The brand concept is weighing more and more in production strategy and distribution logic. Is this development likely to substantially change the relationship with the piece of work or even the very notion of what "a work" is?
Jean-Paul Commin introduces the subject by stating that 50 % of the series presented to broadcasters in France in 2009 came from existing licenses. Does this mean that writers and producers lack creativity, or, more simply, that channels have more confidence in these projects as there are fewer risks involved? Today, books, comic books or comics and video games are all vectors of licensing and merchandising that are essential for producers and synonyms of potential sources of income that even broadcasters are becoming interested in the prospect.
Johanna Karsenty first introduces Eurodata TV Worldwide, which can be summed up as a huge database from 80 countries representing nearly three billion potential TV viewers. This resource has highlighted the fact that between 2004 and 2009 people spent nine minutes longer per day in front of their TV screens, including an increase of three minutes between 2008 and 2009. This comprehensive system also has ratings exclusively given over to programmes for children, called Kids TV Report, which lists figures for countries like Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain and Italy. It shows that on average children spent one minute more in front of the screen between 2008 and 2009. It is interesting to note however that with 2 hours 12 minutes, France registered... one minute less.
In the Top 20 of most viewed programmes, 21 % of them are licenses of comic books and children's books. "Also featured are animated adaptations of live action series," adds the consultant. Mangas are also up there, with 7 % in the Top 20, but with geographical differences: "Italy are the leaders for this." Video games like Gormiti or Wakfu in France, represent 4 % of programmes, in the same proportions as the adaptations of series (Zorro, The Pink Panther, etc.). In total, 36 % of children's programmes in Europe come from adaptations and licenses.
Tele Images Kids
Médiamétrie- Eurodata TV Worldwide
Senior Acquisitions Manager
Cake Entertainment, Ltd.
Philippe Alessandri believes that audience fragmentation related to the proliferation of content channels has resulted in increased economic difficulties to fund new series. "In addition, children are a much more conservative viewing public than adults, and, as such, they like to watch and re-watch what they are familiar with. Licensing helps to build a televisual brand, in the sense that paper channels (magazines, books) and interactive channels (video games, web sites) give leverage to launching TV series." Clearly, children who like toys from a license are more likely to watch the series.
It is therefore of obvious interest to broadcasters who, on the one hand, can enjoy the buzz made around a license and, on the other hand, can expect more revenue from it. We are even seeing alliances forming between broadcasters and producers to develop a concerted merchandising strategy via their own departments to promote the brand. Does this mean that the viewer should be considered like a consumer? "No," emphatically retorts Philippe Alessandri, "because successful licenses do not necessarily mean successful TV series." Hence, it is interesting to note that sometimes series that have little or nothing to do with a license have the advantage of generating a wider potential audience simply because they are not attached to a particular brand. In conclusion, the programme strategy should certainly take the concept of licensing into consideration along with all the other elements, but always bear in mind that what really counts is the public.
In contrast, although José Luis Ucha feels that licensing drives programming, he remains circumspect about the conservative nature of young viewers. "Television no longer has the monopoly of entertainment. Faced with the global crisis that has rocked the world of television production, we must all be thinking about solutions on a global scale." He also underlines the fact that broadcasters are very apprehensive about anything new and a viewer can always go elsewhere to find what is lacking. There would seem to be no conservatism here, but certainly a need for a proactive approach to finding fresh content.
And Tom Van Waveren seems to agree with him. He talks about the results of a study revealing that when young people watch one and a half hours of TV, they are actually consuming two and a half hours of content! In fact, the multiplication and diversification of media has lead to a radical change in behaviour on the part of viewers, who have become content consumers. However, he goes on to add that different media can accelerate the process but, "television remains the launching pad for new content compared to other media. This fragmentation means that TV series need to become rapidly attractive propositions, otherwise young viewers will go over to other content available," whether correlated or not.
Taking the example of the series Total Drama Island, he notes that over 1.6 million viewers on average have followed the programme and 3.3 million fans of the series have visited the web site to create their own avatar. With such a success we were expecting substantial gains, but that was not the case. Which just goes to show that even a successful programme does not mean that licensing will automatically generate revenue.
He goes on to explain that licensing is not the panacea. "When a programme is new, the viewer has more opportunity to get involved and become a regular viewer. In contrast, when it's based on an old license – potentially with high added value – the same viewer may not like the design of the programme or the animation. This results in the opposite of the strategy."
As Senior Acquisitions Manager for the German channel Super RTL, Sylvia Schmöller thinks that private channels tend to look favourably on licensing, because, "it is an additional source of income." However, she doesn't believe that this should be the sole reasoning: "It's all about the force of the work in question." Tom Van Waveren adds and emphasizes the need to understand in what way the license has become successful. "It's important to focus on the strengths of a license and build on them to develop the strategy. Thinking of the license just for itself is negative."
Philippe Alessandri agrees and adds that although some licenses may seem an attractive proposition at first sight, it is often impossible to adapt them because, for example, they do not touch many generations. The viewer should be thought of right across the board. "If we adapt an old license, it must first be modernised to meet current needs and not be left rooted where it began."
To those that think licensing kills creativity, Philippe Alessandri argues that, on the contrary, "it can be a powerful motor for creativity." Taking the example of the series High Five, featuring the basketball star Tony Parker, he explains: "We collaborated with many different departments at the studio to work out the best merchandising strategy, given that we had to show off such a famous sportsman to the best advantage. Rather than going in all directions, this forced us to be more creative."
Tom Van Waveren states that "the license is not everything." "Content is king," adds Sylvia Schmöller. "Success can not be manufactured; the uncertainty of new programmes is what gives them their strength."
Philippe Alessandri prefers the proactive approach as opposed to adapting existing licenses, and would rather create new ones. Working on this principle, Foot 2 Rue is not only a TV programme but also a website, running on "freemium" and co-financed with France Télévisions, for a budget of 250,000 €. Here, the license isn't generating immediate income – the games available are free – but the kit (in the form of add-ons or bonuses) has to be paid for. This raises the question of payment. A fast food chain is financing this particular project and instead of plastic toys offered by the restaurant, Télé Images Kids offers passes giving codes so that the kids can connect to other pages on the site or have the possibility of better gameplay. This is a sort of bonus for the kids that their parents pay for, which in turn brings into play the issue of cross-media.
In the end, a license must and should be thought about as an overall strategy that touches cross-media. A single variation of a programme is not in itself a source of growth for either producers or broadcasters. Although licensing drives programming, it is not necessarily the vehicle that makes it move forward. The license should be thought about across the board, with a reasoned and concerted strategy that touches different platforms and always keeps content in mind.