DHX Brands’s Tom Roe

Tom Roe, commercial director at DHX Brands, tells TV Kids about the L&M strategy for the brand-new Teletubbies.

Following their 1997 debut on British television, the Teletubbies became a global sensation, airing in 120-plus countries and reportedly generating more than $1 billion in merchandise sales. In 2013, DHX Media acquired Ragdoll, the producer of the landmark preschool show, and in 2014 inked a deal with CBeebies to bring back the much-loved brand with 60 new episodes. The refreshed iteration, produced by Darrall Macqueen, was recently commissioned for a second season. DHX Brands, DHX Media’s brand-management and consumer-products arm, was at Licensing Expo to tout the brand-new version. Tom Roe, commercial director at DHX Brands, talks about plans for Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po in the retail space.

***Image***TV KIDS: Teletubbies is already such a well-established brand. What’s your L&M strategy for the new version?
ROE: The original Teletubbies was an absolute phenomenon for L&M. The characters are very appealing—cuddly, bright and colorful—and resonate strongly with a young preschool audience. So, when DHX Media acquired Teletubbies, it was decided our focus for the new series would always be about not losing their core appeal: it’s evolution rather than revolution, updating them and modernizing them for a 21st-century audience. That includes not just how the show is made in terms of production techniques, but also elements within the show, such as the Touch Screen tummy TVs and the hi-tech Tubby Phone. We’ve had huge success so far in terms of broadcast and initial merchandise sales in the U.K. and it’s now about replicating that elsewhere. The U.S. is a huge priority for us. We have a DHX Brands operation, based in Los Angeles, and we channel our business through our agents, CPLG North America. They’ve brought forward numerous deals, filling many of the initial key categories, including Spin Master as master toy, VTech for ELAs [interactive electronic toys] and Hybrid for apparel, as well as stacks of other best-in-class licensees.

TV KIDS: Do you have to have product on shelves when the show launches or do you tend to let the property build on TV first?
ROE: We definitely give it time to build. Teletubbies is a unique property in that it’s new but it also has a heritage. It ticks both boxes. As a result, the opportunity is there to accelerate the time frame if we choose. Normally we’d like to get the broadcast launch, build the popularity and awareness first. We have a new audience—it’s been 20 years since Teletubbies was first conceived—so it’s about making sure we introduce the property to a new generation and really seed it well, making sure people pick up on it and fall in love with it, and then we launch toys. We’re looking to build this as a long-term proposition. This is not something we think is a two- or three-year business—Teletubbies is evergreen, with real longevity. Going too quickly in terms of launching products and categories after broadcast is definitely a way to increase the risk of having a shorter-term piece of business overall.

TV KIDS: What opportunities are you seeing outside of big brick-and-mortar retailers like Target and Walmart?
ROE: If you have a fairly niche property, you might want to be in more of a specialist retailer. You generally have a handful of lead retailers and then there’s everyone else. Those “big-box” ones have the scale and the reach. They’re going to make a significant difference to awareness and revenue performance. One big challenge with the big retailers is that they’re supporting a relatively small number of brands. It’s the high-profile, big, blockbuster brands. That creates a lot of opportunity for the smaller retailers to have more ownership over certain properties. A lot of it is about mass-market and big volumes, and that comes back to the big-box retailers, who are, when we’re looking at a property like Teletubbies, absolutely top priority.

TV KIDS: What are retailers looking for?
ROE: It’s all about a point of difference. One of the major frustrations for a lot of retailers is that they’re going to a competitor’s store and seeing pretty much exactly the same product being offered. It doesn’t need to be a pure exclusive. It could be a design exclusive or an initial first to market. It’s about coming up with tailor-made solutions for these retailers, rather than simply offering the same or similar solutions to everyone. If you can do that, you’ve given that retailer a point of difference over its competition—that’s getting down to what they are after.

TV KIDS: What are your primary digital categories?
ROE: While e-books are interesting, for the preschool sector traditional print picture books are still extremely important.

For our preschool properties, it’s really all about apps: the world of apps and mobile games is huge. It’s a great consumer touchpoint; quite often this is a shared parent-and-child activity. That helps the parent buy into the show as well. We tread carefully here. It’s not really about being commercial; it’s about taking the essence and key elements of the brand and translating them into an app—and that app having great benefits for the child. It doesn’t need to be overtly educational—at the preschool age, it’s all about enjoying play, which is something that is embraced a lot more in today’s world than it was in previous generations. With a lot of the apps we’ve been doing on Teletubbies and some of our other properties, the bottom line is that they’re fun to play. They may help the child with dexterity or numeracy, but they’re good fun at the same time.

TV KIDS: Given the sheer volume of apps out there, how do you get parents and kids to find you?
ROE: That comes down to working with the right app developer, coming up with the right product, and making sure that those guys are working well with Apple and doing things that will help get your app featured. It comes down to consumer feedback: people look at the ratings. If you come out with a quality product and it gets picked up early and you start to get those ratings, then it can snowball. It’s the consumer-driven endorsement that really helps.