It hasn't been very often over the past couple of years that someone has uttered the word bullish in an interview. Mark Kingston, VP Nickelodeon & MTV Consumer Products UK and Australia, however, just comes right out with it. “We’re confident overall, very bullish,” he tells ToyNews.
And, as he talks through the changes he’s made since he arrived at Nickelodeon in February and the plans coming up for its content, you can see why he’s so upbeat.
Kingston joined NCP from Disney, where he worked with all the key retailers (the last four years with the Tesco business unit), building up relationships and explaining the added value that licensors can bring to the process.
“For the last four or five months I’ve been doing a strategic review of the business, looking at having the most efficient structure in place, ensuring that we have the resource to focus on retail, but also develop great products,” Kingston says. “We’ve really invested in people. We have a ‘retail facing’ team of five people, which, aside from Disney, I can’t think of anyone else in the licensor community who has that.
“Retail is so important. We have to be as close to the consumer as possible to understand what they want. The retail landscape has changed drastically over the last decade and it will change again, drastically, over the next ten years. We’ve never really had the team to be able to build up those regular contacts with retailers until now. We need day to day contact with key retail partners to understand their strategies and ensure that we can provide products and solutions to meet their needs.”
NCP is also working on expanding its licensee base, strengthening its existing relationships as well as bringing on board new partners.
The appeal of NCP’s portfolio is already quite broad, of course. Evergreen properties Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants continue to lead the way. Dora, which has been in the UK now for 11 years, was still the number four brand for girls 0-4 last year, according to NPD. “We’ve probably diluted the marketplace over the last few years by having too many different looks and feels to Dora,” Kingston offers.
“So we’ve used the last six to 12 months cleaning that up and we have got some great new creative coming through.”
For Spongebob, meanwhile, the fastest growing category is tween girls, with apparel and stationery both appealing. Overall, says Kingston, Spongebob Squarepants has grown 19 per cent YOY from a consumer products perspective.
Plans are also afoot to make Winx Club more appropriate for UK and US audiences. The firm controls the English speaking territories following its deal with Rainbow, so has re-voiced the existing four seasons using Nickelodeon talent from its live action show. It is now working on new CGI content for season five, as well as carefully editing some of seasons one to four. The show has just started airing on Nickelodeon in the UK and Kingston says it will be broadcast for a full year before products appear in the marketplace.
The strong start made by Victorious and Big Time Rush on air will also be built on. Fashion will be the lead category here, with the main product launch likely to take place in autumn/winter 2012.
Live action shows like Victorious have been a key feature of Nickelodeon's 2011 portfolio
The big news, however, is the return of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in spring/summer 2013. “We firmly believe this is an evergreen franchise which can be established as a huge CP property over the next ten years,” Kingston continues. “We’re not looking at this as just a movie property or an ‘in and out’ property, we’re looking at this being a long-term franchise for Nickelodeon. Over the years the different iterations of Turtles had seen the four brothers almost become identical, the same height, same clothing, whereas boys want to have a favourite, they want to be able to associate themselves with those characters. We’re putting the tongue in cheek humour back into it, we’re going back to the 1984-esque Turtles.”
So, bullish? Most definitely. But not without good reason.