LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Elan Freedman, EVP, Surge Licensing

Entertainment development company Surge Licensing represents a wide roster of brands, including Diane Alber, Spy Ninjas, WEBTOON, Epic 7, Stanley Kubrick, Fiesty Pets, Munchkin and more. Licensing Biz caught up with EVP Elan Freedman ahead of Licensing Expo to talk about the company’s latest deals, and what we can expect to see over the coming months.

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Can you tell us, in a nutshell, what Surge Licensing does? What’s your USP? Do you have a particular area of expertise?

Surge Licensing is an IP development and brand management company.  Our ultimate goal with our partners is to evolve their nascent and growing brands into fandoms and franchises. While we engage as agents and advisors and absolutely focus on licensing rights strategies, we see ourselves as a business that helps creators and licensors enhance and fill out their operations to achieve our shared goals.

Can you tell us some of the brands Surge Licensing represents? Which brands will you focus on at Licensing Expo?

Our portfolio of brands is completely community driven. Diane Alber’s publishing brands have an incredible community of parents and teachers seeking the best SEL content for their children and students. WEBTOON has a massive community of manga readers that love to read their titles the way users scroll TikTok or Instagram, and the Stanley Kubrick Archive’s fandom is filled with film buffs and creatives who have been eternally inspired by his work.

We’re presenting Spy Ninjas, which has 46m YouTube subscribers who participate in the videos by finding clues and commenting below the videos. Epic 7 has a diehard fanbase of mobile game players, who make every Twitch stream a #1 viewed event.  We have several vinyl toy properties, like Thimblestump Hollow, where collectors look forward to every single product drop.

Can you tell us what makes WEBTOON so exciting, and such a good fit for Surge Licensing? Are there any deals in the works yet, or is it still early days?

Pardon the repetition, but we seek ways of working with fandoms to deliver the programmes they desire. The WEBTOON community is massive and loyal, and it couldn’t be more exciting to build a programme for this audience. It’s a digitally native business, affording a direct relationship with our readers and data to help understand where they are and what they want. Fifteen million U.S. monthly active users, 11.5 billion global monthly page views and a constant stream of innovative content make WEBTOON the ultimate springboard for franchise behemoths (plural)!

Can you tell us more about Spy Ninjas, and how the licensing programme is progressing?

The programme has been growing beautifully. Soon, we’ll be able to share our media plans around animation, a live tour, family entertainment centres and additional YouTube formats. Expect to see Spy Ninjas everywhere shortly. We already have fantastic key partners in Playmates, Scholastic, Event Merch, Bentex and more, but the sky is the limit for Chad, Vy and Ninjas team.

The TOMY [global master toy] deal for Diane Alber is pretty big news. Where else would you like to take the brand?

The TOMY programme is just the beginning of the partnership business.  Diane is selling millions of books per year through Amazon, and we will be scaling the publishing programme globally through key partnerships.  Parents and teachers are demanding arts and crafts, school supplies, apparel, sleepwear, bedding and more. Now that TOMY is anchoring the programme and widening retail support, we’re going to begin diving into these new categories.

What are your goals at Licensing Expo? If you have your ‘dream’ show, what would that involve?

This year’s Licensing Expo is all about finally seeing all of our friends and colleagues. We’re going to gauge success by how many people are hanging out and connecting in our booth. Hopefully we meet plenty of new people as well. Ultimately, we’re looking forward to the party that will be the Licensing Expo show floor. Come by booth J120 and interrupt our meetings! It happens anyway, so let’s all lean into it!

Does the licensing industry ever get old? Or are you seeing any trends/innovations that are exciting you? Experiential/live events? The metaverse? NFTs?…

It truly never gets old. It’s a business driven by creative innovation AND product innovation, so there is never a short supply of inputs and outputs to craft opportunities. Going forward (and currently), we are going full throttle into Web3, but with a long-term approach. We view Web3 as a great disruptor, in the sense that the technologies afford direct communications with consumers/fans in ways never seen before.  We believe Web3 becomes the engine to offer unique experiences, content and product directly to fans who are seeking them. The data capture and direct communications create a flywheel, allowing brand managers to build hyper-targeted programmes, requested by the community.

Surge Licensing will be at Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24-26 May 2022. 

Surge Licensing signs TOMY as global master toy partner for A Little SPOT

Surge Licensing has signed TOMY as the global master toy partner for Diane Alber’s A Little SPOT  book series, a market leader in social-emotional learning content that parents, teachers, and children look to for compelling characters and experiences.

Initially, TOMY will develop a broad range of branded SEL-focused products, including plush toys, with and without added features and technology, and plastic figures. TOMY will also distribute the Amazon bestselling book plus plush box sets, to bricks-and-mortar chains globally. The new products will be available online and direct-to-consumer in the first half of 2023 followed by bricks-and-mortar stores later that year.

Diane Alber designs her books and products as solutions to problems expressed by parents and teachers alike. Her A Little SPOT book series – featuring the brightly coloured, stick-legged sphere Little SPOT – was originally developed to help children visualise their emotions as characters, so that it would be easier to manage them, and evolved to address topics such as kindness, empathy, honesty, diversity, inclusion, and reading.

On Amazon, the Little Box of Emotion Box Set, geared for children 4-11, ranks #1 in Academic Development Counseling, and #1 in Children’s Moving; A Little Box Takes Action Book Set  ranks #1 in Children’s Criticism and Collections; and A Little SPOT of Emotion Plush Toys with Feelings Book Box Set ranks #2 in Academic Development Counseling and cracked the top 100 books sold on Amazon with a toy. Two teaching guides and a parent guide are also available for the A Little SPOT series. Alber’s books all come with sticker sheets, and additional sticker books, colouring books and sketch books have been created for many of the titles.

“Diane has created a massive body of work appealing to parents, their children, and teachers alike, carefully crafted to make not only teaching SEL fun, but learning it, too,” says Elan Freedman, Surge Licensing EVP. “TOMY is the ideal partner and platform for Diane to design new experiences for children to explore and understand their emotions, become better humans and learn to communicate effectively.”

“The stressors associated with the pandemic and global events have only increased the need for social-emotional learning tools to teach children how to handle their feeling in a healthy way,” says Diane Alber. “I’m delighted that TOMY is our global partner to create new toys for Little SPOT that will help to support kids and families to prepare for the challenges of the world.”

“Infant and Preschool is well anchored in TOMY’s historical DNA, and we have deep expertise in successfully launching preschool brands,” says Morgan Weyl, Managing Director of Licensing and Global Development. “We will bring Diane’s highly inspiring and beloved series to life in playthings that can help children practise effective communication in a fun and natural way. TOMY’s mission is to make the world smile, so helping children learn to express themselves through play with the Little SPOT brand is perfectly aligned to the happy, healthy development we fully embrace in our daily work.”


Surge Licensing inks deal with indie author-illustrator Diane Alber

Surge Licensing has been appointed by the independent children’s book author-illustrator, Diane Alber, to develop and implement a consumer products program across key categories inspired by her Amazon chart-topping book franchise.

The program will kick off with initial focus on a full-scale publishing program before tackling extended categories such as toys, apparel, back-to-school, home decor and more.

A mother of two young, energetic children who love books, Alber was inspired to start writing and illustrating books when she saw a need for a book that inspired art and creativity in children. Over the last three years, she has published over 50 titles across three series that collectively address social-emotional learning topics.

Branded under Inspire to Create, Inspire to Create a Better You, and Never Let A… banners, many of the books, which feature Alber’s popular Scribble, Little Spot, and Unicorn characters, capture top category spots on Amazon’s charts, and deliver messages of joy, inclusivity, and acceptance.

“Diane’s books have resonated with kids and their parents, teachers, counselors and caregivers across the US, inspiring kids to be creative, use their imaginations, and helping them to understand emotions,” said Elan Freedman, Surge Licensing EVP.

“There are countless possibilities to develop consumer products that will further engage children with Diane’s stories and characters, and we look forward to working with licensing partners across multiple categories, starting with publishing and expanding into toys, apparel, back-to-school, home décor and more, to develop a program that truly reflects the passion and sentiment in her books.”

Alber added: “What I love about children’s books is their ability to create memories. Almost everyone remembers their favorite book being read to them as a child, and I wanted to create a book to share in those memories. I am incredibly grateful for the reception my books have received over the past three years.

“It is now time to expand the business to the next level and develop new ways to captivate kids, and I look forward to working with the Surge Licensing team to develop a global brand presence.”

Alber’s first book, I’m Not Just A Scribble, was published in autumn 2017 and was the first in her Inspire to Create series.  Seven books featuring Scribble are currently available and help children to understand that something as simple as a scribble can not only be a great story but a masterpiece as well.

Under the Inspire to Create A Better You banner, now comprising 36 book titles, is Alber’s popular A Little Spot series.  Featuring Little Spot – a brightly colored, stick-legged sphere. The books were originally developed to help children visualize their emotions as spots so that it would be easier to manage them, and evolved to address topics such as kindness, empathy and honesty.

The Little Box of Emotion Box Setgeared for children four to 11, ranks number one in Academic Development Counseling, and number one in Children’s Moving.  Alber also created a series of books this year to help children deal with COVID-19:  A Little Spot Stays Home: A Story About Viruses And Safe Distancing, A Little Spot Learns Online (number three in Children’s Computer Software), and A Little Spot Wears a Mask (number five in Children’s Safety Books).

Finally, Alber’s humorous six-book Never Let A… series, which includes her popular Unicorn character, weaves together art principles, believing in yourself, character traits, empathy and educational standards and addresses how imagination plays into a child’s learning.  Never Let a Unicorn Scribble is the number one in Children’s General and other Myth Books on Amazon.

Alber’s books all come with sticker sheets, and additional sticker books, coloring books and sketch books have been created for many of the titles.