By developing a retail and licensing division in the US, this UK broadcasting company is finding opportunities in a relatively untapped market. In June 2009, Tom Keefer came to New York City following BBC Worldwide's decision to ramp up efforts in the North American market. For BBC Worldwide, North America is a relatively untapped market with the potential to build a significant licensed consumer products business

outside of the UK.

As a result, the company sent its senior vice president of licensed consumer products into the heart of the region to study the landscape. “Both from a retail perspective and from a licensing community perspective, to be effective in this market, we needed resources here and as well as in the UK,” said Keefer. 

“As we look across the global landscape, we’ve always had a strong presence in the UK and in commonwealth markets such as Canada and Australia, but the market that holds the greatest potential for our long-term growth is the US market.”

Follow the leader

Unlike others trying to break into the North American licensing market, BBC has the strength of an already successful licensed consumer products business in the UK, what Keefer calls a testing ground for a number of the company’s leading products. BBC Worldwide, Americas will be drawing upon the corporate resources it has in place within the UK to help manage this growing US business. 

“I have a strong licensing solicitation team in London, headed by Richard Hollis, but we’re ‘amping’ up that capability with a retail development team,” said Keefer. “We’ve also initiated the 10 and 10 rule in the UK and will be replicating that in the US.”

The rule is as follows: BBC Worldwide looks at its top 10 brands, aligns them with its top 10 UK retailers, and together they strive to find mutually beneficial opportunities. Keefer said he and Neil Ross Russell, managing director, children's global brands and licensed consumer products at BBC Worldwide, have been working on this initiative since late 2009, and without exception, the reaction has been welcoming. 

“We’ve identified in every case one or multiple properties we have a chance to explore closer by collaborating on unique retail initiatives, which has been a very positive step in the right direction for us as the licensor,” he explained. “Replicating that same mentality here in the US, we are building a licensing and retail development team.”

Recently, BBC Worldwide, Americas appointed Bob Traub as vice president of retail development. As such, Traub will be working with BBC Worldwide’s portfolio of brands, including “BBC Earth,” “Doctor Who,” “Top Gear,” and “In the Night Garden.” 

“We will soon be bringing on senior marketing, licensing, and retail development managers and executives to strengthen our capabilities in anticipation of building a significant portfolio of properties in the US,” said Keefer.

Strong footing

Although it has a strong model to mirror in the UK, BBC Worldwide, Americas isn’t jumping into the North American licensing market without taking careful steps to make sure it doesn’t lose its footing. 

The company has already seen positive initial reactions to the same discussions it’s had in the UK with the 10 and 10 rule, and now that a number of its properties are preparing to or are being launched with broadcast platforms, the North American division is confident enough to develop licensing platforms behind them. 

“With our ‘BBC Earth,’ ‘Planet Earth,’ ‘Life,’ ‘Human Planet,’ and ‘Frozen Planet’ properties, we already have good mass-market awareness in the US and an excellent platform for developing licensed consumer products initiatives,” said Keefer. 

BBC Worldwide’s approach in North America with its properties depends on the awareness and strength of each brand. Keefer said the company looks at each property individually to ensure it has the right level of consumer awareness before building a licensing program. 

In the US, “Planet Earth” and “Life” are highly visible because they are showcase broadcast platforms for Discovery Channel’s network of broadcasters. “Dancing with the Stars,” which goes under other names in other global markets, is effectively the number one entertainment property in the world right now, with a massive TV audience in every country it airs. 

“The show has won 29 international TV awards and five Emmy’s,” said Keefer. “We partner with an agency called ACI for the licensing solicitation portion for ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in partnership with ourselves and ABC.” 

BBC Worldwide, Americas looks at its approach to dealing with retailers with the following question in mind: what will resonate with them the most? Keefer said that for retailers, it all comes back to quarter on quarter, month on month margin improvement and delivering ways for retailers to create unique customer experiences in their doors. 

“We’re in a unique position to help deliver on both of those fronts because we can partner directly with retailers to create unique brand experiences in their doors, in some cases bringing a family of licensees along with us to provide unique and compelling products,” he said.

BBC Worldwide, Americas is also in a unique position to entertain direct-to-retail scenarios. Along with a whole portfolio of new brands, the company has an opportunity to bring products to retail in an innovative way that meets the needs of retailers. 

The company doesn’t, however, differentiate the communications of those brands depending on which market they’re in. “We feel strongly that the visual communication of those brands should be identical globally and that we should have one voice and one look to the best of our ability,” Keefer said.

accommodate changes in creative taste by market, but we always seek to have a unified expression of our brands through global style guides that we issue out of the UK.”

According to Keefer, for any licensor to be meaningful in North America, it must understand the breadth of the retail landscape and the differences by channel. From specialty and department stores to mass, drug, dollar, grocery, and club stores, each channel has its own retail dynamics, as well as market leaders, regional leaders, and so on. 

With a broad portfolio, BBC Worldwide, Americas has the advantage of developing programs that make sense for each retailer’s specific customer base. In the UK, BCC Worldwide is taking this same approach. 

“We identify different initiatives where we can zone in on very specific executions, which meets customer needs and creates a point of differentiation as well as providing an excellent showcase for us to promote our brands,” Keefer said. 

“It’s mutually beneficial and creates a unique experience for those retailers and their consumers. We intend to take the same approach as we develop our retail profile in the US across our portfolio of brands,” he concluded.