It’s been a successful year for children’s media company Genius Brands, with the acquisition of Canada’s WOW! Unlimited Media and Ameba TV, major investment in Germany’s Your Family Entertainment, and the worldwide rollout of Kartoon Channel! and Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse. The next 12 months promise to be just as busy; in the works are a brand-new series, Shaq’s Garage, featuring basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, and a Stan Lee Centennial consumer products programme to celebrate 100 years since the revered comic-book creator’s birth.
We caught up with Chief Brand Officer Kerry Phelan ahead of this month’s Licensing Expo to find out more about both new projects, as well as Genius Brands’ plans for the rest of 2022 and beyond.
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Hi Kerry, can you give us a brief overview of Genius Brands – who you are and what you do?
I am the Chief Brand Officer at Genius Brands International, which is a leading global kids’ media company developing, producing, marketing and licensing branded children’s entertainment properties and consumer products for media and retail distribution. I am responsible for consumer engagement with our IP slate and expanding them into bigger commercial franchises.
Our goal is to create a larger ecosystem around our brands, with multiple consumer touchpoints (merchandise, gaming, LBE experiences, and so on) to allow fans to engage with our stories and characters in a much more immersive way.
You’ve worked with some major international companies – what excites you about Genius Brands?
I feel enormously honoured and privileged to have worked on some the world’s most prestigious brands, including the LEGO brand, Star Wars, Pixar Cars, Shrek, Hunger Games, and more. These experiences have all been so unique and amazing in their own way but, for the most part, the connective tissue has always been working on brands that enrich the lives of families and children. So when Genius Brands’ CEO Andy approached me about joining the company and sharing its mission of creating high-quality “content with a purpose” to do good, it became impossible not to say yes.
What are some of the major tasks/opportunities facing you over the next couple of years in your role as Chief Brand Officer?
We are a relatively young company with some very exciting content development in the works. One of our short-term priorities is to leverage our original, new content and dramatically increase our consumer products business, starting with Shaq’s Garage.
You are debuting Shaq’s Garage at the Expo. Can you tell us how the partnership with Shaquille O’Neal came about? What do you think is special about the series? Who is it going to appeal to?
Shaq’s Garage is a fabulous new animated series targeted at kids aged 3-8. The show is a partnership between ABG Entertainment, Shaquille O’Neal and Genius Brands, and it was inspired by Shaq’s real life love of cars and his unwavering commitment to help kids be the best they can be. The show centres around Shaq and his family of cars, called the Shaq Paq, who have been brought to life. In each episode, Shaq sends the Shaq Paq out on missions to help the community. They eventually accomplish the mission, but not without a lot of humour and hijinks along the way.
The episodes are centred around teaching kids to respect differences and be inclusive, kind, honest, loyal, and all the values we believe are so important in today’s world. Shaq loves this show and is “all in!” He is both a producing partner on the show, as well as starring as an animated Shaq and also voicing the main car character, Biggie D, in the series.
Can you name any licensing partners yet, or is it too early?
It’s just a bit too early. We are very close to signing several partners, starting with toys, and will be debuting the brand to other potential partners at the upcoming Licensing Expo.
Likewise, can you tell us more about the Stan Lee celebrity brand, what’s exciting about it, and in particular, how you’re planning to celebrate the centenary of Stan’s birth?
At Genius Brands, we are incredibly honoured to be the trusted owners of the Stan Lee brand. It’s a great privilege to carry on Stan’s legacy and a responsibility that we take very seriously.
Stan Lee was a legendary content creator and the godfather of pop culture. He would have turned 100 years old later this year [on December 28]. To commemorate “100 Years of Stan”, we are launching a Stan Lee Centennial consumer products programme, as well as some Stan Lee fan events that will allow people to celebrate and pay tribute their beloved icon. And that’s the just the beginning, we will have more big Stan Lee announcements coming soon!
What will visitors to your stand at the Licensing Expo be able to see/do/find out about?
We are thrilled to be back LIVE at Licensing Expo! We welcome all our industry friends and partners to come visit us and learn more about the Stan Lee Centennial programme and see some early animation of Shaq’s Garage and possibly even hear about what’s next.
The licensing industry hasn’t managed to meet up in person for a while. What are you looking forward to most at Licensing Expo 2022?
I am most looking forward to the people! I’ve been very fortunate to have a long career in the entertainment licensing business. When you distil it all down, the licensing industry is all about relationships. If you form true, mutually respectful and collaborative partnerships with smart, good and talented people, then everything else will follow for a mutually successful business.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the licensing industry as a whole? And what do you think are the greatest opportunities?
The growth of the streamers, combined with the pandemic, has accelerated, and changed the way consumers consume content. This resulted in a proliferation of content being available, so it’s become harder for original IP to break through in a limitless ocean of consumer choices. But, of course, this also presents more opportunity, so it’s an exciting time to be a content creator like we are at Genius Brands.
The retail landscape has also dramatically changed. Online shopping continues to experience double-digit growth and is still the fastest growing retail channel. This presents both challenges and opportunities. The challenge is that, instead of launching big licensed product programmes in thousands of bricks-and-mortar stores, many retailers now want to “test” new, unproven properties in their online stores before committing to the bigger programme. The upside of this approach for licensors is that your new, original property can be given a chance to prove itself instead of the “all or nothing” approach of the past, where buyers would just pass on an unproven property.