The UK has seen a number of new channels emerge recently - via satellite and cable, then through digital platforms - making a big impact on which licensed properties succeed. Compared with other western European countries, digital and cable channels are relatively new to British homes, though the majority of households with kids now subscribe to them. Most cable and satellite channels have been US-owned and show a disproportionate amount of US content.
Last year, several digital kids' channels launched, some of which are UK-based: the BBC launched CBeebies and CBBC; Nickelodeon brought out Nick Toons; and Cartoon Network brought out CNX, a channel targeting older boys. As digital penetration in UK homes increases, expect to see more UK-funded channels and thus more UK content and influence, particularly in the pre-school sector.
Research by Logistix Kids showed that children aged seven to 10 can spontaneously recall more than 90 characters when asked for their favourites, against only 30 in 1993. The UK is a hybrid market, with an even mix of UK and US/Japanese properties. Through the significant global might of the BBC, a number of home-grown properties have been introduced and classics refreshed.
Examples include Blue Peter and Robot Wars, and now Boohbah is set to rival the omnipresent Teletubbies and Tweenies for the coveted pre-school crown.
The KGOY (Kids Getting Older Younger) factor is at its strongest in the UK, with children enjoying programmes aimed at a general audience. Soaps are very popular and reality TV has hit home, with Pop Idol, Big Brother and Fame Academy capturing the hearts and minds of tweens. The unique combination of ordinary people being empowered to become celebrities has resonance with seven to 12 year-olds.
A strong bedroom culture is evident, driven by a colder climate (compared with Spain, for instance) and stronger parental concerns about road safety and "stranger danger". Console gaming is popular and game characters have been significant in the UK: Lara Croft is a prime example.
Children in the UK tend to get access to US blockbusters earlier than other kids in Europe because the shared language means these films are generally launched in the UK first. Japanese properties are also launched first in the UK, usually via the US, where programmes and films are "westernised" and translated into English.
France has the US channels Cartoon Network, Disney Channel & Nickelodeon within its broadcast mix, but it's the kids-specific national channels, such as Canal J and Teletoon, that have greatest influence.
France has a stronger comic book culture and children are more likely to read than in the UK, where TV dominates. Entertainment/character licensing is led mainly by local properties, often comic book-based.
Classics exist in the form of traditional long-term comic book properties such as Asterix, Lucky Luke, Boule et Bill and Marsupilami, which, over the past ten years, have all been made into TV series in their own right.
Domestic newcomers have also emerged via a new breed of comic book-based properties, such as Kid Paddle, Cedric and Titeuf. Many of these classic and contemporary French characters have infiltrated other mainland European territories, though they have had limited success in the UK. The strength of these characters makes for a very different visual identity, with the 2D styling having less depth and creative richness. Local animation houses have much smaller production budgets than those of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, which may account for the varying creative sophistication.
Germany is usually the toughest territory for pan-European activity to conquer. Its complex media environment has led to the growth of many terrestrial and pay channels, with the highest number of cabled households in Europe. The most significant difference is the lack of presence of US channels Cartoon Network & Nickelodeon.
The strength of domestic broadcasters is a difficult hurdle for foreign channels to overcome: indeed, Nickelodeon was launched several years ago in Germany and failed. The power and conservatism of its national channels, such as Kinderkanal and Super RTL, puts them in total control of the market and allows them to cherry-pick which US properties they wish to air. This leads to anomalies; for example, Rugrats has been hugely successful all over Europe, except Germany.
The lack of a major foreign TV channel in Germany means many local properties, such as Die Maus, Tabaluga, Fix & Foxi and the friendly invisible elf Pumuckl, have captured Germans kids' imaginations for more than 40 years.
These properties are soft and friendly, and most are 2D animation.
The US properties that have worked here are usually conservative family classics such as Tom and Jerry, The Pink Panther, Looney Tunes and Disney titles, which are particularly strong in Germany. That said, the Japanese influence has also been felt to an extent, with the likes of Shin-Chan and especially Dragonball Z.
Germany also has the second-largest book market after the UK and the Harry Potter sagas have been quick to establish a strong position.
Spain comprises distinct regions with separate dialects and cultural identities, which means the broadcast system is heavily regionalised. Since the demise of the public monopoly on TV, three main private channels have come to the fore: Antenna 3, Tele 5 and Canal Plus. These compete with the national channels, TVE1 and TVE2, and the other 14-15 regional channels. Spain also has US channels, the most prominent being Cartoon Network and Fox Kids.
Although it has one of the highest rates of cinema attendance for eight to 14 year-olds in Europe, entertainment and character licensing is mainly driven by TV. Reality TV has also been popular in Spain: the equivalent of the UK's Pop Idol was Operacion Triunfo, which was a big ratings winner.
A favourable year-round climate means that media consumption is much lower and computer game characters not quite so prominent.
Foreign influence is significant and much of Spain's character licensing emanates from the US, Japan and elsewhere in Europe. That's not to say it doesn't have its own properties: Mortadelo y Filemon has been popular for a number of years and home-grown properties such as Zipi y Zape are coming out of the local animation houses.
Though broadcast and cultural differences shape which characters work across Europe, US channel migration will inevitably consolidate viewing.
Nevertheless, local protectionism is still likely to fight back against this wave of US media imperialism.
MY FANTASY LICENCE THE BROCCOLI FOOTBALLER
Kath Dalmeny, health campaigner, the Food Commission
Jot down the foods that have been promoted by a footballer or football team and your list will fill up with the names of sugary soft drinks, burgers, chocolate, crisps and fatty snacks.
Then compare these foods with the diet that stars such as David Beckham and Michael Owen have to eat to keep fit. These days, top football teams hire nutritionists to make sure their stars cut back on fat, get their calories from starchy carbohydrate foods (such as pasta), eat fresh fruit and vegetables, and avoid fatty snacks and sugary fizzy drinks.
Yet David Beckham promotes cola and Michael Owen promotes sugary cereal.
Meanwhile, the Football Association (FA) has a deal with a chocolate company to distribute health information telling kids to eat confectionery for energy.
It is frustrating that footballers choose to encourage fans, especially children, to copy a junky diet they themselves would never follow. Children are learning to associate the fattiest, saltiest and sugariest foods with their footballing heroes, and to demand football-branded snacks and drinks - filling themselves up with fatty, salty and sugary calories.
So my fantasy licence would involve the gorgeous Thierry Henry promoting broccoli. Why not use the influence of footballers to introduce kids to the idea that good food is central to a healthy lifestyle and an enjoyably delicious food culture?
I can imagine TV shows with young footballers learning to cook; school visits to football clubs for kids to eat with their footballing heroes; kids learning in sports lessons about the links between diet and performance; action dolls with Thierry Henry eating plastic broccoli (well, maybe that's going too far...).
It would be fantastic to see footballers taking part in honest promotion of the healthy diets they enjoy.
WHAT WORKS EVERYWHERE
In the pre-school market, the likes of Tweenies, Tom and Jerry and Bob the Builder have been successful across western Europe. For the tween market, Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo, Snoopy and The Simpsons have cut through.
Properties from Japan have also been successful, including Pokemon, Digimon and Beyblades.
The global toy market has far-reaching influence in Europe. MGA's trendy fashion doll, Bratz, is a well-recognised and well-liked franchise among European girls. Cinema releases from Hollywood continue to have a huge impact. Over the past few years, the sheer number of these blockbusters has increased dramatically; 2002 was a record year for children's movies and licensing activity riding on the back of them.
It doesn't take much to stretch into new areas
Some successful brand licensing ventures show that
opportunities exist for businesses to grow by looking to other markets for brands with the right credentials for them to "borrow".
Sunkist, the fresh fruit brand recognised for its association with Californian oranges, has become a leading soft drink brand. Extensions have followed into sweets, snacks and multi-vitamins.
The brand owner, Sunkist Growers Inc., has not become a soft drinks company, confectioner or chemist, of course. Similarly, Mars Masterfoods has extended brands such as Galaxy into instant chocolate drinks and dessert pots without getting directly involved in any of these new markets themselves.
What makes for an effective brand stretch? Those familiar with the concept of "brand diamonds" will know that brands with a well-defined personality are those most effectively stretched into new markets. Galaxy's personality is indulgent, silky, more-ish and for chocoholics. What better platform from which to launch an instant hot chocolate drink?
A leading market research company recently presented to the Marketing Society its original research on what makes a "good" brand stretch. It wasn't brand strength, though it's a useful component. Functional credentials are obviously helpful, but brand personality and broader benefits that go beyond product or service competency were shown to be key.
So, instead of contemplating the years that may be needed to repay investment in establishing a new brand, marketers in firms with sound distribution and production skills, but lacking in brand strength, should look for a short-cut to acquire what they are lacking. They should think about the values needed to develop a strong, distinctive position in their market, go out to look for brands with those values in other markets and see if they can borrow them through a licensing arrangement. Not all brand owners appreciate the opportunities that might exist through licensing, so they may not be actively looking for licensees, yet such deals can benefit both parties. From toiletry brands to apparel and fresh fruit brands to soft drinks, myriad opportunities await.
Peter Knowles is chairman of Heawood Research and a consultant for Real World Marketing.