Big news for Ty’s and Nickelodeon

Have you heard the big news?

TTB Marketplace LLC, a premier online brand development and performance resource for licensed character products, today announced its debut agreement with Nickelodeon, the most-watched television network by kids in the United States, to offer a full array of apparel and sportswear options featuring the complete lineup of Nickelodeon characters. TTB Marketplace will be able to offer officially licensed Nickelodeon apparel, showcasing all of Nickelodeon’s characters, from the widely popular to those supporting characters that are rarely seen in merchandise lines.

In addition to offering a wider variety of characters than the mainstream retail stores make available, TTB Marketplace e-tail partners TysToyBox.com and AllAboardToys.com will be able to offer personalization options for consumers seeking Nickelodeon apparel via their online stores. The multi-year agreement between TTB Marketplace and Nickelodeon covers apparel and sportswear licenses only, extending across all of Nickelodeon’s current brands including: Blue’s Clues; Dora the Explorer; Go!, Diego, Go; Avatar the Last Airbender; The Backyardigans; SpongeBob SquarePants; The Wonderpets!; and Ni-hao, Kai Lan.

Allow me to translate that for you, just in case you’re confused, or in case you just didn’t feel like reading all of that: Nickelodeon likes us best.

See? Now you know it all!

Okay, well, there may be just a little more to it than that; the bottom line for Ty’s customers is that you’ll soon be able to find not only all of your favorite Nick characters, but you’ll be able to buy your kid a shirt sports his favorite character and his name.

And we think that’s pretty cool.

Stay tuned—the new products will start rolling out next month, right here at Ty’s. We promise to only gloat a little.

Happy Earth Day! And Disney’s got some news

I imagine a team of crack marketers at Disney who mostly sit around a large table and talk about what’s hot at any given time, and how Disney can capitalize upon each of those trends. “We need more mo-cap!” insists one, while another rolls his eyes and said “CGI, people. CEE GEE EYE.” Still a third is shaking his head in disdain: “Live action is where it’s at.”

And Disney—being Disney, the industry giant—keeps churning out hits in every genre.

So yesterday’s news was not entirely unexpected; it seems that Disney’s latest brainchild is a film label dedicated to environmental documentaries:

The entertainment giant on Monday announced the launch of a new film label, Disneynature, dedicated to producing wildlife and environmental documentaries for the big screen, starting with a 2009 U.S. release titled “Earth.”

The new venture marks one of the most conspicuous moves by a major Hollywood studio to capitalize on growing public fondness for all things green since the 2006 success of Al Gore’s global warming documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

My family loves animation as much as anyone else, but guess what we’re watching right now? (Well, not this very second, but what we’ve been viewing together as a family.) We’ve been putting aside some time every week to watch Planet Earth, and I think the kids are enjoying it just as much as the adults. Are we tree-hugging hippies who’ve “gone green?” Not really. We’re regular folks. And today’s “average people” are probably a little more aware of the earth’s fragility than the last few generations, I guess.

And lo and behold, it seems that Disney is set to leverage that awareness and Earth Day as much as possible:

The first U.S. release from the new venture, slated to debut on Earth Day, April 22, 2009, is titled “Earth,” adapted from popular BBC television series “Planet Earth.”

Narrated by actor James Earl Jones, it will explore animal migration patterns, focusing on the journeys of polar bears, elephants and humpback whales over the course of a single year.

We should be through our DVD set by then, so I sure hope their debut can stand up to the extremely high bar that the BBC series has set. Either way, it’s a fitting bit of news for Earth Day.

Now, go hug a tree. Go on, I won’t tell anyone.

Get ready for a new premium TV channel

If you were following the news this weekend you already know that Ty’s big merger news wasn’t the only exciting joint venture being cooked up last week. It turns out that a few little studios you may have heard of before (ha!) were working together, too—Viacom, Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM will be launching a new television channel:

The venture, starting in fall 2009, will show movies and television series from Paramount, Paramount Vantage, MGM, United Artists and Lionsgate.

It could provide competition in both programming and viewers to Time Warner’s HBO and CBS Corp.’s Showtime.

“This venture has the potential to be a game changer for the industry,” Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman said in a statement. “We are building an innovative service that will use traditional and new digital distribution technologies to bring great film and television entertainment directly to the consumer.”

Viewers will have pay-per-view access to big-budget releases from the studios, such as “Cloverfield,” “Iron Man” and “Star Trek.” Movies from the companies’ archive libraries and new TV series created by the studios also will be featured.

How the details of this new channel will actually shake out remains to be seen, but already analysis of the players and impassioned pleas for specific programming have already begun.

It’s probably wrong that I’m just delighted to be anticipating what could be a genuine threat to HBO’s king-of-the-hill status. Competition is good all around—it makes the old giants get better and makes the new contenders raise the bar. Plus, I just love a good fight. Especially when it results in great television.

Have you Hulu-ed?

It started up months ago—amidst doubts and some industry criticism— but yesterday the oddly-named Hulu had its official public launch. According to their About page, Hulu’s “ambitious and never-ending mission is to help you find and enjoy the world’s premium content when, where and how you want it.”

USA Today noted:

Hulu’s launch is a big bet by big media companies that consumers are as eager to spend long periods of time watching TV shows and movies in front of their computers as they are in front of their televisions.

Ahead of its test launch four months ago, the service was greeted skeptically as a rival to Google’s (GOOG) YouTube video-sharing site. Hulu has won over some of its harshest critics, including technology blog TechCrunch, which has since praised the venture for focus on professional content, easy-to-use design and video quality.

With no marketing and a private test pool of users, the service has attracted more than 5 million viewers in the past month, said Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar.

About 80% of its entire video library is viewed every seven days, a sign likely to be viewed favorably by programming partners seeking ways to boost profits from vintage shows, Kilar said.

Hulu is going to be the one to watch because this represents a real shift in marketing paradigm when it comes to mass entertainment. There’s no cost to the end user, and the interface is simple and easy-to-use. Selections can even be played full-screen, and the streaming is smooth (I expected a lot of bumps and pauses, but found it much higher-quality than I’d expected).

Some would say that such a site is long overdue, but nevertheless, networks and studios making their content available for free, and in full through a third-party this way is opening up a whole new ball game.

And I’m not just saying that because I found my husband sitting here in our office watching Remington Steele on his laptop this morning….

Disney and Nickelodeon tussle for top spot

In the fast-paced world of tween entertainment, it’s not enough to be good. You have to be the best.

As any parent of a tween can tell you, tweens have the attention spans of fruit flies. If you don’t have a hit on your hands, how far away could you possibly be from a total flop? Those fickle kids are determining your fate, after all.

So it’s no surprise to hear that the industry is tracking the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon like hawks:

“For the longest time Nickelodeon was the dominant player but there is now a real race,” Katz Television Group vice president of programming Bill Carroll said. “Nickelodeon has not gone down but relatively they’re not as high.”

Carroll acknowledged the buzz generated by Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana and two High School Musical movies, saying, “In perception, Disney leads by a head. And in the entertainment industry, perception is reality.”

Still, despite the perceived and real challenges Nickelodeon faces, it would be hard to find a healthier network, said Derek Baine, a cable television analyst at SNL Kagan Research: “The network still has a huge cash flow margin — at 67% it’s one of highest in the industry.”

The article tracks the development and strategies of both channels, and it’s really interesting to see how each network plotted their rise to stardom.

As for which one can be declared king? Keep wondering.

Still, neither network can be pronounced a hands-down winner.

Well, thank goodness for that, right? This way we can keep arguing about it. And if my daughter is any indication at all, we can have the Hannah Montana vs. iCarly discussion for hours on end. (I can hardly wait—just let me go find my earplugs.)