Built to last - ToyNews

Built to last

Bob the Builder is one of the most successful pre-school characters of all time, with even Barack Obama adopting his catchphrase for his recent election campaign. Samantha Loveday talks to Hit's Jon Owen and Ronnie Yaffe from Martin Yaffe about the role the toy line has played in his success...
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"We coined the phrase recently that Bob has become part of pre-school culture," states Jon Owen, vice president of consumer products EMEA at Hit Entertainment.

Indeed, not many pre-school properties can lay claim to what Bob the Builder has achieved since its debut on the BBC on September 9th 1999. To run through just a few stats: the show can now be seen in over 250 territories worldwide and is translated into 45 languages; there are 209 x ten-minute episodes, plus two 50-minute specials; over ten million videos/DVDs have been shifted across 26 home entertainment titles; Bob has had two number one music singles; over $4 billion in global retail sales life to date; and, of course, there's the BAFTA.

"In many ways, Bob is timeless," Owen continues. "It's a combination of a lot of things, not only in what Keith [Chapman] has done in generating the format, the programme, the character, but also what Hit has done in supporting it and taking it forward."

At any one time, the licensing programme is made up of around 60 licensees across the usual categories. Martin Yaffe has been on board since the very beginning as the master toy partner, as MD Ronnie Yaffe explains: "I was originally approached by Katie Foster, who I'd previously worked with on Teletubbies. I saw the play patterns, I liked the programming, it was fresh and new; Bob just seemed to hit the spot for me.

"The programming has been very good because it's always created lots of new vehicles; they are a staple part of Bob's world and that has helped us to develop new product. In fact, each year we have supported Bob with new products. Some of which, like the tool bench for example, have been massive investments. We try to develop things that are 'Bob', like the tool bench and the vehicles. All of the characters and vehicles are great to work with and people like them. Many people have tried to imitate it, but Bob is still there because Hit continues to work at it and Martin Yaffe continues to work at it."

Owen continues: "I think we've taken Bob beyond just the television programme and put him out there on so many more levels. Of course, there's a commitment to new programming, but it is also a huge DVD franchise and we now also have a live action version of Bob where he narrates and explains the construction elements to various building projects [Bob On Site - Skyscrapers and Green Builds are planned for 2009]. Beyond that, we've got a never been seen before special - Legend of the Golden Hammer - which will be the first entry into CGI."

On top of all this activity, the live events programme remains strong - a 4D movie is airing at Legoland, plus Bob will be in residence at Butlins throughout the summer before the live gigging tour returns to the UK in October. In short, Bob's tenth anniversary year is going to be pretty full on.

For both Yaffe and Owen, one of the keys to Bob's longevity is always looking to move the brand forward. Yaffe says: "We're always trying to find something new and different. We're looking forward to the new CGI, which will probably give us more opportunities and see things from a different angle."

Owen agrees: "CGI for us is a natural progression. I think it will provide some dynamic, if you like, for the licensing programme."

And after the tenth anniversary - where does Bob go from here? "I'd like to think the success can go on," says Owen. "As a company we are investing very heavily in our core properties and Bob is absolutely one of these. We're very proud of the spot he has; we've got that product innovation coming through and we're preparing the tools to do the job, and for our licensees to do the job, I think he's going to be here for some time yet."

BOB'S BUILDING BLOCKS TO SUCCESS

1998
Hit Entertainment acquires the rights to Bob the Builder, with production beginning on the stop-frame animated series at Hot Animation studios. Martin Yaffe is named as the master toy licensee in the UK.

1999

The show makes its debut on the BBC - on September 9th - with the consumer products programme and website following.

2000

The show's theme song - Can We Fix It? Yes, We Can - hits the top of the charts in the UK. The series airs on Super RTL in Germany, while it is also honoured with Best International Licence of the Year by LIMA.

2001

US premiere and another award, this time for LIMA's Entertainment Property of the Year.

2002

Live show and tours begin in the UK and Australia.

2003

First DVD special - A Christmas to Remember - picks up the Best Animation Award at BAFTA.

2005

Bob the Builder - Project: Build It, the first serialised show for pre-schoolers, launches on PBS Kids. RC2 Learning Curve is named master toy licensee for Bob the Builder in the US, while in the UK the character stars in the Cbeebies Live show.

2006

The series is now airing in nearly 250 countries and in 45 languages. Various activity sees the first Project: Build It travelling exhibit debuting at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, plus an invite to join the Queen at Buckingham Palace for her 80th birthday.

2007
Bob finishes the year as the fastest growing pre-school toy brand and is ranked number two in the pre-school category (Source: NPD, Jan-Dec 2006). The first fully interactive live show - Build it with Bob - runs at The Science Museum, while Project Renovate, to educate kids about the importance of energy efficiency and the environment, launches.

2008
Project Renovate 2008 launches in partnership with Knauf Insulation and Travis Perkins. Bob achieves over $4 billion in global retail sales to date. A new website is launched and boasts 25 million page views per month.

2009

The character officially celebrates ten years in the business. Project Renovate 2009 kicks off.

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