Angry Birds maker sees India as a big market in coming years

Angry Birds maker Rovio prepares to kick off its next phase of growth with the release of a second Angry Birds film in September 2019

Rovio Entertainment, the company behind the iconic Angry Birds mobile game franchise, is intent on expanding its presence in India with new licensing and partners.

Released in December 2009, the game, which is based on the simple but addictive idea of shooting a variety of colorful birds at their enemies, the green pigs, was a runaway success, spawning a game franchise that has racked up over 4.2 billion downloads. Its titular characters have become unlikely cultural icons, appearing in comedy sketches by Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien, and counting Salman Rushdie and former UK PM David Cameron among their fans. Rovio hopes that the popularity will help it be successful in the Indian market.

Rovio’s head of brand licensing Simo Hamalainen. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

“India is already one of our top markets in licensing and it also does very well in content,” says Rovio’s head of brand licensing Simo Hamalainen, who is in Mumbai to launch the Angry Birds India style guide, and a new merchandising line with localised designs at the ongoing India Licensing Expo. “So we’re putting in more effort into localisation and licensing deals.”

While many turn-of-the-decade mobile games enjoyed brief periods of success before fading away, Rovio has managed to build Angry Birds into a sustainable brand.

Hamalainen credits that to the company’s decision to pivot towards entertainment and content. It is now a full-fledged entertainment company, with a portfolio that includes animated web and TV series, consumer products, books, amusement parks and a full-length feature film. “Expanding into different entertainment channels has allowed us to expand our audience from the core gaming audience to a much wider one,” he says.

The company’s strong partnerships in retail and content licensing, which received a big boost from the success of 2016’s The Angry Birds Movie, have also been key for the brand’s consistent growth. Rovio has more than 300 active licensing deals globally that brought in over €49 million in revenue last year and has partnered with everyone from PepsiCo and Parle to the National Football League and UK heavy metal band Iron Maiden.

“It’s a very simple game that cuts across age groups. Anyone can play it,” says Nikhil Guha, creative director at advertising agency Publicis. “So what they got right from the very onset is the simplicity of the game. Second, the theme, the sounds, and the characters are cute, quirky, and easily likable. That’s allowed it to become a very popular brand.”

As Angry Birds approaches its 10th anniversary, Rovio prepares to kick off its next phase of growth with the release of a second Angry Birds film in September 2019.

Other plans include a long-form animation series for television, 10 new games, as well as an expansion of their recent ventures into live shows and theme parks. “This is the strongest content roadmap we’ve had yet,” says Hamalainen. “Our strategy is that we look long term. We populate that roadmap with content that our fans are looking for. It’s a truly 360-degree approach,” he says. However, not all of the company’s investors are as bullish as Hamalainen. Rovio’s shares fell sharply after a profit warning in February, and are currently trading at 50% below its IPO price. The main concern seems to be a perceived over-dependence on a single brand. “I think the growth will slow down in the next two to three years,” says Guha.

“They’re milking Angry Birds as much as they can, but unless they’re able to bring through a major innovation in the way the game works, they will need to look beyond Angry Birds.”

“I wouldn’t say we’re worried,” says Hamalainen. “We are actively searching for new brands to acquire and expand our brand portfolio. But Angry Birds has been there for nine years now. It’s doing really well and we expect that to continue.”