What kinds of products come to mind first when you think of a program about ballroom dancing, a sleuth solving murders, a woman clearing her father’s name, the inner workings of Washington politics or a group of chefs dishing about the latest dish? If you said a coffee mug, you will not succeed in the Disney-ABC Television Group’s licensing efforts.
Crafting licensing opportunities for the idiosyncratic and sophisticated shows and series on ABC requires creative thinking and following the lead of the shows themselves. “You’ve got to understand what your audience looks for,” emphasizes Adam Sanderson, senior vice president for franchise management. “They’ll look for things they connect with – that they have a relationship with – and that’s what we use as a starting point.”
Walt Disney Co., which owns the ABC television network, is one of the originators of the modern licensing industry, beginning with Mickey Mouse products in the 1930s. Licensing and marketing have changed dramatically since then. “Over the past couple of years here at ABC, we’ve been evolving our approach to managing our TV properties inside ABC,” Sanderson says. “This idea of franchise management – managing our properties in a holistic way – is a relatively new idea to the network.”
It involves trying to understand what drives the affinity of viewers for a particular television program and providing them with the points at which they would like to connect with it.
“We search for partners and brands that are a perfect match for our show, have the same sort of sensibility, that share our vision and have a desire to leverage that pop culture phenomenon that TV brings,” Sanderson says.
Television programs are broadcast to millions of homes, and they become what people talk about at the proverbial office water cooler and, increasingly, what they blog and tweet about. So becoming associated with a television property is an attractive proposition for licensees.
Among the specialized properties that Disney-ABC Television Group is licensing products for is “Castle,” a program about a murder mystery writer. A logical licensing scheme was to actually pen and publish the books that were being fictionally penned in the show by protagonist Richard Castle. The five novels marketed under Castle’s name so far have sold more than 1.5 million copies and have been on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 55 weeks.
For another Disney-ABC show called “Revenge,” the company is licensing a line of fine jewelry. “At the core of ‘Revenge’ is this unbreakable love between a father and daughter,” Sanderson says. “The character, Emily, goes to all ends to clear her father’s wronged name.”
An iconic symbol of love – the double infinity symbol that is a central element to the show – was licensed as part of a 20-piece jewelry line in white diamonds and gold and silver. Disney-ABC also has licensed a fragrance to be introduced in June named “Double Infinity,” and red and white vintages of a wine called “Vintage Revenge.” Cosmetics are another opportunity for “Revenge” licensing.
“All these products evoke the lush lifestyle portrayed in the show and capitalize on what our fans love,” Sanderson emphasizes. “Revenge” appeals strongly to women ages 18 to 49, a demographic of which Sanderson says Disney-ABC has the highest concentration among broadcasters.
The Disney-ABC Television Group’s licensing efforts for its eight-year, 16-season success, “Dancing With the Stars,” revolve around what it sees as the show’s various appeals. Some fans watch the show because of the transformations the stars undergo as they get in shape and learn dance routines. Others love the glamour of the contestants’ hair styles and wardrobes.
Fitness fans have purchased more than 2 million “Dancing With the Stars” fitness DVDs, with a new DVD slated to ship this fall. For the fans of the glitz and glamour, the licensing of beauty and apparel products is being pursued, too.
For fans of the show itself, a live stage production last year at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas was a hit and is providing support for fans having an appetite for a live experience with the show that goes beyond television. Additionally, Holland America cruise lines launched “Dancing With the Stars at Sea” cruises in which passengers could take dance lessons, watch performances and hobnob with the show’s celebrities.
Among other opportunities, a fashion trend toward fairy tales – another specialty of Disney – is being capitalized on with a line of jewelry for the Disney-ABC show “Once Upon a Time.” For “Wipeout” – in which contestants race through a surreal water park – a line of water toys is a natural.
A cookbook for “The Chew” – a daytime cooking show featuring five famous chefs – has already sold more than 150,000 copies, and a line of cookware, bakeware and kitchen gadgets is being cooked up.
“Everything we do must have a dose of creativity, whether in its product design, its product quality or product features,” Sanderson says. “What’s really important is we must move quickly. This is our moment, and we can’t wait.”