How do you transform an inanimate plaything into
a character and stories that kids will engage with day after day? David Wood investigates.
Over the last few years, toy companies have undergone something of a revolution in their thinking about the role that content plays in their business strategies. Most industry professionals can remember a time when TV shows made or commissioned by toy manufacturers were little more than thinly veiled commercials.
“We have all heard the stories in the past about toy dictating content; that’s simply not the way we go here anymore,” reports Christopher Keenan, the senior VP of content development and production at Mattel Creations, a division of Mattel. “Now we focus on fostering an emotional relationship between characters and audiences. When that relationship is solidified, there is a natural progression to wanting to continue to interact with that character, and the tool for that is the toy. It becomes a much more natural relationship between content and toy end product.”
Hasbro has gone down a similar path with the creation of “brand blueprints,” at the heart of which comes storytelling, explains Stephen Davis, the company’s chief content officer and executive VP, and the president of Hasbro Studios.
“Kids can tell when someone is simply trying to sell a product to them,” says Natasha Gross, the head of TV and licensing sales at Sunrights, the rights management company that represents Beyblade Burst, the latest release in the franchise inspired by the spinning top toy. “Now more than ever it is important to create a great story that is exciting enough to keep their attention.”
“In the past, some shows were just animated versions of the toys, with the aim of saving money on advertising,” observes Hans Ulrich Stoef, the CEO of m4e. “That concept has now disappeared, thankfully!”
So much so that the likes of m4e and others are tying up with toy companies on new shows. Matteo Corradi, the CEO of Mondo TV, says that his company plans to expand its slate of fifty-fifty joint ventures with toy manufacturers, online game companies and publishers to develop content brands.
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