TV Kids Summer Festival Spotlights Known IP


Sesame Workshop’s Kay Wilson Stallings, Tiger Aspect Kids & Family’s Tom Beattie and ZDF Studios’ Oliver Grundel weighed in on the keys to reinventing and rebooting beloved brands in a session at the TV Kids Summer Festival.

The Known IP panel, accessible here and moderated by TV Kids’ Anna Carugati, featured Wilson Stallings, executive VP and chief creative development and production officer at Sesame Workshop; Beattie, managing director of Banijay Kids & Family’s Tiger Aspect Kids & Family; and Grundel, Director Junior at ZDF Studios.

Launching a new IP in this current climate is a challenge, the panelists agreed. “It’s not for lack of really great original content,” Wilson Stallings said. “We have a lot of content not based on existing IP like Sesame Street that is strong and engaging and has great educational values. But what we’re seeing as we go out in the marketplace is that a lot of distributors are looking for content that’s got that known IP, so they have something that audiences will automatically be familiar with and gravitate toward.”

The landscape is risk-averse, Beattie noted. “There’s not a meeting I go to where no one talks about Bluey, which is a localized, original IP. Yet they still want to go for known IP.”

The key hurdle is securing financing on brand-new ideas, Grundel said. “Some partners currently have no budgets or can only offer minimal contributions. That’s difficult. It’s a better time for established shows than for new IPs. However, for us to maintain a balanced portfolio, it’s crucial to nurture new IPs that become tomorrow’s classics.”

On how to identify a known quantity that is ripe for adaptation, Beattie discussed Tiger Aspect’s proficiency with basing shows on publishing properties. “We’re always looking at book sales. Sometimes sales aren’t hugely important; I’m working on a development with Julia Donaldson, a renowned author who has sold 100 million books worldwide, but then we’re releasing a show with the BBC and Rai called Super Happy Magic Forest, which is from a book that didn’t have loads of sales. You can put a book on a broadcaster’s table and they can see that there’s some backing and maybe a small audience behind it, and therefore feel a bit more comforted that it exists as a brand before they dip their toes in and join that IP.”

Book-based properties are also faring well for ZDF Studios, with Grundel noting, “What I really like about book-based IPs is that they typically come with well-developed storylines and characters. This is always very helpful if you have something you can build on.”

Several Sesame Workshop properties have dipped into the beloved Sesame Street well of characters, allowing it to target different demos. “We reimagined Elmo, Cookie Monster and Abby as mecha robots in an animated form, and that was specifically for the older end of the preschool audience—late preschool, early elementary,” Wilson Stallings said.

“Typically, when we assess the risk of a brand, established IP versus the new content, we look at several factors: historical data, audience recognition and international appeal,” Grundel noted. “Does it travel? Does it have the chance to be a franchise on multiple platforms?”

Data also helped inform the decision to reboot Totally Spies! at Banijay Kids & Family, Beattie noted. “There’s a ten-year gap between series six and seven. There’s a cult following for the series. We could look at the data from digital and show it was a known brand that had legs and was still living in that digital space. Even though it’s an older audience, it was ready for a reboot.”

The panelists then talked about catering to nostalgic audiences as well as new viewers with reboots. Beattie discussed the differing approaches to Totally Spies! and Tiger Aspect’s own long-running Mr Bean animated series. In the case of Totally Spies!, “because of that ten-year gap, they had to look at where the viewers are now. They changed locations, moving it from Beverly Hills to Singapore, with new gadgets and new baddies to refresh it and the tone as well. On Mr Bean, we’re on episode 180, and we’ve not changed anything. There’s so much that Bean can do in this world without trying to throw him somewhere else or put him somewhere different and make a different spin on that.”

Sesame Street is heading into season 56 in 2025 and is set to be “reimagined” for contemporary preschoolers. “The first thing that we do [with] every new season of Sesame Street is ask ourselves, What are the most pressing needs of children today? When we decided to reimagine Sesame Street, we wanted to look at the format. Sesame Street has been, for 55 years, a magazine format. We did a lot of research, got feedback from stakeholders and decided that we wanted to move away from the magazine format and into a more narrative structure. With a different format, it gives us an opportunity to tell longer, more detailed stories. We’re looking at trying to age up Sesame Street a little bit, and so that gives us an opportunity to have stories that are 11 minutes in length, that can have an A story and a B story, a comedic run plus the emotional arc. We want to make sure that we’re culturally relevant. We always focus on who the audience is right here and right now.”

Grundel said rebooting classics requires a “balancing act” of respecting the original while modernizing it for today. “At the beginning, it’s really [about] understanding what made the original series beloved and to ensure that these themes and the spirit of the original are preserved in the reboot. Then, you can start to do updates with contemporary audiences’ styles, modern animation techniques, storytelling and so on. Also, always be open to feedback from fans or be willing to adapt and adjust elements to integrate that feedback.”

Accompanying materials, including games and short-form, can be crucial in helping to reboot a classic property. “Mr Bean is the number one brand on Facebook for TV and film,” Beattie said. “It has 141 million subscribers or likes, and then on YouTube, 73 million subscribers and 19 billion lifetime views at the moment. That’s built up from 14 episodes of live-action and 180 episodes of animation. We do spin-off shorts, music videos and games. The ‘everyone, everywhere’ [approach provides] reach points for those brands.”

“It really helps to keep the franchise fresh and engaging,” Grundel added. “H2O is more than 18 years old and we have over 2.2 million dedicated fans and subscribers on YouTube and a growing presence on platforms like Roblox and TikTok. We are now entering Twitch, and we continue to engage fans with live events and interactive experiences. One reason it remains so popular is the multiple touchpoints of an immersive experience.”

Wilson Stallings agreed, adding, “We’re always looking for opportunities for the content to live on any platform where kids can find it and engage and grow deeper relationships with our characters.”

Known IP is especially beneficial in the L&M space, the panelists noted. “We’re fighting against the Disneys and the Marvels for shelf space,” Beattie said. “Licensees don’t want to take risks either; no one wants to take risks! They want to make sure people will buy it. It’s a tough market in that sense, trying to get something launched. Known IP really helps, of course. But even then, it’s got to have huge numbers behind it.”

Grundel added: “Licensing and merchandise has always been demanding. You have to identify products that align with the core values of the brand to ensure that they are authentic and not slapping a label on something. We are also adopting a strategy of enhancing digital products. [We are] moving more in the digital area and also on Roblox.”

The panelists also stressed the importance of continuing to invest in new ideas. “We believe that original series can break through as well,” Grundel said. “Our strategy covers both established and original IP.”

Beattie agreed, adding, “We don’t put all our eggs in one basket. If we can get those [known IP] commissions, that gives us the space to do our own IPs and bring those through at the same time.”

It’s the same at Sesame Workshop, Wilson Stallings said. “About 75 to 80 percent of our development pipeline is Sesame Street-related. But then the other 15 to 20 percent is original IP, character-based, book-based, and also looking at content that’s from the Sesame Workshop canon of properties.”