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HKILS 2015: Opening the doors

Presently under way, the Hong Kong International Licensing Show (HKILS) and Asian Licensing Conference (ALC) offer a look at the scale of the scale of the opportunities around successful entertainment brands.

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Among various conference sessions, plenty of impressive numbers were bandied about to suggest the value of the licensed goods industry, and the potential to keep increasing that value, particularly around Asia.

Although NZ is a consumer of licensed goods from elsewhere, it’s not big on exporting, with a few exceptions. Part of the reason for that is in the psyche. When the All Blacks ditched Canterbury as their apparel supplier and began building a global brand to match their international reputation, there was considerable disappointment expressed locally about “selling out”.

Over the years since, the All Blacks have become a successful brand internationally and – importantly for Kiwis – have found ways to maintain local relationships and reputation.

NZ entertainment brands haven’t grown to the same scale on the world stage, but there are smaller successes and – increasingly – a clearer path that leads to market.

Another NZ icon, Buzzy Bee, is owned by Lion Rock and has its share of licensing agreements in place. It’s been around a long time and has been carefully developed from its original incarnation, something Penguin Books’ Susan Bolsover spoke about during ALC. In its animated TV form, Buzzy Bee is one of the NZ shows that looks overseas for production.

After receiving NZ On Air support for the first (14 x 6′) series of Buzzy Bee and Friends, Lion Rock looked overseas to support a second season. In 2011 the Malaysian government was offering much better levels of support for animation production than were available here, so series 2 (52 x 7′) was made in Malaysia by Lemon Sky Animation. Australia-based Beyond took on the distribution.

The agreements were successful for Lion Rock, albeit it on a modest scale compared with other children’s entertainment brands being built around the region.

Across the ditch The Wiggles, Hi 5 and Bananas in Pyjamas have all built sizeable international licensing empires. Hi 5 shifted its production to Malaysia after Singapore-based Asiasons bought the brand from the Nine Network and Southern Star Entertainment. A Latin American version of the show was announced late last year.

A number of NZ-made (if not NZ-owned) screen titles have done considerable licensing business, most obviously but not only the two Tolkien trilogies by Peter Jackson.

Although much of the licensing activity is very retail-focused, Warner Bros. Consumer Products Bianca Lee noted that some of the more exciting licensed activities around The Hobbit trilogy had been by Air New Zealand, from its Unexpected Briefing safety video accompnaying the release of the first film through to The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made, which released ahead of the final film. The video became the sixth most-viewed YouTube video in Australia last year.

Much of Pukeko Pictures’ product is licensed, being developed from children’s author Martin Baynton’s work. The WotWots is the most successful of those ventures in Asia, having done deals for broadcast into China which include China-specific episodes. Pukeko is also involved in the soon-coming reimagining of Thunderbirds, one of the first British TV shows to exploit merchandising as part of its business model back in the 1960s.

Late last year Thunderbirds Are Go! was confirmed for a second series, offering greater comfort for those entering into licensing deals for the property.

The Tracy boys (l-r): Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John

The Tracy boys (l-r): Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John

Other NZ-developed properties have shown potential but, for various reasons, not yet fulfilled it. A number of TV series have sold into larger markets overseas as format rights, offering the potential for related licensing agreements. None have really survived long enough in the new markets to exploit that potential.

In 2011 Michael Bennett and Maile Daugherty entered into a MOU with Beijing-based Xing Xing Digital to develop Downside Story, a 3D animated family action adventure feature film set in Shanghai, which had clear potential for related merchandising. Eventually the project didn’t go ahead, although others will.

At a state level, the increase in incentive rates, expansion of the NZ-China co-production agreement to cover TV as well as film, and recent NZFC-led mission to China all help create opportunities for doing more business.

For those interested in creating children’s/family entertainment properties, the Chinese market is an appealing if competitive one to associate with.

The Hong Kong International Licensing Show runs 12-14 January, the Asian Licensing Conference 12-13 January.

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