launch of Robozuna later this year, producing not just the episodes for the series, but a wealth of extra content that will live on YouTube and other platforms.

As well as developing tons of content, we have been putting our launch marketing plans in place, securing a toy partner and communicating with potential licensees in advance of CP launch in 2019, getting them excited about this brilliant new brand.

We launched season three of Thunderbirds Are Go on CITV and ITV this year, and the launch weekend saw really strong ratings. There is a new toy line in development for the property, so we are looking ahead to an exciting relaunch. We have taken on some new properties in the last 12 months as licensing agent, including PINY< Institute of New York, The Rubbish World of Dave Spud and Watership Down (the BBC/ Netflix CGI miniseries that will air at the end of this year).

We have been seeing growth recently in the Experiential licensing category, with deals announced for Thunderbirds Are Go rides and themed attractions, and more in the works for our other brands.

Direct-to-consumer has also grown and is something we are experimenting with ourselves at the moment, having set up a print on demand website for unique apparel designs on some of our retro and nostalgia brands.

What are your key brands for the year ahead? How are these performing on a local and global scale and why is now the right time to be showcasing these at Licensing Expo?

The Robozuna launch is our top priority, and with our toy partner about to be announced, Vegas is the perfect time to meet with licensees, retailers and partners to sign deals and get them on board.

Robozuna will be launching on CITV in the UK and global on Netflix with support from YouTube Kids in the UK and US initially. We are planning consumer products rollout in multiple markets and the licensing programme will be extensive.

What key partners have you secured over the last year? How has this strengthened your brands across the key categories?

Our partnership with Hengxin Shambala Kids in China covers Thunderbirds Are Go, for which they are developing new toy lines. We have been doing more experiential deals and one highlight is Thunderbirds: Beyond the Horizon, a live interactive theatre show that opens in London from November this year.

The show targets Generation Rent so it’s exciting to have a new iteration of Thunderbirds that will reach even more consumers and continue to keep the brand healthy.

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How have you seen the licensing industry evolve over the last couple of years? What are you guys doing to maintain your position as leaders in the space?

For us as part of ITV, which is a TV channel, production studio and distributor, the changes in the way consumers are accessing and watching content have an influence on the way we approach marketing and licensing.

Kids’ platform mobility means that we need to control multiple touchpoints on a constant basis to drive the brand engagement needed for a CP programme. We develop IP and create content to allow us to work across VOD platforms like Netflix and YouTube Kids as well as on traditional broadcast. We also ensure that we have some form of non-linear content as a part of the brand offering.

What are the key trends in licensing at the moment and how are you tapping into these?

We are fortunate to have a wealth of content in our archive that taps into the retro and nostalgia trend that is just getting bigger and bigger. We have well-loved film and TV brands from the 60s, with Gerry Anderson (Space: 1999, UFO, etc) and shows like The Prisoner, right through to 90s kids shows like The Raggy Dolls, which millennials remember fondly.

What do you make of the strength of the current retail scene? How are licenses fairing in what is a challenging space?

There may be a lot of challenges in retail at the moment, but there are also some unique opportunities being presented. As the pressure on the high street mounts increasingly, we see those retailers making safer brand choices as a risk-aversion strategy, whereas online retailers are giving new or niche brands more of an opportunity to gain traction.

High street retailers could benefit from this mind-set – giving consumers the chance to discover new brands and products in the offline world enhances the shopping experience.

Stores that create experiential environments are much more likely to entice consumers back onto the high street and encourage consumers to see shops as ‘destinations’ to spend time and money in.

How important are strands such as digital and experiential licensing to the ITV portfolio?

Away from the TV side, we have the opening of the theatre show Thunderbirds: Beyond the Horizon in the UK. We have digital games for Thunderbirds Are Go and Robozuna launching with Kuato, an award-winning studio, so you can see that digital and experiential categories are of huge importance to our portfolio.

We find they are particularly crucial for ongoing brand health, as they provide a more constant consumer touchpoint, even when a show is not on air at the time.

What’s the next big step for ITV Studios in the licensing space?

Definitely the launch of Robozuna. This will be a big step forward for us. It’s something different in the boys’ space with a very clear play pattern that utilises TV broadcast, Netflix, YouTube Kids, Influencers and digital games to bring kids into the brand universe.   

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