A Profession On The Way To Maturity

by Valérie Rivoallon

Thanks to the multiplication of distribution sources (film, television, video), animation can support itself on a considerable market. Even though animation in France only represents a fifth of the production aided by COSIP (Support Funding for Audio-Visual Programs), it nonetheless accounts for a third of all exported programs. This strong position has had repercussions on the business development of licensing and the products spun off from animation, which we have seen gradually open through many venues. Following in the footsteps of the major American companies like Disney and Warner (to name only a few), who engage in a ceaseless, merciless commercial war, the most important French production companies Ellipse, Gaumont and Saban International Paris have integrated their own structure for the management of derivative rights. Plus, there are also many independent companies of greater or smaller scope, each of which has its own strategy for dealing with the perpetual arrival of new heroes.

The Disney Presence
Disney is the precursor of derivative products in France, starting with the appearance of Mickey Magazine in 1934. In the six decades since then, the company has had plenty of time to think in great depth about how to grasp the heart of the matter, and has allied itself with the greatest names in publishing and distribution. With some fifteen titles boasting more than 20 million copies sold each year, Disney Hachette Publishing (D.H.P.) is the leading publisher for children. From the youngest age of only one year-old, children are initiated into the discovery of Disneyana with three different magazines: Bambi, Winnie and Little Wolf, each of which sets out to educate and amuse. Mickey and Picsou Magazine are preferred reading for the 9 to 13 age group, both with a print run of more than 200,000 copies for each issue. Moreover one must add to that Disney Hachette's publication of a library of almost 300 titles divided into some 20 collections. Each year they also sell more than a million books devoted to their most recent feature film. Then, in addition to the book publishing, one must count music publishing, since Walt Disney Records also attains the summit of a million units sold annually in France, in all the various formats, including CDs and cassettes. Such an omnipresence derives from strong distribution as much in film as in video (including video-cassette sales and the Disney Parade program broadcast every week on the leading TV station TF1), which includes another coup for the sale of derivative products in that they benefit from their own network of commercialization: The Disney Store. While the first Disney Store, created from a concept of Michael Eisner's, was opened in 1987 in California, the first European Disney boutique waited another three years to open in London. Aside from England, France and Spain were the two largest markets targeted in Europe. The Disney Store on the Champs Elysees has already proved itself, since it was ranked in 1998 as one of the most profitable businesses worldwide.

American companies are well-represented in the French merchandising market. © Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, A Time-Warner Co.

France's Contenders
Nonetheless, long before that Disney was forced to see little by little parts of its market being nibbled away by the abundance of rival products coming from more and more experienced companies. VIP, created in 1968 by Jean-Michel Biard (until then responsible for marketing products derived from the French television network ORTF), holds the rights to some 40 characters, brands or series. In its catalogue: The Pink Panther, who celebrates his 35th birthday this year, as well as the 30th anniversary of his television career, which spans 236 animated episodes; Snoopy, who celebrated his 50th anniversary last month during an affair involving 740 McDonalds Hamburger restaurants, plus an exhibition will be devoted to him at the next Comics Festival at Angouleme in January 2000; Felix the Cat, popular again since the latest music-video from Gloria Gaynor "I Will Survive" made him a part of the family; as well as Dilbert, the supreme anti-hero, who will be broadcast on French television soon. Then there's also Zorro, the Ninja Turtles, Robocop and Arthur, which France's television station 3 has chosen to get the kids ready to go back to school. There's also the truculent Bob and Margaret from Alison Snowden and David Fine, which the public got to know thanks to Bob's Birthday, which was distributed in theatres as a short to accompany the French-Canadian short film by Sylvain Chomet, The Old Lady and the Pigeons.

Sissi, a collection of dolls from Giochi Preziosi which is based on the Saban International series. © Saban International.

To make the most of all these heroes' images, VIP has recently devoted itself to two particularly efficient tools. The first bears the name Extension 21, an agency for the promotion of sales, which offers quite diverse plans for launching new products in any sector of activity -- food, health and beauty, hifi-video, tools and crafts, games, etc. -- by offering personalized mail order items, free gifts at shops, to events in malls and stores like character appearances to make the sales outlet more lively and exciting. The second tool is the publishing house Centlys, created in January 1999, whose two objectives are first to engage in traditional publishing ventures (last June this branch published, in collaboration with Lecureuil, the latest issue of the adventures of the Crao heroes, The Marriage of Rahan,) and secondly the publishing of different types of books designed to promote a project directly or indirectly. In this category we find among the latest publications, a collection of books and anthologies of stories devoted to the series Live Goose Bumps made by Quick, and Fat Old Man, a Zorro comic book commissioned from Panzani.

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