Quids Ink: The INK Group on the growing global demand for Masha and the Bear and its new launch Zafari

With its head offices in Denmark and outfits across Poland, France and a new broadcast deal that brings its flagship property, Masha and the Bear to the UK via the free-to-air broadcaster, Tiny Pop, INK Group is truly international.

As such, the company has a firm grip on the current global socio-political climate, branding the 21 Century as a time in which ‘our differences are being used to divide us.’

However, INK Group believes it has the power to initiate change. Not through political movements or rousing speeches at the European Council, but simply through the messaging of its ever-expanding portfolio of IP and the licensing avenues it explores.

With Masha and the Bear now airing on UK TV and a licensing programming showing some ‘very positive Q1 results,’ and its new, ‘inclusive property,’ Zafari, in which differences are celebrated, the INK Group is looking at providing members of the next generation with the message of unity. talks to INK Group’s commercial director, Annalisa Woods about the growing demand for Masha and Zafari, the evolution of the licensing space and just what you can expect from the company in Las Vegas this year.

How has business been for INK Group over the past 12 months? What growth have you seen as a company and within the licensing space?

These are exciting times for the INK Group. We have been transitioning and repositioning our company over the past couple of years and can see in our results that this has been the right thing to do.

We believe whole-heartedly in the IPs we develop and it’s a wonderful feeling when the industry shares this belief with you. Sometimes it takes perseverance and patience, but we build things to last, and are not interested in flash in the pan successes.

For example, we have seen incredible growth over the last 12 months on Masha and the Bear, coming from a variety of sources. France and Spain showed very positive results on Masha and the Bear in Q4 and the UK is now also really beginning to blossom thanks to Free to Air broadcast with Tiny Pop, which we can see has contributed to fantastic growth here in Q1.

We are also in a solid position in markets like Italy, where Masha has been the ‘hot’ brand for a while now, and is experiencing new growth after proving her staying power, having enduring popularity and is on track to become and Italian evergreen.

At a time when our differences are used to divide us – from a global political level, to a local social level – we want to tell a story where it is our differences that unite us

What are your key brands for the year ahead – how are these performing on a local and global scale? Why is now the right time to be showcasing these at Vegas?

From a licensing perspective, we are working with our good friends at Animaccord to keep building Masha and the Bear to the highest of heights, through engaging new content delivery strategies, to live shows and experiences, as well as adding to our ever-creative stable of licensees developing the licensing programme.

Masha truly has a global reach now, and due to the constant investments and developments in the brand, there is always exciting news to be shared. This year in Vegas is no exception.

Meanwhile, Zafari – which encourages us to not only tolerate, but celebrate, that which makes us each unique, is another key brand for us, not only for this year – but for the many years ahead.

At a time when our differences are used to divide us – from a global political level, to a local social level – we want to tell a story where it is our differences that unite us, in a fun and engaging way for the generations of the future.

Zafari is now launching on air, so children throughout the world will be able to follow the adventures of this group of animals, who are all a little ‘different’, and are learning to be comfortable with who they are as it is exactly this that makes them truly special.

For partners who share this vision and want to be a part of this movement, not is the time to come on board.

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

Over the past year, we have been strengthening Masha’s position and awareness through a number of new and exciting deals, including a free to air deal with Tiny Pop for the UK – giving Masha a fully integrated exposure level in the market.

Masha launched in December on Tiny Pop, and we can already see a positive impact on sales of licensed Masha product in the UK based on Q1 reports. We have also been working on a number of theatrical releases for Masha across key territories, in never-seen-before formats, giving Masha fans the opportunity to interact with the brand in a completely new and unique way.

In addition to this, we have a thrilling line-up of ticketed Live Event partners for Masha, all delivering high-quality, charming and magical shows that the whole family can enjoy. Activities at events such as these allow children to further develop their personal connection with their favourite characters, which of course, translates to increased popularity and purchase intention.

Given the continued success of Masha, we are also very happy to renew deals with partners across key categories such as toys and publishing, delivering outstanding and fresh product to the market.

We have been working with our master toy partner to create a wonderful toy range, true to the magic and vision of Zafari

What excitement is there around your portfolio for 2018 and beyond?

The excitement around Zafari is palpable. This past year has been about working with our media partner, NBCU International Distribution to secure best in class broadcast partners for the show. We are delighted that so many broadcasters want to be a part of Zafari and 2018 will see the show hit screens for the very first time, not least with France TV this summer.

We have been working with our master toy partner to create a wonderful toy range, true to the magic and vision of Zafari, and have teamed with global promotional partner Creata to deliver world-wide promotions that capture the essence of this story.

We are also extremely excited to announce that Hachette will be our global master publisher for French language and will create a unique range of formats to further enrich the brand story.

How have you seen the licensing industry evolve over the last few years? What are you doing to maintain your position within the changing space?

The evolution of the licensing industry correlates directly to the evolution of the wider entertainment industry where the majors are eating up the semi-majors in a fast and hungry bid to compete. It’s all spawned from the exponential growth of technology in our digital era.

Soon the majors will evolve into Titans – think AppleFlix or Alibabazon for example – and while this will result in domination for these guys in some areas, there are and will continue to be, acres of opportunity in this new world.

No one can see into the future, so planning for it is futile but at Ink, we have tried to build a structure that is agile and flexible and allows us to respond to the changing environment and capture the opportunities within it.

What do you make of the current retail scene? How are licenses fairing and how can they help in the evolution of high street retail?

There is no denying that the current retail scene is in turmoil. It is saddening to see retailers we have grown up with, have worked with and built successes with, cease to exist.

The developments in the retail landscape exemplify how if you do not adopt to the changing market and customer habits, you become less and less relevant until eventually you become extinct.

On the other hand, the shift in shopping habits is creating some big winners at retail – those who can justify our growing demand for immediate gratification, our ability to compare and shop around, as well as customise our purchases to match our specific needs. As licensors and licensees, if we can work together to develop innovative retail solutions and are willing to react quickly to customer demands, we can navigate through this challenging space and deliver exciting results.

Over the past year, we have been strengthening Masha’s position and awareness through a number of new and exciting deals, including a free to air deal with Tiny Pop for the UK

What are your main focuses for the year ahead?

All projects developed by INK Group, and with the first step taken in the development of the Zafari franchise, aspire to deliver a trans-media strategy, including digital and experiential licensing. These are increasingly important synergies in the brand growth strategy and something we consider right at the very beginning of production in order for us to optimise these elements.

For example, Zafari is the first animated series ever fully rendered in Unreal Engine, traditionally used to create video games, which allows us to make a relatively easy transition from the animation to digital and experiential licensing such as AR, VR and apps.

Being innovative and taking calculated risks to create productivity is a huge focus for the INK Group and this is anchored in everything we do.

INK Group will continue to evolve in response to the opportunities we see in the industry and no matter where this takes us, underlying everything we do is the aim of sharing wonderful stories with the world of building these stories to a level where they deliver high commercial return for partners. Right now, we are proud to bring projects such as Zafari to the industry and work with like-minded partners to build a beautifully immersive world around this.

At the same time, we are working on an incredible pipeline through our incubator, enabling us to continue to deliver stand-out, unique stories with purpose to children all over the world.

If you want to learn more about INK Group and where the firm is heading, drop by the team’s stand (F204) at Licensing Expo this year.

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