Under managing director Olivier Dumont’s guidance, eOne Family’s animated preschool juggernaut has become one of the Mainland’s most popular programs with over 16 billion digital platform views.
Peppa Pig’s march to world domination continues to gain momentum. Since it began in 2004, the show has aired in over 180 territories, becoming the top preschool entertainment brand in many countries and winning the hearts of preschool children and parents in the process.
Peppa’s porcine empire has most recently extended into Asia, where it has enjoyed a remarkable 18 months. Perhaps most impressive is the rapid and widespread penetration into China, the world’s largest entertainment market, coveted by content creators everywhere. Since launching with national broadcaster and anchor partner CCTV in June 2015, Peppa Pig has become one of the most popular programs for preschoolers in the Mainland, garnering over 16.3 billion views across multiple digital platforms.
Two Peppa apps have together received over half a million downloads, and toys are selling across the major online retail sites, with apparel and games set to follow in 2017. The achievements earned the brand the “Best New Property” prize at the Asia Licensing Awards in Hong Kong earlier this year.
Much credit must go to Canadian acquisition, distribution and production company, eOne, which has co-owned and distributed the show since 2007. eOne shifted things into higher gear in 2015 by acquiring 70 percent of creator studio Astley Baker Davies for US$212 million (£170m), increasing its share in the property from 50 up to 85 percent, with the aim of accelerating its global exploitation. The following year, Peppa’s immense value was a major factor in prompting ITV to lodge a £1bn takeover offer for eOne – which was unanimously rejected by the company’s shareholders.
Masterminding Peppa’s global conquest is children’s animated content division, eOne Family, headed by managing director Olivier Dumont. I joined Dumont in London to learn about his China strategy and reflections on content in the Middle Kingdom.
Chris Colman: When did you first start looking at bringing Peppa Pig to China?
Olivier Dumont: We knew that we were probably going to be successful in China because the show was airing in Taiwan and had already been picked up by Youku users and started to gain traction. That indicated we needed to do something about it fairly quickly, so we started looking for a partner. When PPW [eOne’s Peppa Pig sales agent in China] came in, it was very easy. We did the deal with them around two years ago.
CC: What is PPW’s role?
OD: PPW does both content sales and licensing and merchandising. They placed the show with CCTV and then we worked with them on the content plan to identify the platforms we wanted to be on. We’ve set up an office in Hong Kong so we are administrating a lot of those relationships, ensuring that we’re on the air and getting a good time slot.
CC: How much autonomy do you give your agents?
OD: We work very closely in any market and China is no exception. We monitor things very, very closely. There are constant conversations with PPW that improve every single deal, whether it’s content or licensing.
CC: The brand seems to have grown quickly in China.
OD: Yes, it’s a fairly normal cycle for Peppa, which usually takes a year to incubate. The only difference is that the number of platforms you deal with in China is much greater than in most countries. China is extremely well developed in digital consumption and there are multiple opportunities to get your content in front of audiences. It just requires more work because in some markets, after you’ve done deals with your main broadcaster, you’re done. It’s an ongoing process. We’re still doing deals with local TV stations and smaller digital partners.
CC: Were there cultural considerations going into China?
OD: No, Peppa is everywhere around the world, apart from Japan, and it resonates in the same manner. It’s about family values and family life, which is true for any preschooler anywhere in the world. Peppa is great because it’s animals, so you’re not facing the “kids looking western” issue, it’s pigs and it’s red, which both work well for China.
If anything, we’ve seen a desire from China for content that has been produced with standards and practices [S&P] in mind. I understand that some popular shows in China are pretty violent. It feels that we’re way more restrictive in what we’re exposing kids to in the Western world, whereas China feels like the Wild West. There haven’t been very strict rules when it comes to child protection. In the future, it seems like China is going to be taking S&P into account, to make sure there are no more calls from angry parents saying one of the kids is playing with matches because he’s seen it on the crazy goat show.
CC: Are there any particular weaknesses in the properties you see coming from Chinese studios?
OD: Again, there are often those S&P issues, but that can be corrected. We see projects that would have been fine 25 years ago in the West, but because there’s so much competition over here, we are hyper-selective about which projects we take on. Maybe that level of sophistication is in a bit of a vacuum. We also see a lot of shows about being eco-friendly, very worthy stuff. Western countries don’t normally do those types of shows. You can probably do it for a younger audience that is not as cynical, but five year old kids and upwards can smell it a mile away. There is generally a sense that some studios don’t look at what else is out there. The advice would be to look at the big shows, the competition, what Disney or Nickelodeon and the other big platforms are doing. Consider why they are successful, then develop against it, as opposed to trying to reproduce it.
CC: How do you plan to grow Peppa over the next five years?
OD: Peppa has been in the UK for 13 years, so that leaves a lot of potential in places like the US, where the licensing program is only in Year Two. China and South East Asia in general is a huge area of opportunity for us. We’d still love to crack Japan at some point. We’re continuing to grow in Europe, in France, Spain and Italy. In Germany, we’ve struggled a bit, but we’re trying to reorganize because it’s very strong on digital there and clearly resonating.
CC: What are you looking for in new properties?
OD: The aim is to have very few brands, and only bring on new ones to complement those we already have. We are doing well in preschool with Peppa and a new brand called PJ Masks with Disney globally, which we’re in discussion with different partners to bring to China. For preschool, we normally like something that has some form of play pattern from which we can derive an L&M [licensing and merchandising] program. We are going to be releasing a new brand on that side every one or two years, to complement the existing two. On the girl’s side, we’ve recently found two concepts, but it would be nice to have another one in the girl empowering space. Where we’re really looking for content more aggressively is on the boy’s action side, in a slightly older demographic of six- to nine-year-old boys and girls.
We’ve just taken on two new comedies to develop and produce. Comedies are slightly less strategic because very few give rise to a licensing and merchandising program. They are normally very creator driven, so we need a very strong voice, a creator who can really express his or her vision that we can buy into it and make sure that he or she is supported to create the show.
CC: Are you looking for anything from China specifically?
OD: There’s a high chance that if the concept is coming from Asia, it will be the initial concept that we like as opposed to the full bible, which we would probably have quite a bit of influence on creating. We are definitely looking to partner with a Chinese company on a Chinese concept which would qualify as Chinese content, and then coming on board to produce it together.
CC: Would you be interested in shows that involve Chinese elements?
OD: It might be interesting to have some characters that behave differently to create points of differentiation, but if it’s yet another Monkey King or something we’ve seen so much before, it’s just not compelling. It’s about looking at what can resonate in a global manner, but not dumbing it down or making it insipid. There’s a fine line to tread. We see it with India with shows featuring characters wearing traditional gowns. That feels so foreign to Western audiences. It might work as a movie, but not as a TV series, where you need to care for the characters day-in-day-out.
Chris is a writer & producer based in Shanghai. He’s the founder of the China Animation & Game Network, encouraging communication in the industry via live creative networking events.