Fred Soulie Talks Mattel’s Content Strategy


Fred Soulie, senior VP and general manager of Mattel Television, participated in a keynote conversation with TV Kids’ Anna Carugati at the TV Kids Festival today, discussing how the toy giant is expanding its content slate.

“2021 was the biggest year on record for Mattel and Mattel Television on the content side,” Soulie said in the session, which you can view in its entirety here. “We debuted more than nine series and specials based on our iconic IPs.” This included the relaunch of the Masters of the Universe franchise with two series, two Barbie animated movies and the relaunch of Thomas & Friends with an all-new look in Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go.

“What we saw in 2021 were the results of the seeds we planted a couple of years prior,” Soulie said. “We have one of the largest libraries of IP at Mattel. Creating compelling content takes time. But we’ve been very busy the last few years, focused on becoming a high-performing, IP-driven toy company. 2022 will be even bigger.”

The Mattel library “is a living, breathing thing,” Soulie noted. “At Mattel Television, we feel it’s part of our responsibility to nurture it and make it grow, whether it’s creating new IP internally or sometimes optioning or acquiring from other studios. One great example of that is Deepa & Anoop, which will stream later this year on Netflix. It’s a great illustration of Mattel going beyond what we already own in our library. This is a growing slice of our development slate.”

Deepa & Anoop also reflects Mattel Television’s commitment to “telling authentic stories from diverse voices in all areas of production. The goal is to represent the world kids see around them. This is our first Mattel Television original project, and there are more coming. And a call to action to the industry: we’re always looking for more.”

Mattel Television is also at work on reimagining the Monster High franchise. “We’ve partnered with Nickelodeon. It’s a terrific IP, truly evergreen. We’re doing an animated series, a complete reboot. It’s the first time Nickelodeon and Mattel are partnering on the production side—everything from scripting to design to music. At its core, the animated series will embrace inclusion and diversity. And then, for the first time ever, we’re bringing Monster High in live action, through a movie musical, again in partnership with Nickelodeon.”

Diversity and inclusion are also at the heart of new Barbie content, Soulie said. Mattel Television is working on an episodic series based on the special Barbie Big City, Big Dreams, plus more animated movies.

Soulie then talked about the enduring appeal of Thomas & Friends. “In the DNA of Thomas, the value of friendship resonates with kids, but also with parents and caregivers. These are important messages. We now have 25 seasons. All have stayed true to the core of the DNA. What we did a couple of years ago, though, was try to rethink Thomas. Where do we want to take Thomas next? Historically, it’s always been CG. We thought, what would it look like if we went more cartoony in a 2D animated way? We loved what we could do with it. A lot more physical comedy, the expressions on the faces of Thomas and the other engines, we could take them to a different place. So there was a lot more we could do with the content while keeping it very simple. The 2D aspect lets us do crazy things. Thomas doesn’t have to stay on the rails all the time.”

The show incorporates 26 life lessons, Soulie said. “We took these life lessons from The Railway Series books first introduced in 1945. We went back and looked at the DNA, focusing on three pillars of early childhood development: social-emotional, cognitive and physical skills. And we wanted to broaden the reach of Thomas. We expanded the distribution. We are airing Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go in 150 countries and adding more every day.” In the U.S., the show is on both Cartoon Network and Netflix.

Outside of the Monster High musical, there is more live action in the works at Mattel Television, Soulie said. “We see live action as a big growth driver for Mattel Television. We’ve grown our team with a new hire. There are a lot of opportunities, in scripted and unscripted.” Projects include a Pictionary game show, and other games in the Mattel slate could serve as inspiration for further shows.

Amid shifts caused by the pandemic, Soulie noted that “physical play is here to stay—we saw that as families spent more time together at home. On the content side, there was a captive audience, and co-viewing went up. We saw the value of trusted brands. We take a franchise approach. We couldn’t reach as many kids through live events, but we did other things, whether on YouTube or Netflix, sometimes accelerated releases of content.”

Mattel Television has 20 shows and specials currently in production, Soulie said, with another 25 in development. “It’s a big pipeline, including animation and live action, short-form, scripted and unscripted. We have a large library and lots of opportunities to create great television. As an IP owner, it’s a great time to be in the industry when you have strong, well-known brands and franchises.”