Peter Byrne, executive vice president, DHX Brands
In the late 1990s four squat, colorful aliens with televisions in their bellies took preschoolers, and the world, by storm. Now DHX is bringing the visionary "Teletubbies" brand back to screens and shelves with a contemporary treatment designed to speak to today's tech-savvy toddlers.
The original TV series first aired in the U.K. in 1997 and eventually made its way to more than 120 territories and was translated into 45 different languages.
In late 2013, DHX acquired the production company behind the brand, Ragdoll Worldwide, making "Teletubbies" part of a portfolio that boasts some of the modern era's most successful preschool series including "In the Night Garden," "Yo Gabba Gabba!" and the new hit "Twirlywoos."
Following the acquisition, DHX promptly set to work on rebooting the show.
"In 1997, 'Teletubbies' was way ahead of its time, and it really
While the technology featured in the original was revolutionary back in the 1990s, it is now outdated in today's world of smartphones and web video, so much of what DHX and Darrall Macqueen have worked to do is put a contemporary spin on core brand concepts.
"The TV screens were just revolutionary in the brand's heyday, it was so innovative at the time, so we have a new take on how that works," says Byrne. "There are also some other new surprise elements coming into the show as well, but they're totally in keeping with the voice of the series. These new elements will look like they've always been there, but what they do is really contemporize the show. It's very clearly for a modern day audience, but with recognizable icons in terms of the overall look and feel."
Another key characteristic that separated "Teletubbies" from the preschool pack when it first aired was its high production value. This time around, DHX and Darrall Macqueen have taken particular care to maintain that standard; the new "Teletubbies" will feature a combination of live-action and CG animation and incorporate pioneering technologies that Byrne says put the show "on the level of
The Lord of the Rings
At just 11-minutes, new episodes will be shorter than the original series in keeping with today's broadcast standards, with 60 episodes ready at launch.
An exclusive first look at DHX's new, updated Teletubbies, alongside supporting character Noo-noo.
DHX's focus on maintaining the core essence of the original series, with a storyline and visual style that will closely follow that of the original, has made the brand an easy sell for consumer products.
"The interest levels have been enormous," says Byrne. "Ever since we announced we were going into production last year, the whole program has just gained incredible momentum. Everybody who knows the brand wants to be a part of it this time around."
When "Teletubbies" first aired, it was also notable for its cult following among older audiences. While DHX's initial merchandising program won't specifically target fans outside of the preschool set, Byrne isn't discounting the future potential.
"It's going to be the 20th anniversary of 'Teletubbies' in a few years time, so while our first focus is around the new show, there is definitely an opportunity there that we'll be looking at in the future," he says. "There is clearly potential for the brand among that young, sort of in-between audience."
The brand's reintroduction to the world will begin in the U.K., where a slate of top-tier licensees have already been lined up. Product will launch on shelf in spring 2016, after the fall 2015 CBeebies premiere.
Leading the charge is Character Options as worldwide master toy licensee, with an initial line that will include plush, plastics and bath toys. Other multi-territory partners include Egmont Publishing, which holds the international rights for children's books and magazines, and VTech, which, in keeping with the new contemporary update of the brand, is planning a line of interactive electronic toys that will launch first in the U.K. and then in other European territories.
Other U.K. licensees on board include Aykroyds (nightwear and underwear), Bon Bon Buddies (confectionery), Character World (bedding), International Greetings (arts and crafts), MV Sports (wheeled and outdoor toys), Rainbow Productions (costume characters), Worlds Apart (furniture) and Zak U.K. (melamine tableware).
North America will follow quickly after the U.K., with the series set to air on an as-yet unannounced U.S., a network that Byrne calls "the perfect home for 'Teletubbies.'" Spin Master will serve as the brand's toy partner in the region, distributing the Character Options line beginning in spring 2016. (Spin Master will also handle distribution of the toy line across Northern Europe, including France and Benelux, an appointment that speaks to the extended rollout already planned for the brand.)
"Since we've announced where we are in the U.K., the response from the U.S. licensing trade has been huge," says Byrne. "I think we'll see a wave of U.S. partners coming on board soon after the broadcast launch and toy release. It's going to go really, really quickly."
As for the rest of the world, no region is off limits for the brand, which was the first-ever Western children's series to be broadcast in China on CCTV back in 2002.
Just as in the U.K. and North America, series broadcast will pre-date consumer products, laying the groundwork for merchandise rollouts in each new territory it enters. Asia, in particular China, Korea and Southeast Asia, will be an early area of focus, as will Australia, where Haven Licensing will represent the brand. CPLG, DHX Media's wholly owned licensing agency, will manage the consumer products in all regions where it has offices, and DHX intends to appoint additional global agents over the course of the next 18 months.
"The show is way exceeding people's expectations," says Byrne. "The response has been superb, and broadcast is getting picked up rapidly across all territories. This production is incredibly high-quality and perhaps even more engaging than the original."
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