As the home of the Bond (that’s James Bond) and the Rocky movie franchise, MGM has a history of knowing how to tell a compelling story. Sit down with the studio’s executive vice president of global consumer products for any amount of time, and very quickly conversation will turn to any one of them.
Stay a little longer, and soon enough you’ll be watching a short showcase video highlighting some of cinema’s most iconic moments, certainly of the last 50 years. The common denominator being that MGM was there for all of them.
But it isn’t just through film that MGM is determined to deliver its legacy to the world, but its overarching canopy of storytelling, and within that is of course television. And it’s fair to say that MGM boasts rather a strong arm in this division, too.
Vikings is among a swathe of recent television productions to have changed the game for TV viewing. It’s landed at a pivotal moment for the concept of fandom, and more importantly, the manner in which licensing is now being used to enhance that storytelling experience. Ask Marick what the biggest changes he’s seen take place within the licensing space in recent years are, and his response is in its ability to engage a fanbase on a level much deeper than has ever been possible.
Vikings invaded television some five seasons ago, with a sixth season ready to roll-out later this year. Recent years have seen the series average 11 million viewers an episode, it’s recognised as the number two most in demand TV series in the world, and in Europe, it’s a top five drama with a particularly hard core fanbase across France, Spain, and Italy. Which is all rather nice and timely for MGM’s attendance at BLE next week.
But, with Marick now at the helm of MGM’s licensing and brand extension activity, Vikings’ story moves far beyond viewing figures and into ‘compelling new realms of consumer engagement and experience.’
Now a big player on the pop culture scene, Vikings has, unsurprisingly, already secured dealings across your key apparel, collectables and games, and posters categories; core for any brand breaking into the fan space today. But Marick’s desire to tell the Vikings story reaches further than this.
“What I am most excited is expanding the breadth, and the categories we have not been in, the ones I want to aggressively pursue and expand the accessories business, the gift and novelty, take it into publishing, and, most exciting of all, location based entertainment,” Marick tells Licensing.biz.
“We are looking for development opportunities right now, but as you can imagine – and you can take any theme park ride that takes you back in time as an example – we are looking at bringing the property to perhaps an entertainment centre, or in a park, or even something like retailer dining.”
Yes, if you are picturing a big Vikings themed banquet, you’re in happy company. There’s certainly been a market for such events, and a property like Vikings, suggests Marick, would lend itself very well to the formula.
While such activity is in discussion stage at the moment, there’s no doubt and understanding that this is something MGM has the aptitude to do well. It’s been creating sets for films for the past 95 years.
“We can certainly recreate these opportunities, working in the styles of set directors and recreating storylines in small, medium, or large settings, that could translate into the likes of VR, rides and attractions, or it could even be live event shows that take a theme and expand upon it,” says Marick.
The growth in the experiential sector has been well-documented over recent years. It’s a common theme among millennials that they ‘rank experiences above other ways of spending disposable income,’ allowing a brand to take its storytelling far beyond the t-shirt.
“We’re able to take a fan who is really entrenched in the property and give them a chance to own a piece of it through a depth of consumer product, then take them one step further to experience it’ that only then feeds back into watching the show,” says Marick.
“That’s how we connect with our fans and expand that 24/7 relationship between the consumer and the brands, and that’s really what location-based entertainment does.”
From a partnership perspective, MGM has a line-up of global partner already on board for Vikings, spanning the likes of Hot Topic, Funko, Titan Books for publishing, and GameCo. The plan now for Marick is to overlay these with local partners that can deliver across the UK, in France, Spain and Italy.
With the show’s sixth season ready to air later this year, the popularity of the show and the manner in which it is resonating with fans, as well as the many streaming and TV watching options and platforms available to consumers today, upon which Vikings will continue to be available, it’s the right time, suggests Marick, for an expansion of the property’s activity in the consumer product space.
“Vikings is an excellent example really of who MGM is,” he adds. “We are great storytellers and that is rooted in our history. Cutting edge television is what we do, and Vikings is an example of that.
“And what our TV group does so well in terms of storytelling, we make sure the merch tells those stories just as well. We do that through compelling graphics, the way our shirts will feature lines from the show, and allowing us to continue the Vikings story through that interaction. I would do the brand a disservice if I just stuck a logo on things.”
And no doubt the fans would never allow it. Such is the nature of fandom today, that specialist knowledge of a series, a TV show or a film, is worn with honour, subtlety in licensing rewarded, as it offers the fans to wear their inside knowledge of a show, allowing them exclusivity within a global gang of fans.
“That’s exactly right,” laughs Marick. “It’s about easter eggs that only the real fans know and understand. It’s almost become social currency and that ‘wink wink’ reference, it’s almost a badge of who that person is. Licensing is so much more than labels and logos, it goes so much deeper now.”
It’s no small responsibility that Marick shoulders, heading up the consumer products programmes for some of entertainment’s most iconic characters, and this is very much reflected in not only his approach to, but appreciation of just where licensing is headed for the future. There’s no quick and easy cash grab to be had with Vikings – or indeed any other property in the MGM portfolio – but the adoption of a considered approach to keep storytelling at the centre of whatever the company does next.
Even if that’s a Vikings themed banquet.