Tuesday 17 July 2018

Jam Media lines up multimillion toy deal

New kids' show Becca's Bunch to premiere on Nick Jr tomorrow

Jam Media co-founder John Rice
Jam Media co-founder John Rice

Fearghal O'Connor

Irish-made pre-school TV series Becca's Bunch is to premiere tomorrow on Nick Jr UK as its Dublin creator, Jam Media, finalises a lucrative global toy deal based on the character.

Likely to be signed in the next month, the multimillion toy deal will be Jam's first in its 18-year history of making hit children's TV series for the international market.

It is in advanced negotiations with one of the world's top five toy manufacturers, said co-founder and chief executive John Rice.

Existing TV rights deals for the series across more than 70 countries and in 18 languages - including the deal with Nickelodeon - are likely to be worth at least $3m over the next two years and Jam is also in advanced talks on a rights deal for the huge Chinese market, said Rice.

Over its lifetime, the series could generate at least $15m (€12.8m) in revenue for Jam in programme sales alone, but a toy deal - as is often the case with hit kids TV shows - will greatly increase potential earnings, he said.

"The toy deal is sensitive at the moment. It should be finalised in the next month or so. We spoke to all of the big toy manufacturers and offers came in, but we are focused on one in particular now. A toy deal will add to the whole longevity of the brand if it is a hit and if there is product out there for people to buy."

Becca's Bunch, which follows the adventures of a little bird with big ideas and a can-do attitude, stars a cast of cute handmade puppet characters and features over 4,000 individually-crafted props, set pieces and characters, combined with visual effects that give the show its unique non-digital look and feel.

"Becca is just taking flight, but hopefully she has the potential to get around the globe. I think, of anything we have ever done, she has the potential to bring in ancillary revenue," said Rice. "We built it with that in mind to a degree and hopefully it pays off. The early indications are good."

But, for Jam, which is based in Dublin and also operates an animation studio in Belfast, the making of the highly-innovative $10m animated series was as difficult a challenge as it has ever set itself.

Based on an idea by young Irish animator Conor Finnegan, the production used techniques that had never been employed before, and the complexity of the project pushed it $1m over budget. Jam, which has had previous hits with shows such as PicMe and Roy, had been developing a series based on the adventures of a courageous little bird when they saw a short film by Finnegan at the Galway Film Festival that used innovative live action puppets.

He was brought on board and special rigs were built in the company's Belfast studio to deliver a 520-minute first series of Becca for airing by US kids television giant Nickelodeon.

"It was a tough one. It was a really hard production and it went over budget and over schedule. But we stayed with it and now it is looking pretty sweet. There's an alignment of the stars, and it will stand to us as a company."

The advance for the imminent toy deal will effectively cancel out the overspend from the production, he said. The actual size of the deal will depend on toy sales, which will be driven by the success or otherwise of Becca on Nick Jr and other platforms.

Jam has already put in place book deals for Becca with Candlewick in North America and globally with Egmont, the biggest children's specialist publisher in the UK.

"The toy company is very excited about it. It's a little bit different and is not like anything else out there. The characters are endearing, the stories are fun and adventurous and it is gender-neutral," said Rice. "There will be a whole pile of products over the next 18 months: apparel, playsets, and miniatures. We will have to wait and see if the toy ignites or not. It certainly has got a great start in life with all the platforms it is going out on and the support Nickelodeon has given it. It has got a better start in life than Peppa Pig ever got and that show is now doing over $1bn of retail every year," said Rice.

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