Barney, the purple dinosaur who has captured the hearts of kids worldwide, can’t meet friends in mainland China.
No, it has nothing to do with the country’s censors: they have no reason to block the friendly T-Rex character who has been providing lessons in reading and writing as well as good manners to pre-schoolers through song and dance routines. It has more to do with the difficulties of getting a slot on the broadcast channels of state-owned China Central Television (CCTV).
“Barney & Friends currently does not have television distribution in China… This could be attributed to its softer presence in this market,” Edward Catchpole, senior vice president and general manager at HIT Entertainment, told EJ Insight.
For its China foray, HIT Entertainment, a British-American company, is focusing its efforts on other icons in its stable, including Thomas & Friends, Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam.
The firm is waiting for the right timing and doing careful planning for Barney’s eventual entry into the mainland market.
Meanwhile, rivals such as BBC’s Teletubbies and Disney’s Winnie the Pooh are generating a lot of income from licensing and live show businesses on the mainland.
Barney is quite popular among kiddie televiewers in other parts of the Greater China region, namely Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
In fact, Barney and his friends B.J., Baby Bop and Riff will give live shows in Hong Kong during the Easter holidays from April 18 to 20.
Asia-Pacific, and China in particular, is a priority region where HIT and its parent Mattel Inc. are focusing on growing the presence of its properties across all business lines including content distribution, consumer products, live events and experiences, and digital media, Catchpole said.
“We are currently exploring ways to produce our properties – whether it be television content or live shows – to include regional elements that will resonate with our audiences and enhance the popularity and reception of our programs in China,” he said.
Barney & Friends was launched on US television in 1992 by program creator Sheryl Leach, and for the past two decades, it has become a brand adored by children around the world.
Kids can sing and dance with famous Barney theme songs, including “I Love You” and “Barney is a Dinosaur”, while learning socio-emotional and cognitive skills – from ABC’s and 123’s, to good manners and proper social behavior – through the TV programs.
The brand is well known in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, South Africa, Latin America and Asia.
“Our revenue in Hong Kong comes from content licensing and TV and video distribution, musical live shows, publishing, toys and consumer products,” Catchpole said. “It is important to have a balanced business and revenue stream.”
“We are currently looking into bringing a Barney live music stage show to mainland China,” he said, without providing a timetable.
Aware of the vast potential of the market, HIT Entertainment has been stepping up efforts to expand its footprint in mainland China.
At the moment, however, it is putting more effort into the Thomas & Friends brand, instead of Barney’s. Last year, it opened its first Thomas Town attraction on the mainland at Changning district in Shanghai.
The company intends to build on its experience with Thomas & Friends to launch its other brands on the mainland. “It is important to have a 360-degree integrated launch plan across all lines of business,” Catchpole said.
To be successful in the competitive Chinese market which is driven by local characters and brands, HIT Entertainment plans to distribute content through traditional broadcast and all digital media platforms including video-on-demand, brand and broadcaster websites, apps and social media, he said.
“We will leverage consumer touch points including live events and experiences and consumer products across key retail platforms,” he said. “All of our brand extensions and experiences will be localized to the specific needs of the Chinese parents and children.”
HIT may form co-production partnerships and joint ventures if necessary, Catchpole said.
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