ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.7 - OCTOBER 1999
Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesamstrasse?
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In each market, CTW supports its educational mission and its brand not only with television, but with book and magazine publishing, home video, licensing, promotions and theme parks. "We look for the best opportunities to extend the reach and power of Sesame Street off the screen," says Miller. "Publishing, along with home video, is a very important foundation."
CTW has its own book imprint with U.S. publisher Random House. In each country where Sesame Street, a co-production or Open Sesame airs, a combination of Random House and local titles are available. CTW also publishes six magazines in the U.S., including Sesame Street Magazine, Sesame Street Parents, Padres de Sasame Street (for Hispanic-American parents), Kid City and Contact Kids; some Sesame Street magazines are distributed in international markets as well.
Zeliboba, Busya, and Kubik in the Russian co-production Ulitsa Sezam. © CTW. Sesame Street Muppets © Henson.
Licensing also strengthens the Sesame Street brand around the world. CTW's licensing strategy is similar from one market to another, varying mostly in scope. "It differs in terms of what the market can bear and how developed licensing is," Miller says. If consumers do not accept licensed products as readily as in the U.S. or other mature licensing markets, then CTW tests the waters slowly.
The majority of products in each market depict the U.S.-origin Muppets known worldwide, although some items feature characters specific to that country. Merchandise such as apparel and paper goods can be produced cost-effectively by local manufacturers for just one market and can feature local characters. Others, such as toys, require heavy product investment; licensees, therefore, want to distribute in as many countries as possible and incorporate globally recognized characters that allow them to do so.
All told, CTW has authorized more than 10,000 items worldwide through 300 licensing agreements. The organization has allied with a number of promotional partners as well, including Nestlé for Ulitsa Sezam in Russia and General Electric for Zhima Jie in China. Meanwhile, Sesame Street characters star at three theme parks, Anheuser-Busch's Sesame Place in Pennsylvania, eight-year-old Tokyo Sesame Place and Parque Plaza Sesamo in Monterrey, Mexico. A fourth, Vila Sesame, is in the works for Brazil.
Other CTW Animated Programming
In addition to Sesame Street, Children's Television Workshop produces other programming for international distribution, some of which is animated or features significant animation components. One example is Big Bag, a preschool series that airs on The Cartoon Network in the U.S. Like Sesame Street, the series takes place on a studio set with Muppet and human characters; the live scenes are interspersed with short animated segments in a variety of styles.
Broadcasters in 53 countries air Big Bag, while TV2 in Denmark, Icelandic National Broadcasting in Iceland, Wharf Cable and Asia Television in Hong Kong and Fundacao Roberto Marinho in Brazil carry one or more of the animated shorts -- in which recurring characters appear -- as standalone series.
Following Sesame Street's co-production model, broadcasters in two countries have created local versions of Big Bag, with unique Muppets, actors and content. The French version, Sacatruc, which premiered in 1997 on Canal J, features more arts and crafts content than the U.S. version and contains other elements specific to French culture. "Sacatruc is a French show," Miller says. The British version of Big Bag was introduced on ITV in 1998.
Dragon Tales. TM and © 1999 CTW/CTTD.
Another CTW series, co-produced with Columbia TriStar Television, is Dragon Tales, an animated preschool program that launched in September 1999 on PBS's Ready To Learn service with 40 half-hours. Each episode is comprised of two 12-minute segments with musical interstitials, a flexible structure that Miller believes will enhance international sales. The series, which is expected to launch outside the U.S. in January 2000, is about accepting the unknown. Hasbro is on board as the worldwide master toy licensee and CTW plans a full merchandising campaign to back the launch.
The Workshop is looking to invest in international programming in the early development stage and expects that some of the co-ventures will premiere internationally before they start in the U.S. One such alliance is with Pepper's Ghost Productions in the U.K., for a series called Tiny Planets. CTW is also planning to create programming specifically for the Internet.
Karen Raugust is the author of several books and reports on licensing and entertainment, including The Licensing Business Handbook, International Licensing: A Status Report (both available from EPM Communications, New York) and Merchandise Licensing for the Television Industry (available from Focal Press, Newton, Mass.). She also writes about licensing, animation and other topics for publications including The Hollywood Reporter, Publishers Weekly and Animation Magazine, and acts as a consultant to the licensing and entertainment industries. She is the former Executive Editor of The Licensing Letter.
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