Hearst and Harvey: Reinventing the Classics

by Joan Kim

© Harvey Entertainment.

On June 1, 2000 Harvey Entertainment announced the launch of its strategic alliance with Hearst Entertainment for worldwide merchandise licensing. Hearst Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation, is a leading producer and distributor of made-for-television movies, animated series and reality and documentary programming for the global marketplace. Hearst also markets and licenses the ancillary consumer products of these entertainment properties. The partnership will handle merchandising and licensing for all the Harvey classic characters including Casper, the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Witch, Richie Rich, Bunny, Baby Huey and The Ghostly Trio.

At the time of the partnership's announcement, Rick Karo, Executive Vice President, Entertainment Licensing and Family Programming of Hearst Entertainment, said, "This new strategic alliance is the perfect marriage of equity properties. We are thrilled with the challenge and opportunities these great classic characters and their new filmed entertainment support activities provide."

As Harvey's new, all computer-animated film Casper's Haunted Christmas is being released domestically by Universal Home Entertainment in October 2000, Leslie Levine, the Vice President of Entertainment Licensing at Hearst, shares some of her thoughts on licensing and merchandising, especially such a well known character as you know who...

Casper's Haunted Christmas. © Harvey Entertainment.

Joan Kim: What interested you in pursuing a career in this field? Have you always been interested in licensing and merchandising?

Leslie Levine: My career evolved over the years beginning with advertising, which is what I had majored in at The University of Texas. After 3 years with a Dallas agency, I wanted to move to the client side and became a product manager for Hi-C Fruit Drinks, a Coca-Cola Foods brand. Coke purchased Columbia and my brand was the first in the corporation to tie-in with the studio. So, I had my first exposure to licensing back in the early '80s. The movie was Annie. From that point on, I knew licensing was what I wanted to do.

JK: Are there specific challenges in trying to do cool, new products with a classic character like Casper?

LL: Every property presents a unique challenge. We are fortunate that at this moment, nostalgic product naturally associated with classic characters and classic brands is perceived to be cool by consumers, retailers and manufacturers.

Hot Stuff alarm clocks. Photo: © Harvey Entertainment.

JK: What kind of products are you going after with Casper and other classic animation characters?

LL: We are going after long-term relationships with retailers to make the Harvey characters synonymous with Halloween via video, mass, supermarket and drug and specialty channels of distribution. We are concentrating on high awareness (heavy advertising) relationships from new media, interactive games, direct-to-video promotional tie-ins, packaged goods, as well as the seasonal candy and Halloween related products. We are also tapping into the strong interest by the apparel and gift manufacturers, and retailers, to translate the classic characters to cool, highly collectible nostalgic products.

A Little Dot cover from December 1974 issue #156. © Harvey Entertainment.

JK: How do you handle matching the new media to a classic character like Casper?

LL: Because of the enormous brand equity of these characters and due to the unique demographic match among many of the "new media" brands, classic characters like those managed by Hearst Entertainment and Harvey Entertainment are highly sought after by the new media. For example, we have just licensed ABC Entertainment the right to utilize Harvey's classic Little Dot character as the host and downloadable "dot" for their new initiative. We are having similar discussions for their Richie Rich and Casper characters.

Richie Rich. © Harvey Entertainment.

JK: What are or were some problems you have experienced regarding getting back the control to not only do licensing, but producing products for Harvey?

LL: We haven't had any! We came out of the Licensing Show running. Manufacturers know and love these characters. We grew up with them; they are proven. I think the community can see that Harvey is committed to these characters. The new entertainment initiatives -- like 26 half-hours of Wendy, 26 of Herman & Katnip, new d-t-v's on Casper, theatricals in development for Hot Stuff and Richie Rich -- definitely prove this is true.

JK: How did Harvey's determination of new paths in product licensing and merchandising make it easy and/or difficult to produce merchandise for Casper?

LL: Over the years Casper has performed. Harvey and their agents have consistently done a terrific job in licensing the property worldwide. They invested in the property, providing state of the art tools (style guides, downloads from the Website, etc.) which helped enable manufacturers to create creative product. It has definitely made our job easier.

Baby Huey, Wendy, Casper and the famous Harvey logo on magnets. © Harvey Entertainment. Casper key holder. Photo: © Harvey Entertainment.

JK: What are some successful products that work across the board? Are there any types of products that you always go to when you create merchandising for properties?

LL: T-shirts usually lend themselves to most properties, but we create a unique plan for each specific property every time.

JK: What are some Casper products that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

LL: Keep your eye out for Casper junior apparel tops, highly collectible metal lunch boxes, unique plush, multi-platform interactive games, more from the packaged goods sector and more promotions with retailers in multi-categories such as video, supermarket, drug, etc.

Joan Kim received her B.A. in English Literature from UCLA and currently is the editorial administrator for Animation World Network. Previously as a graphics consultant she produced several company reports and manuals and continues to pursue an education in computer graphics.