Pre-schoolers fund a rising Bear market

Rupert is back on our screens but he has his eye on more than TV revenue, says Huw J. Williams.

Rupert the Bear is 86 years old on 8 November. The anniversary of his first appearance as a Daily Express cartoon will see a remodelled Rupert in a new television show as part of Five’s Milkshake children’s strand. He is the latest well-worn children’s character to be given a makeover to appeal to a new generation and his reappearance on our screens marks the start of a campaign to make this old children’s favourite a lucrative global brand.

Getting a character on to television is merely the first step towards the real money: merchandising revenue. The UK pre-school product market is estimated to be worth £764m a year, and a significant percentage of these toys, clothes and other goods are emblazoned with images of television characters. Pre-school favourites The Tweenies generated over £400m during a three-year period for UK sales alone. Bob the Builder is shown in more than 200 countries.

But even a prime-time slot on children’s terrestrial television does not guarantee success. Children are incredibly selective about what they will take to their hearts. Jane Smith, group commercial director of Entertainment Rights, the company behind the Rupert relaunch, says that to work, a character has to have integrity: ‘The pre-school audience is pretty discerning. If they don’t like it they don’t watch it. They have to have an emotional connection before they will want to buy a Postman Pat jigsaw. They have to like the characters.’

Once that emotional bond is forged, the merchandising potential is not limited to toys. Global DVD sales are worth around £27bn annually, and the children’s segment of that market is 15-20 per cent. Then there are the clothes, books, stationery, foods, bedspreads, and myriad other items.

Though Rupert the Bear has been around since 1920, has had previous television programmes and flirted with merchandising, Entertainment Rights is not in a rush to market a swathe of products to tempt young consumers. This is in part due to the fact that the new Rupert has been give a makeover to bring him into line with the sophisticated tastes of today’s pre-school child. It is also because, when dealing with the under-fives, there’s no such thing as a pedigree, as Jane Smith points out.

‘Kids of three or four might have heard of Rupert through mum and dad, but he is not a character they are familiar with,’ she says.

‘We launched the website a month ago, driving consumers to the programme, and once it is on air we will work with Five to increase audience awareness. It will probably be six to nine months before you see any products at retail.’


The Observer, Sunday 5 November 2006 [read it here]

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