THE BIG INTERVIEW: Richard Woolf

The director of international licensing for Jetix Consumer Products talks making Sonic into a style icon, using the opportunities from new media and achieving stand out in a crowded market. Samantha Loveday listens in...
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Taking the main properties in turn - can you tell us how they are performing in terms of licensed product (number of licensees signed, categories, best selling products, etc)?

Sonic The Hedgehog is a 16 year old gaming icon that is widely recognised by teens and young adults who grew up with the brand in the 1990s.
In the UK, JCP agreed a deal with the Spinal Injury Association (SIA) to use Classic Sonic The Hedgehog as its charity mascot. Impact International have been developing a classic range of Sonic The Hedgehog toy merchandise which includes plush beanies, radio controlled cars and slot-racing track sets. First 4 Figures (owned by Puzzle Productions) have also been developing a range of collectible resin and vinyl figurines to include Sonic, Tails, Knuckles & Dr. Eggman across Europe.
JCP has recently extended the reach of Puzzle Productions and impact International to the Middle East.
Also, the range of retro t-shirts sold very well in the UK, particularly in retailers such as Next.
JCP is focusing on the toys and games category and will also be looking to extend the fashion category. We’re hoping to make Sonic the Hedgehog a style icon.
Pucca was born as an online card in 2000 and quickly became a TV and fashion star. The series has performed very well since its launch and we already have over 100 Pucca licensees in Europe today.
The second series will start to roll out across Europe in June (beginning with the UK).
Following the great success of the Pucca partwork in France, JCP and Hachette have extended their reach to other countries in Europe including UK/Eire, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Dutch Speaking Benelux, Greece, Poland, Spain and Portugal.
In Italy, JCP has also signed a deal with Inottica Eyewear to launch a range of sunglasses across Europe from early 2008.
Fashion and accessories are key categories and JCP is now also focusing on the toy and gift categories.
Promoting values such as team spirit and friendship, Galactik Football is one of our key properties in 2008.
The second series is launching on Jetix channels across Europe this summer to tie in with Euro 2008.
Last September, JCP signed a deal with 505 Games, publisher of the Digital Bros group, to launch a Galactik Football video game across Europe.
JCP is focusing on all categories to create an inspirational sports-themed product line to leverage the Euro 2008 opportunity, with key categories being publishing, games and apparel.
Totally Spies is also performing very well in France, Benelux and Italy. Key categories are clothing, publishing and stationery.

Are you still looking to sign up more licensees: if so, in which areas?

We always look to maximise the potential of a property, exploiting all categories that lend themselves to the characters. The new media sector remains a key area with great potential for us.

Do you have plans to launch any brand new properties in 2008/09?

We will be launching Monster Buster Club at New York Licensing and Combo Niños, Magi-Nation and World of Quest at Brand Licensing Europe.

Do you work with any third party brands at all? Would you consider doing so?

We already work with third party brands such as Pucca and Monster Buster Club and would always consider a strong business opportunity.

In such a crowded market, how do you make sure your brands achieve stand out at retail?

We work very closely with the retailers, ensuring that our retail strategy combines both independents and multiples and is tailored to each individual market across Europe. For example, in France we have partnered with Galeries Lafayette organising a Pucca fashion show and a dedicated Pucca area within the department store.

Where does JCP stand in the use of new media within a licensing programme?

To truly engage kids, it is necessary to interact with them on a number of different platforms. We’re always aiming to allow them to immerse themselves in a property and to create a real connection with the brand. Whether it’s online, mobile or TV, the platforms all complement each other and contribute to the popularity of the property.
Like all companies, using new media is something we want to do more of. New media means new opportunities for us.

Can you talk us through some of the activity you've done in this sector?

Last year, we launched the Sonic X online store. It features a range of Sonic X merchandise which is available to view and purchase online; including collectible figures, apparel, stationery and mobile accessory items. New items are added to the store as and when they come to market. It provides an easy shopping experience for Sonic X fans and is a great complement to the existing retail programme across Europe.

What are your views on direct to retail? Do you see it as the future for licensed product?

If the property lends itself to a specific retailer, direct-to-retail can be a very positive way of working. However, we also see the benefits of working with key licensees in each territory.

What do you see as the main challenges facing the licensing industry at the moment?

The market is very crowded with new properties blooming every day.

And how is JCP looking to overcome them?

JCP has got seven local offices across Europe and local retailers enjoy dealing with dedicated local contacts. As part of a wider media network, JCP’s expertise in the kids’ arena can deliver consumer products/promotions/home entertainment products and in-store entertainment which really engage their audience. Also, as a broadcaster, Jetix has a huge library of programming – over six thousand hours – much of which is available for licensing. The fact that our properties appear on Jetix channels across Europe definitely helps too.

Do you think the licensing business will be affected by what’s going on in the wider economy?

Yes, the licensing business will be affected like any other businesses. However, in order to face this, the key is to provide kids with great properties. At Jetix, our core strategy is to deliver great content which our audience loves. Our programming activities bring clear advantages as they help us to gain consumer recognition for our key franchises.

What are you hoping to achieve from this year's shows?

Our new property Monster Buster Club will be a key focus for JCP at New York Licensing this year. Monster Buster Club is a 3D action-comedy series is aimed at five to 11 year-olds and follows the adventures of a top-secret club of five 10 year-olds who are the only ones aware that their town is threatened by an invasion of aliens.
JCP is managing the licensing rights in Europe and will focus on maximising the potential of the property by licensing all product categories, starting with collectibles and publishing. The series will be launched on the Jetix channels from 2008.
We also aim to cement new relationships and continue to be successful with our existing partners.

And how about emerging markets – how important are such territories as Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and India for JCP?

Jetix Europe has recently appointed a regional licensing manager for the Central and Eastern European markets in response to a growing demand for licensing products in these markets. We do expect that consumer product will play a major role in the revenue for these territories. The Jetix Magazine has already been launched in Poland, Hungary and Turkey and we're looking to launch it in more countries. MBC has also recently signed up to a sub-licensing agreement to represent Pucca, in addition to Sonic X, across the Middle East.

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