Licensing: Fox Kids readies a European shake-up

The cartoon channel is "turning up the speed" on merchandising and licensing as it rebrands to Jetix

One of the UK's biggest children's channels is in for a shake-up next month as Fox Kids Europe (FKE), home to such animated favourites as the Power Rangers, Totally Spies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, renames as Jetix.

In a move that will see Jetix programming reaching an audience of 137million households globally, FKE will start to introduce Jetix-branded programming blocks, with a view to renaming all Fox Kids channels by the autumn.

The deal follows Disney's purchase of 75 per cent of Fox Kids in 2001.

Disney bought the channel because it filled a gap in its coverage: Fox Kids focuses on the kind of action-adventure programmes loved by young boys in particular.

"Disney does not have the rights to Fox in the US, so it was not able to produce programmes under one brand," says Shari Donnenfeld, vice-president of marketing and communications, Fox Kids Europe.

In the UK, Fox Kids is aired on the Sky platform as well as major cable carriers Telewest and NTL. The programmes reach 1.9million viewers a month and an associated website, www.foxkids.co.uk, gains ten million page impressions with 710,000 unique users a month.

Fox has been in the UK since 1996 and, along with The Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, has become one of the big three cartoon channels. Donnenfeld says it is using its existing characters to introduce Jetix to the audience.

She insists: "It is a rename, not a rebranding. Jetix has the same brand values as Fox Kids. It will have cheeky characters that offer high-energy entertainment."

As well as using well-known characters such as Totally Spies and Inspector Gadget, Jetix will also introduce new characters such as Sonic X to hook its audience.

The company has used promotional marketing vigorously. Fox Kids marketing director Allan Stenhouse has said promotions make up at least 75 per cent of marketing activity (P&I, April 2003), spent on campaigns such as footballing tournament the Fox Kids Cup, run in partnership with Adidas. Other third-party promotional partners have included McDonald's - Fox ran a pan-European promotion with the fast-food giant last month (P&I, February).

Donnenfeld says the company is "turning up the speed" on merchandising and licensing with the hire of a new managing director at its consumer products division, Ronnie Cook.

Dave Lawrence, planning director of youth marketing specialist Logistic Kids, says Fox is taking the right approach. "Kids are led by the characters and channel loyalty is not that strong," he says. "There is an inherent danger that this will lead to confusion, so you need to let them know about the change."

Strong identity crucial

But Andrew Levy, chairman of licensing body LIMA, says it is vital to get branding right. "It is important to have a strong channel identity," he says. "Nickelodeon merchandising has been very successful."

Donnenfeld will not be drawn on the plans for the Jetix launch except to say an integrated blitz should be expected.

Promotions should play an important part in positioning Jetix and getting the message out to viewers, according to Lawrence.

"I'm sure Fox will be looking to line up partners," he says. "It's all part of the repertoire of communications."

And Jetix should find plenty of willing partners, he adds. "The great thing about linking with an umbrella brand such as Jetix is it allows you access to more than one character. Even if the audience does not know the programme brand, they will certainly recognise their favourite characters."

JETIX AT A GLANCE

- Jetix is a global action-adventure programming brand

- Its reach is 137million television homes globally in 77 countries and 18 languages

- UK reach is 1.9million viewers

- Target market: aimed at 2-14 years-olds, the channel has a "boy bias"

- Key characters: Power Rangers, Inspector Gadget, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Totally Spies, Jacky Chan.

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