Nelvana Positions Itself for Growth

Nelvana is gearing up for another big year as it prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of "Max and Ruby," introduce new brands to the market and bring its existing properties into new territories.

License Global spoke with Pam Westman, head, Nelvana Enterprises, about the company's biggest initiatives for 2018, its plans for the future and how it hopes to achieve them.

What will be Nelvana's major focus for Licensing Expo and the remainder of 2018?

We have three major objectives for 2018, all of which will be featured at Licensing Expo. First and foremost, we will be focusing on our Nelvana-owned properties such as "Ranger Rob" and "Mysticons," and expanding their reach into key international markets, so we're really looking to bring agents and licensing partners on board for some of the areas that we don't already have.

Next we'll be expanding into the digital world and really playing around with licensing and digital properties. "Bravest Warriors," for example, started on YouTube and we're now creating a series to take linear. This is a really niche property that targets an older demographic. So how do we create a licensing program around that? We're looking to target retailers like Hot Topic as well as Comic-Con-niche licensees.

For the younger age group in digital, the focus will be on our Soft'n Slo Squishies digital shorts. We'll be licensing the property at Licensing Expo and will likely be announcing four major apparel licensees. The brand is very trend-based, and we are thinking about how we get product into market quickly. It's a different feel for us in terms of delving into that part of the licensing world.

The third focus will be on our agency business in Canada and France. We represent properties like "Peppa Pig" and "PJ Masks," as well as Cartoon Network, in Canada, and we're going to expand our licensing portfolio in a big way right before Licensing Expo, so we're really looking at becoming the premier licensing agent in France and Canada.

As 'Max & Ruby' heads into its 40th anniversary, what categories and new initiatives are you planning that will help grow and expand the brand?

"Max and Ruby" has had continual support from Nickelodeon, a fantastic broadcast platform, as well as Treehouse here in Canada; however, we haven't really had any licensed product outside of some publishing and some categories and products like vitamins, which have lasted through the years. So how do we revitalize that? We're going to use the 40th anniversary to make a product that really matches what "Max and Ruby" is in today's world–we're going to have a new publishing program, specialty toys and apparel that will be driven by new content and characters. We're also going to wrap that up into special anniversary plans that will hopefully kick start "Max and Ruby" back into the licensing arena.

Nelvana recently picked up the Soft'n Slo Squishies toy brand, what will the consumer product program look like? What is that timeline?

We recently released our first Soft'n Slo Squishies digital short on YouTube and it's already gaining a lot of traction, which is fantastic. It is a real trend-based item, so we're looking at getting key partners on board, which we're very close to signing, and getting into retail quickly. We've had some great response from retail after our partners approached them, and we're talking to major mass retailers in both the U.S. and Canada because that's really where the squishy trend is right now.

We're going to start off with apparel, accessories, sleepwear and more, which we'll launch at mass merchants where it makes sense, as well as at retailers that specialize in the girls, age 8- to 12-years-old, demographic.

The timeline to launch is currently set for fall, and we're going to ride it as long as the squishy trend goes. Soft'n Slo Squishies isn't like "Max and Ruby," it's a trend that has maybe a two-year window and needs to get into the market quickly.

What is the strategy for "Ranger Rob?"

For "Ranger Rob," we're focusing on product that is coming out this fall. The show has been on Treehouse in Canada for a couple of years, and we have some great broadcast partners in the U.K., France and Germany. We're just about to announce a new broadcaster in Latin America as well. So, we're going to be looking at creating programs within those individual regions that really match the kind of supportive viewership and fan base that the show has.

When we look at expanding into larger territories like the U.S. where the show just launched on Hulu and NBCUniversal's Sprout, we need to let that gestate a bit before we expand outside of the aforementioned regions. That will really allow us to create product, test it and to see what works.

What is Nelvana's international presence like? How are its properties performing?

We actually have an amazing presence internationally, especially in Europe due to our office in Paris, which has a strong consumer products licensing team. They are actively working on "Mysticons" and "Ranger Rob," as well as some third-party agency deals like "Beyblade," which they're doing amazing with.

Our consumer products licensing team in France is very well established, but we want to focus on expanding into and re-focusing our attention on the U.K., Australia, Latin America and Asia.

In the U.K., we recently signed a deal with FremantleKids, which was bought by Boat Rocker, to be our agent, and they're already ramping up "Max and Ruby," "Mysticons" and "Ranger Rob" in the territory.

Hopefully by Licensing Expo we will announce a new partner in Australia, which we're very excited about having on board. We're also focusing on partnerships in China and Japan.

Looking ahead to 2019 and beyond, what are the key factors that will position Nelvana for growth?

Nelvana has an enviable position in that we're a very important division within the Corus world, and Corus owns all of the major broadcasters in Canada including the top five kids' channels in Canada: Treehouse, YTV, Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Due to this, one of our strengths is leveraging our broadcast assets as well as expertise in licensing and merchandising to offer property owners the opportunity to take advantage of all our assets within the marketplace. I think that's really one of the key factors that will help position us for growth. It will also help us in ways like expanding into digital shorts and content.

Our agency business is also an area of growth for us.

Have you added any new team members to support this growth?

We've had a little bit of a re-organization here in the last few months and we've put more resources and focus into our consumer products business.

In doing so, we were able to convince Mellany Masterson to come back. She's heading up our consumer products division and has amazing experience in the digital world as well as the toy business. She's hit the ground running and is aggressively growing our presence within the licensing community globally.

We're looking at a really exciting Licensing Expo and the rest of the year, so we're really happy to have her on board.

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