Entertainment One doesn’t greenlight new pre-school shows very often. In fact, you can pretty much count its current portfolio of brands in the sector on one hand and still have a couple of digits to spare.
But, with the likes of Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and Ben & Holly’s Magic Kingdom, what eOne lacks in numbers it more than makes up for in global broadcasting, licensing and franchising success to the tune of millions.
Of course, with a small team of elite brands like it has, when a new property enters the eOne fold - it’s kind of a big deal. Which is why, when the studio declared the arrival of Ricky Zoom in mid 2018, a ripple of excitement was felt across the licensing space for what the latest property can bring to the space.
“When we read the treatment, it was instantly clear that this is a show with real heart and a great community of characters who just happen to be bikes,” says Katie Rollings, SVP of UK licensing at Entertainment One.
And the cat’s out of the bag: Ricky Zoom is all about motorbikes. And its series run of 52 11-minute CGI programmes will follow the adventures of Ricky - the little red rescue bike with a zest for speed - and his bike buddies in Loop, Scootio and DJ. Together, they race around the sports track, try out new stunts and zoom into adventure, is the official line.
The more candid line from eOne’s Rollings is that the studio believes Ricky Zoom has a “similar relatability of Peppa Pig, because of the experiences of the characters, while it has the aspiration of PJ Masks.”
The action of Ricky Zoom takes place in the town of Wheelford, a place tailor made for bikes where Ricky is surrounded by a close-knit community and the show itself is scheduled to launch in selected markets from spring/summer 2019.
“It comes from the producers of PJ Masks, so we have high hopes for it next year,” continues Rollings.
“Launching Ricky Zoom is part of our ongoing strategy to build properties around original content nurturing and sustaining them for the long term. It’s the commitment to highly original content that helps maintain our position in the pre-school sector.
Entertainment One has already seen a good deal of success with a CGI series in PJ Masks. The fact it has returned to the medium clearly displays a confidence in what CGI delivers to the pre-school space, while ensuring it maintains its place within the eOne portfolio.
“Ricky Zom is entirely complementary to our other pre-school brands and has all the same hallmarks of quality that they have,” says Rollings. “We are wholly dedicated to making content based on exceptional storytelling which can engage the fan base at multiple levels.
“That principal is at the heart of the success of Peppa Pig and PJ Masks and we are confident it will be true of Ricky Zoom as well. The incredible success of PJ Masks and the global resurgence of Peppa Pig has transformed our business and proved that we can build and sustain multiple brands that deliver at retail and resonate with audiences on a global level.”
While, yes all three brands Rollings speaks of now are pre-school properties, the studio insists that readings dictate that PJ Masks resonates most with boys aged four to five with a strong secondary appeal to girls, while Peppa Pig is predominantly hitting the two to four age range on a gender neutral level.
“We therefore believe that the sweet spot for Ricky Zoom is going to be three year olds with a slight gender bias towards boys,” says Rollings. And it is useful information to know. This will, after all, be wielded as a valuable tool when tailoring a consumer products programme for the series.
The licensing programme will primarily target boys aged two to five and will be spearheaded by toys as it rolls out its consumer products from autumn/winter this year. TOMY is already on board as the global master toy partner and the initial range will include vehicles and playsets, including Ricky’s House.
This will be followed by publishing, as well as a small range of games and puzzles and a capsule apparel offering.
“The property has huge potential in the toy category,” states Rollings. “TOMY is bringing an innovative approach to the toy line which is exceptional and as a result, the toy line directly embodies and reflects the DNA of the show.
“Our experience with Peppa Pig and PJ Masks has given us the necessary tools to understand what it takes to build great content into a long term international brand at every level and this is a very good foundation from which to launch Ricky Zoom.”
Rollings is among the first to recognise that the pre-school market is tough. It has been for a while. Competition is fierce and it is becoming an increasingly difficult sector in which to launch a new property. However, Rollings is encouraged by the industry’s early response to Ricky Zoom and is optimistic about its chances for success.
“One significant change in the way we market pre-school properties has been in the rise in emphasis on experience and engagement, even for the youngest fans, and this gives us fresh opportunities within the sector,” explains Rollings.
Amid our chat, Rollings drops the inevitable licensing catchphrase, ‘touchpoints’. It’s become a staple part of the merchandising diet, particularly as more and more consumers and audiences are expecting experiential engagement with the brands they enjoy.
“Giving fans the chance to interact with their favourite characters is something we feel very strongly about at eOne,” she says/ “We have a dedicated in-house team focused on delivering live experiences across all our brands, including Ricky Zoom and right now we are working on ideas to bring Ricky and the other bike characters to life through a suite of live events and activations.”
Rollings rounds up by stating that key role Ricky Zoom will go on play in the eOne brand portfolio from this point. But despite the attention the brand will now doubt be receiving, she promises that eyes will not be taken off the likes of Peppa Pig and PJ Masks.
Peppa is, after all, celebrating an important anniversary this year, while the roll-out for PJ Masks will continue.
“Our experience in the pre-school sector has taught us that to allow your brand the best chance of success, you need patience and focus and that’s what we’ll be applying to all our brands as we manage our growing portfolio,” she concludes.