We caught up with Dan Frugtniet – VP – Licensing & Business Dev at Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) on the sidelines of the India Licensing Expo for a candid chat on his travels across India, state of play for his portfolio of brands, piracy, and his advice to first-time entrepreneurs.
ILP: You seem to have a highly in-depth knowledge of India having traveled extensively across the country in the 90’s and now in your current role as VP, Licensing & Biz Dev for Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products. How has the licensing industry shaped up according to you since then?
Dan: I’ve traveled a great deal across India back in the 1990’s and have some fantastic memories of your country. I joined Viacom 8 years ago and witnessed how much India has changed dramatically over the years. Especially the licensing space has seen huge changes I would say in the last 3 years. It’s always a pleasure to visit India and this is my second visit to the India Licensing Expo so thanks again for welcoming me!
ILP: In your current position at Viacom you oversee the Emerging Markets region, please share some of your insights on how these markets are shaping up vis a vis the global landscape.
Dan: Each market has its own nuances, tastes and preferences and we like to look at them independently rather than a one size fits all approach. All of these markets for Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products are showing a positive upward trend as far as licensing is concerned and we continue to expect YoY growth as we move through 2018-2020.
ILP: Which are some of your key properties and some of those in the pipeline?
Dan: Our 3 biggest brands in the portfolio from an India licensing perspective are MTV, SpongeBob SquarePants & Dora the Explorer. SpongeBob has his 20th Anniversary in 2019 so there will be lots of activities to help celebrate including new Seasons and a 3rd Movie in the pipeline, and Dora is 20 years old, but they still have massive consumer fan bases around the world. So, we continue to nurture and grow these evergreen properties. But we are also now very much focused on Paw Patrol and rolling out new categories and SKU in India over 2018-19 and onwards. This property is a global pre-school juggernaut and continues to win awards and gain fans all over the World! At the same time, we are beginning our journey with Shimmer & Shine, an awesome girl’s pre-school property, and Mattel will launch Toys Q1.2019 in India with new licensees and new categories to come.
ILP: When do you think a brand is license ready?
Dan: That’s a million-dollar question. I think a property needs to build a strong and robust connection with the audience in an impactful manner (which in our case could be through a TV show or digital content). With that built-in audience, it gives a licensor like ourselves the confidence to go out into the market and monetize it with consumer products.
ILP: According to the latest LIMA figures the global licensing business is valued at $272 Billion of which character/entertainment licensing comprises a majority share of 44.7% at $121 billion. Viacom has a significant play in this space. What has been your strategy to grow this category and take it to newer heights?
Dan: At Viacom, being a big portfolio Licensor and specifically a pre-school powerhouse in the character entertainment space, we are continuously investing in both nurturing our evergreen franchises as well as building and launching new properties that will appeal to our core target-demographics i.e. kids 2-12yrs. We want to be present wherever they are and entertain and educate them in the best possible way. JoJo Siwa is a great example. JoJo has a HUGE global following as a tween social-media talent – her YouTube footprint has had 1.3 billion views! We created a consumer products programme for her, and JoJo’s signature hair-bow became a global trend with over 10+ million bows shipped in 2018!
ILP: Closer home, retail sales of licensed merchandise in India have grown a total of 44% to $1.476 billion over the last 4 years. This despite a HUGE grey market. How is Viacom tackling the problem of piracy? Any key steps based on learnings from other markets?
Dan: Yes, piracy is a HUGE issue we all face globally and we continue to work with the customs and police departments in all our markets to ensure our IP is protected through enforcement, etc. We rely on our partners to help report counterfeit products and then take immediate action to address it. Anti-counterfeit operations require the support of all key stakeholders from Licensors / Licensees / Government Depts / Retailers and Distributors. Part of the problem-solution is to identify and clean markets of fake goods, but there also needs to be a focus on education of consumers and parents that counterfeit products are potentially dangerous and may injure a child.
ILP: You have experience in vertical licensing businesses with a client direct model as well as Licensing Agent model in a variety of territories. Which has proved to be more productive and efficacious?
Dan: In India, we work with our JV business Viacom18, and they manage all of our IP in India and South Asia and do some amazing work and deals in the region. Myself – I have spent the last 13 years working on Direct-to-Licensee and also Agent models so understand the nuances of each, and they both have an important place within any Global Licensor to expand their licensing business.
ILP: What are your key checkboxes for signing up a licensee?
Dan: For me personally, I like to see a lot of passion in potential licensees that they are going to give their 110% to not only recoup their MG investment but to also develop an innovative product that is priced competitively and ultimately is appealing to our target-demos and sells at retail. Ultimately, trust is a very important factor, this is an essential part of any successful licensing deal as let us not forget that the contract terms are long and we need to work together for years, so it should be a happy partnership built on strong foundations for the long-term. Finally, I would say communication is the other key factor, if there is a problem I want to hear about it right away from my Licensees or Agents, then together we can find the solution!
ILP: What is your advice for a young entrepreneur looking to set up a licensing business?
Dan: Find your passion. Do you have an idea that you think you can execute or a product that you believe in and also believe that other people need and would pay for? Then go out there and start networking. Meet with a few experienced folks in the business, get their feedback and together sharpen the idea or product until it has achieved a certain critical mass. The next big thing could be waiting for you just around the corner. Keep your eye out for it and remember to come to the Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products team first!