This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.
I was recently asked to take part in a Facebook round robin to nominate my top ten favourite films. Among my list was the film Groundhog Day. In part because I love the film but also because to an extent licensing is having a bit of a Groundhog Day moment. Whichever way you turn the answer still seems to be no. It is tough to get deals and to kickstart licensing programmes. This is particularly true in traditional and core areas. This is not to say licensed products and licensing aren’t doing well. It is more a function of supply outstripping demand in the traditional categories.
So how do we avoid the Groundhog Day becoming Groundhog week or month. I think we have to think new and different. Licensing opportunities exist and can be created outside the crowded centre. We also need to be more consumer aware and savvy about distribution opportunities to reach those consumers.
A few examples that I have noted recently include the growing use of IP by live event companies. In my own work I have seen Aardman create two fantastic live events with Wallace & Gromit recently. One is a music concert tour, Musical Marvels where the original films are shown with a live orchestra playing the score, and the other is a festival event the Cheese Fest which is touring the UK. Both of these tie into Wallace & Gromit’s 30th Anniversary and use the available IP well. There is a relevance to the activity. It is becoming more common to see film companies creating live events such as concerts and stage shows with third party producers. For example I noticed classic 50s TV series The Twilight Zone has been adapted as a stage play in London’s West End.
Theatre shows, music concerts and festival events are great areas for licensing – providing the idea is a good one and there is an audience to market to.
Another area that is offering new opportunities for IP owners is that of branded beers and spirits. The UK market seems to be awash with craft beers and bottle shops selling a wide range of beers sourced from independent brewers. One way of differentiating things is by creating products in tandem with well known brands. A recent example of this is a beer produced in association with rock band Motörhead. In other categories such as gin and whiskey there have been licensed products created with brands such as the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and The Open. Of course brands such as Guinness and Jack Daniel’s have had long-term success in licensing developing diverse products such as food lines and giftware. This is a good calling card for licensing conversations.
It is also refreshing to see new licensees developing strong businesses by using licensing. Composite gift company Demand Media has developed a good range of licensed products based on licenses such as Haynes Manuals, The Snowman and The Discovery Channel. They adopt a strategy of building a product with a trade customer or sector in mind. They mine significant niches well and create original product combinations. Likewise in my own work with Aardman we have focussed on opportunities in markets like garden centres and heritage locations. We have found licensees who serve these markets already and are recognised by retailers. For example Primus have created metal Shaun the Sheep and Gromit garden statues.
So whilst there are too many reminders of Bill Murray at the moment there are alternatives out there. Returning to my film list and number 3 on it: to paraphrase, I think it is a case of Where Agents Dare at the moment – it is the time to try new things and knock on new doors. But do some research first. Know your audience and your retail channels. Licensing has a lot to offer to the right people.