Since forging a partnership with a new licensing agent two years ago, this global media company has seen more opportunities to capitalize on the strength of its brand awareness. Media brands are among the fastest growing properties in the licensing industry. The partnership of Discovery Communications and The Joester Loria Group has accelerated the growth of two of the most popular and well-known media brands in North America, with the introduction of on-brand licensing programs for Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. 

Joester Loria was retained as the licensing agency for Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and a number of other Discovery assets in mid-2008 after Discovery Communications decided to outsource its licensing operations. The two companies were aligned on the vision for the brands, and the relationship was bolstered from the start by Joester Loria’s strong retail relationships that could fast track entry to retail. 

Animal magnetism

According to Debra Joester, president of Joester Loria, the Animal Planet licensing segments represent some of the most important program initiatives currently underway. One of these segments is the pet product category, which Animal Planet had a toe in for years but was thoroughly revamped and relaunched last year. The other segment is lifestyle products, which at the moment consists of primarily children’s product but is expanding into a number of adult categories as well.

“The demographic of Animal Planet viewers reflects the network’s broad appeal,” said Joester. “Since the network’s rebranding in early 2009, Animal Planet has experienced extraordinary success with month over month double digit ratings increases. If you delve into the ratings, you find the audience is composed of men and women ages 25 to 54, that family co-viewing is popular, and that the network attracts a remarkable number of children age six to 11; approximately 65% of the kids watching the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon watch Animal Planet. In the past couple years, we have successfully extended that interest into licensing.” 

Animal Planet licensed pet products include pet toys, grooming, beds, and houses. Distribution of several categories of the program extends into non-traditional pet product retailers including Bed Bath and Beyond, Kohl’s, and JC Penney.

“Sixty-eight million American homes have pets, greater than the number of homes with children. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that Animal Planet sales during holiday 2009 generated 85% to 95% sell through at leading retail chains,” Joester said.

In May 2009, Animal Planet also entered into an exclusive pet product retail program with Petsmart, supported with a marketing campaign designed to drive sales and further augmented with in-store marketing at Petsmart funded by licensee JAKKS Pets. Given the demographic appeal of Animal Planet and the obvious tie in between pets and a network focused on animal-related programming, pet products will continue to be a big part of the overall licensing strategy going forward.

On the lifestyle product side, Animal Planet has a longstanding relationship with Toys R Us that dates back more than 10 years. In an effort to extend the brand’s reach, however, 2010 will mark the first year that Animal Planet toys will be available outside of Toys R Us.

“In an effort to provide more toy options to Toys R Us and, in some categories, to extend distribution to other retailers, additional toy and game partners have been signed on. Rights were recently granted to Horizon Group for an arts and crafts line, which launched at Michaels with more than 20 items designed for boys and girls,” Joester said. “Jay at Play developed award winning feature plush and animatic products that are available at Toys R Us and will be in multiple retailers for holiday.”

Apparel is another area where Animal Planet licensed products are seeing additional growth with fashions for everyone from toddlers to adults, and the home category around textiles and décor is also growing. Publishing is another growth area, as Joester pointed to the recently inked Animal Planet worldwide license with Weldon Owen Publishing. In addition, interactive categories are ideal for Animal Planet and products from mobile downloads to video games to online communities are a big part of the future for the brand. But irrespective of the medium, Joester pointed to a few key factors keeping the brand identity strong across platforms.

“Discovery has a terrific creative team that provides exceptional creative assets. The result is great product, product consistency, and a thematic look and feel that is on-brand for Animal Planet,” she said. “We are excited by the program expansion into interactive product, a vibrant category driven by new ideas, but there is robust space for growth in more traditional licensed products as well.” 

The program was also designed to give back, with $200,000, the first distribution of proceeds from sales of Animal Planet-branded merchandise, to be donated in 2010 to benefit a number of animal organizations through ROAR (Reach Out. Act. Respond.). ROAR supports several domestic and wildlife organizations, and in March, Discovery donated $25,000 to Earthwatch Institute and $25,000 to the American Humane Association’s Second Chance Fund. In all, eight gifts of $25,000 will be donated to different organizations this year.

Beyond wildlife

Animal Planet is not the only initiative currently underway in the Discovery Communications licensing program managed by Joester Loria. One example under the Discovery Channel brand is the Discovery Adventures series of travel expeditions. Joester explained that the US is under-indexed with adventure trips when compared to markets like the UK, Canada, Germany, and Australia, and research indicated there was a big growth opportunity for a trusted brand like Discovery to enter the market and provide culturally immersive and physically exciting vacation experiences.

“The Discovery Adventures license was granted in October 2009 to Gap Adventures, the largest leading adventure travel company,” said Joester. “There are some family bookings, but most of the travelers are young adults without families or older adults who put off these kind of trips while raising families. We are 50% above the target for the number of travelers that have booked, and those are good numbers especially considering the economy.”

Discovery Expedition is another initiative connected to the Discovery Channel brand. It is a line of apparel and gear, including binoculars, headwear, and electronics. Products first hit the market with a successful line of electronics in 2009, and Joester predicts significant growth as part of a broad apparel lifestyle program around the Discovery Expedition brand.

Joester Loria will continue to provide retail and creative support for various Discovery Communications licensing programs. As the number of licensees has grown, the opportunity now exists to develop multi-category programs so targeted age groups and retailers can be presented simultaneously and strategically. Both online and brick and mortar retailing will continue to be part of the retail strategies for Discovery Communications properties.

“It’s important that we select partners with a shared vision of how programs will be executed, and they must have creative, manufacturing, and distribution capabilities. We’ll continue working with online retailers and brick and mortar retailers, leveraging the networks’ sites to highlight licensed products and drive consumers to the key retailers supporting the programs,” said Joester.

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