A fascinating article in yesterday’s Guardian, marking the rise and rise of TV merchandising, which started out by accident thanks to Mattel bringing out a range of toys to coincide with Conan the Barbarian that it couldn’t sell, forcing the company to create He Man and the Masters of the Universe and a plethora of toy and TV programme tie-ins aimed at milking parents through the power of the pre-teen nag.
Now, unsurprisingly in the face of a looming recession, TV companies, format wranglers and production companies are desperate to make some dosh whilst they are ahead and still on air. They are motivated by the desperate reality that the time for the precious original spark of love for the show in question is a finite thing and its ability to live in the audience’s heart is diminishing, as more and more product floods the market and more and more marketing aims them towards the next big thing. Hence the panic The Guardian describe to award marketers and licensing agents sweeteners and hefty commissions to quickly create interest with a wide range of products.
“Last month,” the Guardian writes, “Global Entertainment appointed Aysha Kidwai – whose career spans the ad agency JWT and retail consultancy Watermelon – as director of merchandising and licensing.
“’My job is to create products for Corrie, Emmerdale, Hell’s Kitchen and the like that can appeal to all age groups,’ she explains. ‘Next year I’ll be pushing the soaps heavily – gardening features strongly in Emmerdale, for instance, so we’ll be looking at a range of gardening products. For Hell’s Kitchen there’s various kitchen items that you could sell – marketing the complete kitchen solution to bachelors, for instance.’
“But Global is a long way behind BBC Worldwide, which – according to licensing magazine License Global – is the 27th richest licensing body in the world, above the NHL, WWE and Coca Cola. Russell points to In The Night Garden and Charlie and Lola as his key kids properties, but is also pushing into the more adult world with shows such as Top Gear. Last year, an unprecedented joint venture between Worldwide, Top Gear’s executive producer and Jeremy Clarkson turned over £8.6m with products ranging from Scalextric sets to I Am The Stig T-shirts. Clarkson earned £317,000 – which he sadly invested in AIG. This autumn, Top Gear Live began a £20m world tour that will act as a template for other BBC superbrands to hit the road.”
You can be sure, though, that the products that are out there at the moment will be on eBay and at a car boot near you within a few months – from the Carry On Camping picnic set to the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ board game – as the next big thing in TV careers over the horizon and into the lap of the audience
The audience obsession with the next big thing is equally apparent in reality shows, even if the previous participants and the parents of runners up aren’t so aware of this – take the reaction to the X-Factor final on Stephen Nolan’s Radio 5 chat show last Saturday, on which I was a guest.
The father of one the members of JLS took time to suggest that the career trajectory of the passable boy band runners up will be comparable to that of the Beatles and the Bay City Rollers, thanks to a little bit of hysteria in Croydon, which is forgivable given the familial connection and the fact that the final had just drawn to a close. Andy Abraham, runner up against Shayne Ward in the second series, clearly and less forgivably believed that he was still a big star despite the rapid downward trajectory of his career. Steve Brookstein, winner of the first series, remained convinced that all the finalists would have careers in music.
None of them are right on this. Alexandra Burke alone stands a chance taking up regular residence in the spotlight simply because she has an awesome voice and stage presence – to the point that she held her own whilst duetting with Beyonce Knowles. For the rest, I am fairly sure that whatever records they release will be littering car boot sales in a year or two alongside Hollyoaks perfume and Emmerdale gardening products.
For more comment on the X Factor final, click here.