Studio Fun Brings Blippi to Books
Studio Fun International has acquired the rights to YouTube star Blippi for publishing formats geared toward children ages two to seven. Blippi, portrayed in live-action and animated form by Stevin John, helps preschoolers learn about the world around them, teaching topics such as counting and colors as he visits the zoo or introduces his viewers to vehicles. The series is humorous and features lots of music and fan interaction.
“He’s so wacky,” said Rosanne McManus, v-p and publisher of Printers Row Publishing Group’s Studio Fun and Silver Dolphin Books imprints. “The books reflect his personality and that of the videos exactly.”
“We wanted to try to capture the conversation between Blippi and the child that happens in the videos,” added editorial director Debra Mostow Zakarin.
The deal brings Studio Fun into formats not typically included in its licensing deals, including 8x8s, coloring and activity, board books, and pre-level 1 readers, as well as the interactive novelty formats for which it is known. The list starts with two 8x8s, Things That Go! and Let’s See Animals!, in October 2019, followed by four more titles in February and March 2020. Additional titles will roll out later that year. “It will be a hefty list until we have something in all of our formats,” McManus said.
Blippi’s main YouTube channel had 2.7 million subscribers at the end of 2018, with another 2.5 million subscribing to the Blippi Toys channel. All told, Blippi, who is represented by UTA for licensing, generates more than 400 million monthly views and has attracted more than eight billion views in total since launch. His content is also available on other streaming platforms, including Amazon Video. CNN Business reported in 2019 that the brand generates $1 million per year in revenue from advertising, merchandise, music, and other ventures.
Jazwares will introduce a full line of Blippi toys in spring 2020, with other licensing and entertainment projects in the works.
Candlewick Ties In to Gigantosaurus
Candlewick Press is set to debut TV tie-ins for the new series Gigantosaurus, airing on Disney Junior in the U.S. since January 2019, with a second run on Netflix. The show is based on Jonny Duddle’s picture book of the same name, published by Templar with Candlewick holding U.S. rights. The original has sold 450,000 copies worldwide since its 2014 launch. Cyber Group Studios produces the show and is the licensor.
The first tie-in will be a 10x10 hardcover, The Story of Gigantosaurus, which will also be available in paperback, followed by two 8x8s, The Lost Egg and Don’t Cave In. Each will come out in both hardcover and paperback versions, the latter with stickers included. Five additional titles are planned for spring 2020.
The debut of the books in September, just nine months after the premiere of the series, represents a more compressed timeframe than is typical for tie-ins. “The show is doing so well, people want more, right now,” said Mary McCagg, director of licensing, key property development, and proprietary sales. She reports that buyers across channels, from the school and library market, to Barnes & Noble, to mass retailers, are all excited about the launch.
The series focuses on preschool dinosaurs that are leaving the nest for the first time. “There are life lessons, but there’s also a little more action-adventure and drama than in many preschool shows,” said Richard Goldsmith, Cyber Group’s president and CEO. He noted that there is a villain, as well as a complex world for a show of its kind, featuring 42 dinosaurs and 70 different locations in the first 52 episodes.
Jakks Pacific serves as the master toy licensee and will debut its first products late this summer, just before the first books come out. Live shows, YouTube content, videogames, feature films, and more licensed merchandise are also in development.
More Clue for Hasbro and Its Partners
Hasbro and its licensees are expanding the publishing program based on the classic board game, Clue. IDW is following up its first six-issue comic book mini-series by Paul Allor, which began in spring 2017, with a second mini-series this spring dubbed Clue: Candlestick, by graphic novel author and illustrator Dash Shaw. “It’s a unique take, 180 degrees different from the first series,” said Michael Kelly, Hasbro’s v-p of global publishing. “It’s very different from what Clue fans would expect. It’s really avant-garde, I would say.”
In the game of Clue, a variety of characters/potential suspects have starring roles, and each individual game starts with a new premise. “Every time you play the game it’s different, and there are also different versions of Clue,” Kelly aid. “So there’s no need to be the same each time with this property. It’s fun to have a brand we can be so experimental with.”
Abrams is also joining the Clue family with a trilogy of YA mystery novels, with the first, In the Hall with the Knife, coming out in September. “They’re reimagining the characters and putting them in unique locations and seeing what unfolds,” Kelly explained. Novels have been a strong format for the property in France, where it is known as Cluedo and has been the focus of 18 mystery titles to date, for ages 10 to 12, from Hachette Jeunesse’s La Bibliotheque Verte imprint.
Penguin Features Licenses in New Who HQ Series
Penguin Young Readers has added a new series to its Who HQ program, dubbed What Is the Story of…. The books tell the tales of how famous characters from Dracula and Frankenstein to Hello Kitty and Scooby Doo were created. “Kids are really interested in knowing the story behind their favorite brands,” said Daniel Moreton, associate publisher of Penguin Workshop.
The middle grade series brings licensed properties into the Who HQ family for the first time. Hello Kitty and Scooby Doo debuted this past spring; Wonder Woman and Frankenstein are set for August, Doctor Who and The Wizard of Oz for October, and Looney Tunes and Batman for March 2020. In total, six to eight titles (licensed and non-licensed) are planned per year.
The strategy of bringing licenses into a proprietary brand is similar to what Penguin has done with Mad Libs. “We’re building the licensed portion of our own IP,” Moreton said. “When you can feed licensing in, it’s a way to expand an established brand.” As with Mad Libs, Penguin will consider both properties for which it has a broader licensing agreement and those that are appropriate just for Who HQ. “We’re looking for brands that resonate with kids and have a great story to tell,” Moreton said.
Rebel Girls Extends Brand Through Licensing
Timbuktu Labs’ Rebel Girls publishing and media brand has retained Brand Activation Consulting as its licensing agent for North America, while Rocket Licensing was recently signed as the rep for the U.K. and Eire. Launched in 2012 with Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, a collection of one-page aspirational biographies about strong women throughout history, the brand has expanded with a second volume, a journal, and podcast. A series of biographical chapter books and a new fiction imprint will debut soon.
“This brand is something very special,” said Bob Traub, BAC’s principal and chief operating officer. “It has a message I want my girls to hear. The artwork is amazing, and it works at all levels of retail. It’s a very easy sell.”
“We liked BAC’s sheer excitement around the brand,” said Michon Vanderpoel, Timbuktu’s rights director. “It is different for the licensing industry. Their vision for the brand was the same as ours, and they understood it the first time they saw it.”
Timbuktu’s extensive social media presence in support of Rebel Girls gives it a sense of which subjects fans relate to. Among them are programmer Ada Lovelace, designer Coco Chanel, and aviator Amelia Earhart, as well as pirates (e.g. Grace O’Malley) and spies (Virginia Hall). The top brands are likely to be the focus of the first round of merchandise.
Products will cross a variety of lifestyle categories, from party kits and room décor to apparel and dolls, with each featuring content about the women depicted on the products. “We want everything we do to carry that message of empowerment,” Traub said.
“Education is a big part of the brand,” Vanderpoel added. “There are other brands out there with empowerment themes, but this is authentic. It’s storytelling with a mission. We think it fills a white space in the licensing market.”
The Return of the Junior Elf Brand
Rand McNally published Junior Elf books, a series of small-format illustrated hardback titles for young children, from the 1950s to the late 1980s, selling 100 million copies. The current owner of the franchise, Toon Studio Licensing, is relaunching the brand with a licensing program handled by agency The Buffalo Works. The property, which encompasses 565 titles, launched at Licensing Expo in June. “It was definitely the hit of the show for us,” said Joanne Olds, The Buffalo Works’ president and founder.
Zrike Brands is signed for dinnerware, which is scheduled to ship into chains such as Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Costco by September. Additional home goods, apparel, backpacks, costumes, and dress-up items are among the other categories under consideration, with products geared toward both adults and children.
“We want to keep the look very original and retro,” Olds said, noting that most of the kids’ products, including Zrike’s dinnerware, will be packaged with a book. “We want to create that added value of having an activity or experience along with the product.”
Publishers for the Netflix series Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance include Insight Editions for an art-of title and Penguin Young Readers (also the main licensee for classic Dark Crystal publishing) for a YA tie-in, character guide, and words of wisdom book. Meanwhile, Little Golden Books is releasing a title based on the classic Dark Crystal film.... Scholastic is the publishing partner for the relaunch of Bakugan, and is planning an extensive program of collectibles guides and readers written by Tracey West. Scholastic was the licensee for the toy-and-TV property the first time around as well.... Random House is bringing its DC Super Hero Girls franchise, licensed by Warner Bros., into chapter books, in line with the age group watching the series that launched on Cartoon Network in March. It also has a new addition to its Nick Jr. publishing program with Butterbean’s Café; one of the titles will be a scratch-and-sniff book capturing the scents of the bakery where the series takes place. Finally, Random is partnering with Hasbro for books tied to BotBots, a humorous Transformers spin-off for ages six to nine.... Lookout Entertainment, the licensing agent for Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, has paired with Splash Entertainment to develop animated on-screen content based on The Little Shop of Monsters, written by Stine and illustrated by Arthur creator Marc Brown, as well as content for Stine’s series Rotten School.... Kappa Books is planning a line of coloring and activity titles based on Funrise’s Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitty, airing on Nickelodeon.... Dr. Seuss Enterprises licensed Oriental Trading Co. for classroom school supplies, launching in September, and consumer paper goods to hit retail in time for the holiday season.... New licenses for IDW include the Fox cult classic film Napoleon Dynamite, Sony Pictures Television and Overbrook Entertainment’s YouTube premium series Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues, CMON’s tabletop game Starcadia Quest, and Captain Marvel, licensed by Disney/Marvel. The last is part of IDW’s ongoing Marvel Action line of comics.