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Buzzy Bee™ is taking off!
The generations-popular Kiwi toy has been turned in to a television star by Kiwi entertainment IP company Lion Rock Ventures which has just signed a co-production deal with Malaysian production company Lemon Sky Animation.
The deal licenses Lemon Sky to produce the animation work for 52 seven minute TV episodes featuring Buzzy Bee. Lion Rock has also secured a television distribution agreement with international TV sales company Beyond Entertainment to distribute the series worldwide.
As a result Beyond is taking Buzzy Bee to the world television market in Cannes in October.
The show has been accepted into the ‘Kids Jury’ competition, an in-market event where children are the judges of a selection of new kid’s shows.
With a full TV series funded to more than NZ$5.0 million and production underway, Lion Rock is also targeting the lucrative digital world to extend the Buzzy Bee concept developed via the new TV series.
“This new series – which is our second – is now being transformed into an interactive property with the financial support of the Multimedia Development Corporation of Malaysia (MDeC),” McKegg says.
“Our long term strategy is to develop a new concept in children’s entertainment. The goal is to present our viewers and their family communities with an entertaining, informative, stimulating experience. We believe that reaching out to our little viewers’ immediate communities will have the effect of bringing the family together, not pushing them apart as so many TV, web or apps games seem to do.
“We are aware of many parents becoming resentful of games that turn their children away from family interaction. We’d like to develop a property to break that mould. After all Buzzy Bee has been creating some of the first family moments for more than 75 years so any extension of the property should do the same.”
McKegg says the aims may seem lofty, but asks why not?
“Why not be the first. We’re not asking parents to have a direct involvement, most are far too busy, but we do want to bring them in a lot closer to what is happening on the screen. I suspect many parents would be surprised at how sophisticated and creative some game play can be. We think parents should be given more opportunities to observe what their children are capable of creating.”
He says the Buzzy Bee TV show is predicated on “lovely old fashion values that actually never expire. For that reason the new series has opted for the timeless medium of radio as a means for the television characters to reach viewers.”
Within the TV show Buzzy hosts Rolling Down’s Radio, a small community-focused radio station that plays music - from the ‘Buzzy City Rollers’ - and viewers at home watching the show can call in and talk directly with Buzzy.
“Theatrically, we have broken the fourth wall,” says McKegg, “introducing the perception of two-way conversations with our animated characters.”
Viewers wishing to contribute are invited to record their own stories after the show on the website via the web-based Rolling Downs Radio. Over time, viewers can collect a library of their own favourite stories. “Wouldn’t it be great for them to share these with grandma, grandpa, uncle Mike and of course their parents,” McKegg asks.
“Fundamentally we will be recording posterity, which is a very interesting new concept in children’s interactive entertainment. Everyone knows how important photos and videos of children are to parents - now Buzzy Bee provides them with the opportunity for audio and video recordings.”
Lion Rock has a head start in the online space because the animated digital assets it created in the first TV series makes it faster to launch the web based initiatives, McKegg says.
The company has been engaging with several international and New Zealand digital media companies with a view to developing its cross-media approach.
McKegg says Malaysia represents an excellent example of the “smart economy” working in New Zealand’s favour.
“Given that entertainment IP is a relatively new market sector for the New Zealand investor, it has been difficult attracting capital. Up to now the directors and shareholders have been funding the development of the franchise, and to a degree, we have had to learn by doing.
“But it is expected the cash flows from TV sales and licensing income - following the roll out of the media initiatives - will demonstrate to the investment community the value of entertainment IP and in our case Buzzy Bee’s long term asset value.
“It’s a well-trod path,” says McKegg. “There are many companies whose only assets are children’s entertainment properties, some whose values are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But like any industry, quality assets take time to develop and build.”
The Malaysian deal gives Lion Rock sufficient programming to last several years on kids TV channels around the world.
“It is this long term presence that will enable the characters and values of the show to properly establish themselves in the minds of the viewing children,” McKegg Says.
It is the second TV series featuring Buzzy Bee & Friends. In 2009 TVNZ purchased the first NZ on Air supported Buzzy Bee & Friends series comprising 13 x five-minute episodes plus a single 23 minute pilot. That series continues to be shown on TVNZ (TV6) and TVNZ will broadcast the second larger series.
McKegg says the company’s “ambitious strategy” will see it venture in to unchartered waters.
“However the business model will simultaneously follow the more traditional route of other worldwide children’s brands with a strong consumer licensing programme world-wide where royalties from the sale of branded Buzzy Bee products flow back to New Zealand,” he says.
Taking Buzzy Bee™ to the world
Lion Rock’s co-production deal is believed to be the first animated co-production with a Malaysian company. The deal is with Malaysia’s Lemon Sky Animation (LSA) which is being funded by that country’s MAC3 Co-Production Fund. The fund is administered by the Malaysian government’s MDEC (Multimedia Development Corporation), not dissimilar to New Zealand’s Ministry of Economic Development.
The Buzzy Bee property remains 100% New Zealand owned but LSA shares in a minority of the distribution and merchandising receipts from countries other than Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.
Malaysia is quickly becoming acknowledged as an emerging talent in high quality animation with the government there very keen to promote the digital industry. It is cleverly committing substantial funding to assist Malaysian companies to win production work on high quality animated programming from producers around the world.
Sydney-based Beyond Entertainment Limited is taking Buzzy Bee to MIP COM in Cannes, the world capital of TV sales. Beyond is packaging up a “sizzle reel” and POS sales programme for Cannes.
“We are thrilled that Lion Rock has entrusted such an iconic New Zealand brand to us and we expect the Buzzy Bee & Friends television series to delight audiences at home and around the world,” says Fiona Crago, general manager of Beyond Distribution.
William McKegg says Beyond has a tremendous record with its children’s catalogue and Lion Rock hopes Buzzy Bee becomes a leading property within Beyond’s stable of quality children’s programmes.
Like the celebrated west coast outcrop it is named after, Lion Rock Ventures Ltd is the guardian of a landmark New Zealand attraction – our very own nationally-recognised Buzzy Bee™.
Lion Rock is a management and licensing business that has been formed to take the Kiwi toy icon to the world.
Founded in 2002, Lion Rock has a business model based on owning and managing a portfolio of entertainment properties and turning them in to world-class brands.
The company takes an active role in the creative development and overall direction of the brand and seeks out partners, under a licensing arrangement, to commercialise Buzzy Bee’s many media and consumer product opportunities.
Currently Buzzy Bee operates in (partners in parenthesis):
In addition to the above activities, Lion Rock is also working on a number of key longer term promotional licensing opportunities where Buzzy Bee works alongside other New Zealand based brands in mutually beneficial partnerships.
Buzzy Bee is a brand that is more than 70 years old. Born in the hardships of a nation at war, the brand was focused solely on the iconic toy until being transformed into a character brand by Lion Rock principals William McKegg and Wendie Hall in 2004.
Evolution of the Business Model
Lion Rock operated the Buzzy Bee wholesale distribution business for the first year. Impressed with the strength of the brand’s national appeal, it switched to a 100 per cent licensing model engaging strategic licensing partners to commercialise the various consumer products.
The focus now is on growing Buzzy Bee’s presence across a range of channels with specialist partners commercialising various branded consumer products.
Already Buzzy Bee and his friends are residing in a wide range of children’s retail spaces – from apparel, books and DVDs to footwear, furniture and manchester.
Lion Rock’s first foray into television activity was the creation, production and marketing of a series of TV episodes - Buzzy Bee and Friends. The animation was provided by Flux Media, a leading animation company in Auckland, New Zealand.
Series One was bought by TVNZ which has broadcast rights for five years. During 2009, the series played to pre-school audiences on TV2 switching to regular airings on TV6 in 2010. Lion Rock also managed sales of the first series to Nick Jr, in Australia and NRK in Norway.
Lion Rock is now in production with its second series, a co-production with Malaysian company Lemon Sky Animation. Given the expense of animation and the difficulty of attracting this level of investment in New Zealand (from both government sources - NZ on Air, and private investment), Lion Rock has had to seek finance for Series 2 offshore. Series 2 is being substantially funded by the Malaysian government media authority MDeC.