London Expo: Nickelodeon Touts $475 Million in Retail Sales for Relaunched 'Turtles' Franchise

1:51 AM PST 10/18/2013 by Georg Szalai
Leonardo of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

At a brand licensing show, executives laud the global first-year retail sales for the reinvigorated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the continued strength of SpongeBob SquarePants.

LONDON – Nickelodeon's successful 2012 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, along with a new line of consumer products, were in the spotlight here during a keynote event at the Brand Licensing Europe expo.

This week, Nickelodeon executives were all smiles when discussing the first year of merchandise sales for the rejuvenated franchise on the sidelines of the same event.

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Nickelodeon parent, Viacom, acquired the franchise in October 2009 for $60 million and launched a new animated show on the kids network last fall. Since then, Turtles consumer products have brought in more than $475 million in global retail sales, according to the company. That includes about $250 million from the U.S., with the rest coming from international markets.

Content companies typically get a license fee from firms that want to use their characters for toys, clothing, housewares and the like along with a revenue cut.

According to licensing industry experts, the first-year Turtles consumer products haul handily exceeded the property's annual retail sales in the years before Nickelodeon acquired and reinvigorated it.

"The show is really funny and good," explained Pam Kaufman, chief marketing officer and president, consumer products at Nickelodeon. "And the property is all about humor and friendship, which is part of our core DNA. So the show does well, which translates into success in the boys' aisle" in retail stores.

"From day one, we reached out to Turtles fans," added Ron Johnson, who earlier this year was promoted to the role of executive vp of Nickelodeon and Viacom consumer products at Viacom International Media Networks. While the company refreshed the Turtles franchise to modernize it, "we also made it consistent with the past because we didn't want to alienate old fans," he added. "We really engaged the superfans and super-served all the relevant people."

The TMNT franchise revolves around Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, four mutant turtles who are trained by mutant rat sensei Master Splinter and live in the sewers of New York City. The characters were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984 as a parody comic book that became a hit and a global franchise.

The Nickelodeon executives touted the strong sales of Turtles action figures. Kaufman said they make up about 15 percent of toy figure sales in the U.S. "Nothing's bigger," Kaufman told THR. "We are beating Iron Man, Batman, WWE."

The Turtles are also the top action figure product in such countries as the U.K., France, Italy and Australia, according to the firm.

Johnson highlighted that the line of figures offers a breadth of characters. More than 65 Turtles action figures will be launched by the end of 2015, with all first being introduced in the TV show, something other franchises don't always do, he said.

Asked about the outlook for and the possible longevity of the franchise, Johnson said Nickelodeon is taking a measured approach. "We want it to be profitable for us, our partners and retailers," he said. "We would rather see it be healthy for 25 years than milk it as much as possible short-term."

Kaufman said one advantage of the Turtles is also that due to the team spirit of the characters, the property sees every licensee carry product with all four characters. And no character outsells the others at retail, she added. "The Turtles are like a boy band. They can't be separated."

A live-action Michael Bay movie featuring the Turtles is set for 2014. At the licensing expo here, Nickelodeon showed an early clip without CGI effects that drew much applause and praise from merchandise and retail industry attendees.

Dora the Explorer, Bubble Guppies, Blaze and the Monster Machines and Paw Patrol are among the other franchises that the Nickelodeon consumer products team was focusing on during the event and for which it is rolling out new products around the world.

Kaufman, who has also worked on such consumer products properties as The Simpsons during her career, also touted the continued success of Nickelodeon evergreen SpongeBob SquarePants over the past 14 years. "In this time frame, nothing has done this well," she said when asked about SpongeBob's success in retail aisles in comparison with other content franchises.

SpongeBob is the most widely distributed intellectual property in Viacom’s history with more than $12 billion in global consumer products sales to date.

Mark Kingston, general manager and senior vp for NVCP Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australia, during a presentation compared SpongeBob to such other iconic characters including Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and Kermit the Frog. "Every half second, someone on the planet is interacting with SpongeBob," he said.

A brief clip showcasing the animation for the planned 2015 SpongeBob movie also drew much applause from industry observers.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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