For the consumer products division of CBS, tailoring programs to fit each property has been the key to success. It doesn’t take long to understand the basic reason CBS Consumer Products has been thriving since its creation three years ago. It represents some of the most well known properties in entertainment history. But the people working in the division know it takes more than a popular title to make a successful merchandising program.
The CBS Consumer Products division was created in 2007 after CBS and Viacom split into two publicly traded companies in 2006. As a result, CBS gained rights to all of the Paramount TV properties in the portfolio, such as “Happy Days,” “The Love Boat,” “Cheers,” and the “Star Trek” franchise. Those combined with CBS’s classic library, shows like “Gunsmoke” and “I Love Lucy,” and current titles such as “CSI” and “NCIS” to create one of the largest TV libraries available for licensing.
“The company realized there was an opportunity to take a library of great classic and current brands, extend it to reach consumers in different ways, and round out the experience beyond entertainment,” said Liz Kalodner, executive vice president and general manager.
Over the last three years, the division’s focus has been divided into four areas: current, classic, “Star Trek,” and CBS Films. The newest, CBS Films, is just getting off the ground. Its first title, “Extraordinary Measures” with Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, was recently released in theaters. The first CBS Consumer Products merchandising program around a CBS Films property is centered on “Beastly,” a movie that will hit theaters in July.
Current titles include CBS-owned scripted and reality shows, both on CBS and The CW. “CSI” is the juggernaut of the sector and includes a large publishing program and a rapidly growing live-event segment, a video game business, and a direct-to-retail line of toys.
“For each show, the programs are a little different because the nature of the shows and audiences are different,” Kalodner said. “Our portfolio is diverse, so some make great book programs, some focus on video games, some focus on action figures.”
The classics space is another diverse portfolio, and CBS Consumer Products tends to pick out a couple of shows each year to focus on. Last year, for example, was the 50th anniversary of “The Twilight Zone.” This year is the 50th anniversary of “The Andy Griffith Show,” and next year is the 60th anniversary of “I Love Lucy.”
“Creating programs around those brands is the key, and each show is different in terms of categories,” said Kalodner. “‘The Twilight Zone’ was oriented toward collectible figures. For Andy Griffith, we have big line of Southern comfort food called Mayberry’s Finest, and ‘I Love Lucy’ will have a collectible gift program.”
Judging by the fact that it has its own category, “Star Trek” is clearly a huge part of the CBS Consumer Products arsenal. In the last 40 years, six TV shows and 11 movies—including last summer’s J.J. Abrams-directed reboot—made the franchise into one of the largest in all of entertainment.
“We look at ‘Star Trek’ in the collectible business, the mass business, high-end, low-end, across categories, classic Trek, and the new movie,” Kalodner said. “There is a big non-retail effort in the digital space because of the nature of the property as well as within all segmentations of traditional retail.”
Making the programs work across all four segments involves determining the right product for the property. In addition, working with licensees through the entire process from concept development to retail, understanding the audience, and focusing on the appropriate retail channels are critical to successfully marketing each show.
“We go through that cycle for each property. We know mass market retail is tough and competitive,” Kalodner said. “Not every property is right there. So we apply discipline to each property.”
Kalodner said direct-to-retail has become a terrific way to look at the division’s business because it provides an opportunity to build a statement around a title. For example, “America’s Next Top Model” has an apparel and accessory program with Walmart because Walmart customers and “Top Model” audiences complement one another. Another example is “Star Trek” and its large comic and hobby business.
The bulk of the business still comes in through traditional retail channels, but Kalodner sees online as a huge growth opportunity. That doesn’t always mean simply taking a retail product and selling it online. Instead, online channels present additional opportunities through digital business, on demand products, and downloadable video games.
Live events are another way CBS Consumer Products is taking a comprehensive approach to marketing titles. With “CSI,” the division built “CSI: The Experience,” an exhibit with three different crime scenes, clues, and a lab, allowing visitors to figure out who committed the crime. There are three interactive “CSI” exhibits touring in Europe, one touring through museums in the US, and a permanent exhibit at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
CBS Consumer Products also launched a “CSI” stage show last year. “We get a lot of school groups for that. There are half-hour and hour versions,” said Kalodner, noting that the gory aspects of “CSI” are removed. “A crime is committed on stage, and members of the audience are called on stage to use science to help solve the crime.”
“Star Trek” also has a touring exhibit. Because of the history of the franchise, it is focused on props and costumes, and it features the opportunity walk on the bridge of the USS Enterprise and sit in Captain Kirk’s chair. The division is in the process of creating another science-based stage show around “Star Trek” as well.
Navigating the evolving nature of the retail marketplace and understanding the balance between traditional retail and online channels are some of the areas where CBS Consumer Products will focus in the coming years. The content in its portfolio includes some of the most well-known titles in all of entertainment. Expanding that portfolio with additional CBS and CW TV shows and CBS Films is another critical piece in the division’s growth.
“What we are doing here at CBS is particularly interesting because the portfolio is so vast,” said Kalodner. “We can touch a lot of different retail points, and creating the right program for each property will continue to be our mission going forward.”