Of course there are exceptions and these are often in the more glamorous or fictional sector. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, for example, the American series about police forensic evidence investigators, has inspired a range of products including science kits, partworks, trading cards, mobile phone content and board games. Its success can be attributed to its unique subject matter and cult following. Alliance Atlantis's Jennifer Bennett tells us, 'CSI attracts a wide spectrum of viewers and consumers because it's compelling stuff. CSI was the first drama about forensic science and it's a wildly fascinating field.' She says that licensed products have been developed to help fans make a broader, deeper connection to the captivating elements of the show. She admits that one-hour dramas are not inherently merchandisable but CSI seems to be a successful anomaly. Its consumer products programme has evolved to include specific products for CSI: Miami and CSI: New York.
BBC Worldwide has high hopes for the new Doctor Who series. 'Science fiction inspires a real passion,' says Richard. 'The iconic Daleks were introduced to Dr Who in 1964 and became the first must-have TV-related toy'. Today, Dr Who has a huge following of adult collectors, addicts and fans (Panini's magazine has been published every month for 25 years), but BBC Worldwide is using the new series to put the show back into the mainstream by aiming it at a new audience of seven to ten year olds. A limited line of Character Options toys, Downpace gifts, Danilo cards and Wesco clocks will go on sale in the autumn.
One of the most successful licensing campaigns in this genre is for Germany's long-running soap Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten (Good Times, Bad Times). Licensing started with music products and, thanks in part to contracts with the talent, has grown to include furniture and beauty products. But Fremantle's Birgit Hoensch explains an important development. 'Serial drama merchandise is changing and classical, logo-bearing licensed products are becoming less successful,' she says. In the case of Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten, for example, the magazine readership has dropped from 350,000 to a still healthy 120,000, partly because the show gets coverage in the mainstream teenage press. In contrast, other licensing has grown. A recent development is for stars to appear in TV adverts (and associated in-store material) for branded products. Characters have worked with L'Oreal, Microsoft and t-Mobile, for example. Birgit reports that retailers are more enthusiastic about this development and about entertainment products such as music (see below) than they are about classic t-shirts and other products. Birgit suggests one of the reasons Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten has been so successful off the screen is that it's pure fiction. The people are beautiful, their lives are perfect. This fiction must be reflected in the products they endorse; no household cleaners, for example, because you'd never see the characters using them in the show.
What about less-glamorous soaps? 2005 is the 20th anniversary of Neighbours in the UK and Fremantle is undergoing a full review of the brand before developing associated licensing. This will include, it hopes, the opportunity to create 'money can't buy' prizes for competitions, such as the chance to go and live in Ramsay Street itself. The challenge, Dominic Wheeler says, is to help licensees make the leap of imagination from the well-loved show to an imaginative product. 'It's not something you can sell across all categories, but the opportunity is genuine,' he says.
In spite of the apparent difficulties, licensors keep the option of licensing drama firmly in the portfolio. Why? Because production and merchandising teams alike are looking for ways for their audiences to interact with a show. And, as Birgit suggests, although a noisy, popular show like Big Brother might come and steal your audience for fashionable products for a while, being a long-running drama means you can create the unmistakable plus of a rock-steady income.
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