Rocket Licensing talks Ghostbusters, Breaking Bad and how TV continues to shape the licensing industry

Can you tell us a bit more about Rocket Licensing?

Charlie Donaldson: We launched Rocket Licensing in 2007 with MGM and Conn and Hall Iggulden, who wrote the Dangerous Book for Boys, as our founding clients. We wanted to take our combined brand management and licensing experience – from BBC Worldwide, ITV, Harper Collins and Entertainment Rights – and our network of contacts gained, to create an agency that would allow us to represent the brands we thought were interesting, and had commercial potential.

We take great pride in developing focused UK licensing programmes that accommodate for the tastes and shopping habits of UK consumers, ensuring each of our brands in the right place, and at the right time of the year.

Ron Wijeratna: We’ve grown and diversified our portfolio considerably and we now manage the UK licensing programmes for a select group of entertainment studios and licensors.

Our strong relationships with UK retailers, paired with our deep understanding of the demographic targets of each of our brands, allows us to build careful, considered UK licensing programmes that are guaranteed to deliver long-term performance.

How has 2016 been so far for you?

 Wijeratna: This year has been one of the most successful in our agency’s history and I’d say that 2016 has really seen us cement our position as one of the UK’s leading licensing agents. One of this year’s biggest highlights has to have been launching the UK licensing programme for Sony Picture’s new Ghostbusters movie.

We signed 29 top-class partners across all key categories – including apparel, FMCG, novelty, homewares and gifting – which resulted in 600 SKUS being developed. Over 200 of these are currently going to market through an array of retailers including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Primark, Harrods and Next, to name but a few.

We’re going to be harnessing this momentum and our aim is to make Ghostbusters the perennial Halloween brand.

What do you look for in a property, how do they fit the Rocket ethos?

Donaldson: When looking for new properties, we’re seeking both those gems that may otherwise be overlooked, in addition to entertainment titles that we know are going to be big hits.

Our brand portfolio is varied, but the common thread underpinning them all is that every brand we represent is one we can be passionate about, and we are sure others will be too.

What will you be presenting at BLE 2016?

Donaldson: Our BLE presentation slate is diverse, covering brands from entertainment, preschool and heritage, to lifestyle and specialist interest properties.

We’ll be presenting opportunities at BLE for a number of exciting movie properties from Sony Pictures’ including Sausage Party in addition to some of their major upcoming releases, alongside I.M.P.S’ 2017 movie The Smurfs: The Lost Village.

Wijeratna: TV properties are a big area for us, too. BLE will see us showcasing a number of Sony Television’s TV shows including Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, as well as the BBC’s hugely popular Mrs Browns Boys, and home improvement show, DIY SOS.

Then, of course, we’ve got two of the world’s best-loved publishing brands, The Very Hungry Caterpillar from The World of Eric Carle and the Dr. Seuss literary catalogue, which includes that perennial Christmas favourite The Grinch.

We’ll also be presenting opportunities for MGM’s powerful entertainment portfolio which includes Rocky, Fargo and Vikings. Completing our BLE line-up is specialist interest and lifestyle brands such as A-Z Maps, The Edward Stanford Cartographic Collection, USmanufacturer of customised motorcycles Orange Country Choppers, and iconic American fitness chain Gold’s Gyms.

What’s going on with your TV properties?

Wijeratna: Breaking Bad has enduring appeal and we’re seeing on-going success in the adult apparel and gifting categories, while sales continue to be strong independent retail. We’re currently discussing new opportunities in a variety of categories.

Donaldson: Mrs Brown’s Boys continue to remain a big priority for us. It really was a surprise hit and I don’t think anybody could have anticipated the show’s incredibly popularity.

The show was recently named the best UK sitcom of the 21th century and we’re enjoying continued success with the brand at UK retail, particularly around key gift buying times such as Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas.

We’re seeing sustained growth at one of the UK’s fastest growing variety retailers B&M, and Kimm & Miller has just launched a great new line of products there including mug and tea set, a laptray and biscuit jar. For DIY SOS, our aim is to make this a real lifestyle brand, with products such as starter packs for common DIY tasks.

How have changes in TV viewing habits influenced licensing and, in particular, your portfolio of properties and partners?

Donaldson: The proliferation of streaming and on-demand viewing platforms has meant that licensors and agents have had to adapt quickly. It’s now crucial to ensure that TV franchises are accessible wherever audiences are, otherwise they could get left behind.

New television platforms have also changed the chronology of product launches. It’s no longer the case that a successful television series will peak in terms of licensed merchandise at season two or three, it can take much longer to establish real market traction.

However, as consumers can discover shows in their own time, licensed product sales can continue to flourish well after the final season has finished. In fact, Breaking Bad really exploded in terms of merchandise sales after the final season had been broadcast.

You also manage a number of preschool literary properties; can you give us an update on these?

Donaldson: We’ve represented The Very Hungry of Caterpillar for 5 years now. We were appointed by the brand’s global licensing agent, The Joester Loria Group, and we’ve carefully built and nurtured a wonderful cross-category UK licensing programme that is continuing to expand. We’ve got over 30 partners and their products are stocked a wide selection of retailers including Sainsbury’s, Mothercare, Tesco, M&Co, Boots, Toys R Us, Debenhams and Hamleys in addition to independents and specialists.

Wijeratna: We also manage the UK licensing for the fantastic Dr. Seuss literary catalogue, including the iconic and much-loved titles How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Cat in the Hat. The Grinch is performing very well, especially among teens and young adults who are drawn to the Grinch’s anti-holiday spirit and edgy humour.

We’ve got new Grinch fashion ranges on the UK high-street this Christmas at Topshop, New Look and Primark amongst othersand will be announcing some brand new partners very soon in homewares, fashion and greetings.

Rocket has a long-standing relationship with Metro-Goldwyn-Mater Studios, can you tell us a bit more about these brands and their UK licensing programmes?

Wijeratna: We were appointed by MGM in 2008 and continue to work on their impressive entertainment portfolio including Rocky, Fargo and Vikings, for which the UK licensing programmes for each are performing well.

Rocky is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and we have new products launching such as the great laundry (punch) bag to support the successful products that have sold well for several years, such as the Rocky bath robe from Groovy, t-shirts from Trademark Products and gaming from Barcrest.

You’ve signed a number of lifestyle and special interest properties recently; can you talk us through them?

Wijeratna: This really is a key area for growth for us as we’ve recognised an accelerating trend among adults for properties that are led by design, particularly in categories such as homeware, fashion and accessories.

We’ve had outstanding success so far with A-Z Maps; their instantly recognisable graphics and eye-catching visuals have enabled us to work with some really exciting partners. For example, we taken the brand into the premium men’s fashion space through a partnership with British clothing brand, Ben Sherman.

The AW16 fashion-forward capsule collection – that features jackets, shirts and t-shirts – really encapsulates the iconic look of A-Zbut uses on-trend colour palettes to engage style conscious males.

We also recently boosted the brand’s presence on the UK high-street through a fantastic collaboration with Paperchase. Their line of A-Z Maps stationery and travel accessories is already performing exceptionally well and with Paperchase’s high visibility across the country, it’s really enabling us to get the brand in front a wide array of consumers.

Donaldson: One of our most recent additions is The Edward Stanford Cartographic Collection, the UK’s leading retailer of maps and travel books.

We’re currently working with partners to develop an exciting range of products including specialist equipment, homewares, apparel, accessories and gifts. We really want to incorporate both Stanford’s core values of adventure and exploration, with their peerless collection of maps.

Also new to our line-up is, Orange County Choppers, the leading manufacturer of customised motorcycles. Tapping into the brand’s values of power, strength and legacy, our aim is to build a CP programme for bike enthusiasts aged 30-65 across categories including apparel, gifts, publishing, bike and automotive accessories.

We’re also delighted to be welcoming the iconic American fitness chain, Gold’s Gyms, to our portfolio. Gold’s is one of the world’s most recognised fitness brands and we believe it has great potential for fitness, athleisurewear and sports products.

Are you looking to expand your portfolio further – if so, what type of properties are you keen to represent?

Donaldson: We have a diverse but balanced and focused portfolio, but we’re always on the look-out for brands that are unique, that resonate passionately with key consumer demographics and which will perform strongly for licensees and key retail partners.

What are you guys hoping to achieve in 2017?

Wijeratna: We’ll be supporting the UK roll-out of our exciting merchandise programme for The Smurfs: The Lost Village. The film debuts next March and we’ve signed a fantastic array of partners including; Casa Chicos, Fashion UK, Gosh Designs, Fashion UK, Somerbond & TDP Ackroyds. 

We will also strengthen our retail footprint across our brand portfolio particularly The Grinch, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Mrs Browns Boys. Finally, we have a great year ahead for movie properties including a number of major new releases from Sony Pictures, and we’re also representing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets from Luc Besson.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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