Taking the Tiger by the Tail

Early in the pandemic, the Netflix documentary series The Tiger King became an immediate viral hit, spurring demand for plush, t-shirts, and other products with tiger themes—all unrelated to the show itself—on both traditional e-commerce and print-on-demand sites. The phenomenon led some in the licensing and consumer products business to predict that tigers would become an in-demand design and content theme for later in 2020 and 2021.

While the public profile of The Tiger King has diminished as viewers have moved on, a number of properties with tiger themes and characters—especially from the world of animation and publishing for young children—have been expanding their commercial activities:

  • The classic Japanese TV series Shimajiro is being brought to English-language markets with Wildbrain Spark. The show launched in the 1990s and is, like several of the properties discussed here, about a preschool-aged tiger who learns lessons about friendship and negotiating daily life. It is early days for licensing in English-speaking territories, but in Japan products and services tied to the property include educational items such as a subscription box and mobile app; health and beauty products including toothbrushes and disposable diapers; a live show that attracts 520,000 children a year; food and beverages such as baby food, healthy snacks, and vegetable-infused drinks; an amusement park; apparel and shoes; and more. Licensor Benesse has extended its licensing initiatives beyond Japan in recent years, introducing the property to the South Korean licensing community in 2016, for example, with partners there having included Daewon and EduChallenge.
  • Leo & Tig, a Russian animated series starring a leopard and his best friend, a tiger, is expanding internationally. Russian licensing agency 0+ Media most recently signed a deal with Maurizio Distefano Licensing to represent the property in Italy. In fall 2018, Netflix acquired rights to distribute the show—produced by Paravoz Studio for the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) and Digital Television Russia—in 190 countries. Last month, DTR signed a deal with Spacetoon to distribute the series on television and streaming platforms in the MENA region. In Russia and some other European countries, the licensing program runs the gamut from plush to publishing; an interactive game has racked up more than 10 million downloads.
  • The Tiger’s Apprentice, a HarperCollins children’s book by Laurence Yep featuring a magical, talking tiger named Mr. Hu, is being turned into an animated movie, with Henry Golding just announced as the lead voice actor. The film, from Paramount Animation, is currently set for a 2023 release. First published in 2003, the book is part of a trilogy that also includes Tiger’s Blood and Tiger Magic, and it takes its inspiration from the Chinese Zodiac.
  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea, a classic children’s book, also from HarperCollins (UK), is a British classic that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018 and was the inspiration for a Christmas special in 2019, both of which led to an expansion of licensing activity. Last fall CPLG came on board as the property’s licensing agent for a planned two-year period. Among the property’s licensees: Aurora World, Milly & Flynn, Paul Lamond Games, Star Editions, and Woodmansterne.
  • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, already well-established as a TV series and as a licensed property, has several new licensees, announced in June by Fred Rogers Productions and 9 Story Brands. They include Zappos for adaptive clothing, Children’s Apparel Network and Hybrid for apparel, Peejamas for potty training pajamas and underwear, and Steel City for apparel, socks, and pennants. Several existing licensees also are expanding their product ranges. Daniel will star in a new special in August that will address some of the challenges families are facing due to COVID-19.

In addition to these examples, some of the cat-centric TV series that have had a growing presence in licensing over the past few years, including Kid-E-Cats and 44 Cats, feature characters reminiscent of tiger cats (domestic breeds with striped patterns). In the world of animation, they have a similar look to the tigers mentioned above.

The expansion of the properties listed here has little to nothing to do with The Tiger King directly, of course, aside from the latter boosting interest in tigers in general. The stars of the documentary have forged licensing agreements in their own right, however, albeit for a completely different audience than the kids’ properties in this discussion. Jailed star Joe Exotic paired with designer Odain Watson for a limited-edition streetwear collection in the spring called The Revenge Line, while another of the show’s stars, Carole Baskin, signed with Represent for a t-shirt with her catch phrase, “Hey, you cool cats and kittens,” available for two weeks to benefit her sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue.

In case you missed it, we have just updated our Coronavirus Resource Page with a recap of how the licensing business and its approach to the current COVID landscape have evolved over the past month. The page is a one-stop shop for all of our pandemic-related coverage, across a variety of publications, since the crisis began.

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