EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Sesame Workshop & Studio 100 Join Forces
Sesame Workshop has appointed Studio 100 Media as licensing agent for Germany and German-speaking territories.
In an exclusive interview for the licensing press, Becky Ash interviewed Stefan Kastenmüller, General Manager Sesame Workshop Europe and Joachim Knödler, Head of Licensing at Studio 100 Media, to find out more about the absolute synergy which has brought the companies to work together.
Becky: Sesame Workshop has appointed Studio 100 Media as licensing agent for Germany and German-speaking territories. Can you tell us more about how this partnership came about?
Stefan: Sesame Workshop has identified Europe as a region for strategic growth – Germany is one of these key markets, as well as the UK. Sesame Workshop, which is an NGO committed to kids’ educational programs, made the decision to be more active in Germany and German-speaking territories. That is why we have established a local office in Munich which oversees the European region. With a very intensive and transparent process, Studio 100 Media delivered by far the most convincing concept and business proposition.
Joachim: Stefan and I know each other well, we have worked in the licensing industry for many years! Friendship has become a business relationship now, alongside a firm belief that we will be very successful. I also worked for a couple of years with Sesame Workshop, so I know and understand their business model and ethos. I joined the licensing industry in 2003 working for many of the big studios as well, so it is a part of my history that we have already done business together – we have the mutual leverage to launch into worldwide opportunities. We can now closely look at where we can deliver Sesame Street in the future, where will it be, and enter new categories.
Licensing as we know is a very creative business and you don’t have to always follow the traditional path. We all know that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on business, consumer products has of course been a difficult area within the retail sector – the consumer cannot see the product visually [directly with his own eyes], so there’s a lack of emotional connection. Now it’s about thinking of new ways to connect. We cannot count on the retail landscape as it was a few years ago. But we can make the difference that lifts the brand to the next level of licensing success.
Becky: How long is Sesame Workshop’s history in Germany, and how long has Sesamstrasse been airing?
Stefan: Sesamstrasse has been airing as a co-production since 1973, we are looking forward to our 50th anniversary. It remains a loved brand, for all generations, and has over the years reinvented itself in terms of styling, creative execution, reaching a very widespread audience for kids as well as being a pop culture brand.
Becky: Have people turned to classic, comforting brands, especially during the last 16 months?
Stefan: With the whole pandemic situation we have realised the positioning as an educational entertainment brand has come back into focus – we see that educational, quality content has gained momentum.
Becky: Can you tell us some of the first steps in this partnership, ideas for expansion and so on?
Stefan: When we look at developing and growing the franchise, Studio 100 Media offers the best ideas for our objectives. They have a multi-line business and 360-approach for traditional consumer products, market content distribution, as well as expanding into theme parks, live events, etc, all as part of the strategic approach.
Becky: Of course, Studio 100 has a long and proven success in expanding IP into live events, and theme parks. How will you use this experience with Sesame?
Joachim: This is where we have seen the benefit of the 360 approach – we have turned properties such as Maya the Bee, Mia and me into global brands and we are breaking new ground and new categories. What we are going to do, is offer this expertise to Sesame Workshop – which of course is not just the licensing side but also the legal, marketing, finance, PR, that we have within our company. We have the benefit of having this hugely strong team with expertise, also in terms of publishing. We have a lot of experience and dedicated staff working on the fashion side, so we will be looking at fashion for teens and adults, but also into the younger area. Toys and games remain important, as well as publishing.
With the pandemic, we have had children in home schooling for many months now – with a brand like Sesame Street we have the experience, and the trust of the brand – filling the gap for educational content.
Theme parks are one of the most exciting topics for us, as we can already leverage our existing experience, our parks, meaning that people can live and breathe the brands.
Another step is location-based-entertainment, bricks and mortar need an entertainment factor to encourage the consumer to come back. In the German market, after a long lockdown, online opportunities grew, and people are now not fully going back to bricks and mortar as they once did.
On top of that, we manage our own content from the distribution side, we have our own broadcast channel in Germany. These are all part of the exciting aspects where we can work together.
Becky: What are your first plans?
Stefan: The contract began on 1 July, so we are at the very beginning of this partnership! Sesame is very well established all over the world as a much-loved brand. The potential for so many different designs, product categories is enormous – I have never seen such an inspiring collection of style guides for all the characters, such as Elmo, Cookie Monster – who is your favourite, by the way?
Becky: Elmo! I interviewed him once actually… So, back to the plans – what is the most important factor right now?
Stefan: Brand and retail will be a key focus in the coming months, as we want to be seen in 2023 our year of the 50th anniversary in Germany.
Becky: Sesame Street has always had the themes of inclusivity, and diversity, and how do you plan to include these into consumer products and licensing plans?
Stefan: This is a really good question – Sesame has always been more than a tv show and IP – we will always follow our mission to help kids grow stronger, smarter and kinder and this will be included in our products and in every area of expansion. Everything has evolved over the years – the mission is to produce quality and early education – this is always an aspect that is at the heart of everything we do.
And, we add more relevant topics to our content of course, focusing on mindfulness, awareness – today kids are under more pressure and stress than ever before, we will create new content with aspects to make them feel stronger. We look at aspects like racism, introducing new characters to add to the current discussions.
We also want to raise awareness that we are an NGO – every penny goes back into our social impact campaigns all over the world. Parents are very interested in buying educational products which are sustainable as well, buying a Sesame Street product is indirectly supporting our social initiatives as an NGO.
Joachim: I can emphasise the importance of the mission, this will clearly define our strategy for consumer products – so we will create a wide range of signature products in education. Diversity is one of the top priorities at Studio 100 Media, so we will passionately drive this forward from every aspect of the partnership. You will find these aspects in all angles of our business – when you live and breathe this, we feel that both company missions will benefit from each other.
One key element is the appetite for German-speaking characters – as Stefan said, Sesame is a pop-culture brand in German-speaking territories, and on top of this, people in the licensing industry look for classic characters – our brand awareness is 98% with adults and 94% with kids, so there is hardly any property comparable to this! It has the history and its place in the market, and the characters are really much loved.
We see the very worldwide aspects of the characters as well as the very localised initiatives – this is very important to audiences. Education, music, making people laugh, and addressing current social issues are always so important to Sesame Street.
In order to inform the current license partners, and maybe new ones, we are looking forward to running a licensee summit within the next weeks.