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Interview: Jiggy George, Founder & CEO, Dream Theatre

“Licensing is all about building brands, but in India, majority of them get it wrong because they want to start with licensing without building brands”

Sarmistha Neogy | Mumbai | November 24, 2015

Jiggy-George Jiggy George, Founder & CEO, Dream Theatre

The licensing space is getting quite exciting. With new emerging trends, an organised retail structure and the willingness to take brands to the next level, this space is poised to grow. caught up with the man who is considered to be the pioneer of the Indian licensing industry – Jiggy George, Founder & CEO, Dream Theatre – to delve deeper into this business.

In July 2009, George quit Cartoon Network as Executive Director, South Asia after an eight-year stint to set up Dream Theatre. It began with the licensing rights for Warner Brothers, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. He talks about his plunge into the licensing business, what makes the industry so lucrative, and what are the perceivable challenges in this sector. Excerpts:

Why do you believe so strongly in the licensing business?

Two of the three parameters work fantastically for the Indian market; firstly, entertainment is fairly inexpensive in India, as compared to the rest of the world. Majority of the people in South East Asia, UK and USA don’t watch live football matches on TV, because it is very expensive. But, our masses know these brands, which for us, from the licensing point of view, is the first tick mark. Secondly, the consuming class is big. For instance, ‘Simpsons’ – it may be a very niche market in India, but our niches are very large. So what we have are consumers who are aware of the brands and also a huge market. But, what we don’t have is, proper organised retail and a good environment to support licensing. For example, last year we were two seasons late in launching Angry Birds, but because the demand was high, it gave rise to the growth of pirated products. The plus-point with the other countries is that, while they all have reached a maturity stage in retail, we are just starting. So, by the time we start booming, our licensing industry will also boom.

How much has the licensing industry grown since the time you entered this space?

It is taking longer than anticipated in terms of scale. Take, for example, Shoppers Stop. It started with one store in Andheri in Mumbai, but today it is the number one retail store in India. But still, the number of doors here is much less than that of the Western countries. While they have more than 500-700 doors, ours will be as few as 60-70. It is just a matter of scale and my belief is that, as retail grows, there will be more organised businesses and licensing industry will just grow exponentially.

What is the size of the licensing industry in India compared with the global market?

The licensing industry is pegged at $150.8 billion worldwide. The licensing business in India generated $550 million in retail sales of licensed goods in 2011. That is up, however, from $450 million and $0.31 per capita in 2009. With Indian retail business being the fifth largest in the world, according to AT Kearney, and growing at 15-20% every year, licensing is here to grow.

What is the USP of Dream Theatre? Which verticals of licensing do you focus on?

Dream Theatre is a brand management and licensing agency that creates and leverages iconic brands in the kids’ and young adults’ space in South Asia. Most companies usually specialise in only one form of licensing, but we want to navigate a vast spectrum of licensing and be the real specialist in the market. So, we mainly focus on three main verticals of licensing- entertainment, sports and lifestyle fashion. Entertainment is further divided into digital (Angry Birds), TV and movies (Krrish 3). In sports, we primarily focus on soccer, and we have also tied up with Real Madrid, AC Milan and, very soon, a few more English Premier clubs will also get included in this list.

What are the different types of licensing? And which one of them has the maximum potential to grow in India?

There is crazy number of licensing which exists – character licensing (Pokemon, Angry Birds), sports licensing and collegiate licensing, which is fairly big in the US. Other than this, there is art licensing ( MF Hussain’s painting can’t be afforded by many, but if you can take the art on to a product, then it becomes comparatively less costlier), designer licensing, corporate licensing, (like Harley Davidson, Coca-Cola), then there are flavours which get licensed as well (like most of the ice-cream parlours which use Oreo flavours, have actually got the license from Oreo, in return of a royalty amount), there is celebrity licensing, music licensing (Justin Beiber). The only celebrity to have done a great job with licensing in India is Salman Khan with ‘Being Human’. Entertainment licensing has the maximum potential to grow in India because we are a very vibrant country which thrives on different forms of entertainment.

What is the competition scenario in the Indian market?

Licensing is all about building brands, but, in India, majority of them get it wrong because they want to start with licensing without building brands. According to me, the broadcasters and the guys who build entertainment are on the advantageous side. But, it is not necessary that they will also know about licensing. So, my belief is that we will always remain the ‘go to people’ in this market. Moreover, we have an advantage from the point that we understand that corporate pain, because we have been on the other side as well. We know how to take care of the brand, build a strategy and appreciate their numbers. The core team of Dream Theatre has been part of some of the biggest licensing deals and launches in the country, and unfortunately none of them left!

What lessons would you like the Indian market to learn from the West?

They should essentially learn how to build brands. It is very easy to acquire licenses in India, but to build a licensing programme is tough. The reason behind this is because there is actually very little time spent on building brands, and it is seen that the moment you build the brand, it automatically paves way for a fantastic licensing product. The second is, in the West, licensing is central to their strategy and not an afterthought. Celebrities there are personally involved with the product and they know their brand and finally, one also has to remember that something that’s very popular may not look good when you take it on to a product. We have this tendency to slap products which doesn’t make any sense. The reason we chose ‘Tom & Jerry’ for the Parle packaging is because the company wanted to use it for their cream biscuits. Both these characters stand for playful nature and the duality of their nature also gets reflected in their product. So, by placing products without any sense, you can make money in the short term, but it won’t be sustainable. A mix of all these factors can work wonders in the licensing industry.

Why do we see so little of film licensing in India?

Film licensing is quite challenging in India because of its short cycle. A movie gets released, enters the Rs 100 crore club, and then vanishes. So, it does fantastic for the film business, but it is not a great business for the licensing industry. The reason why we got associated with a movie like ‘Krrish 3’ is because it was the third instalment of an already established brand. It was also an effort to extend the cycle of the brand beyond TV, through different kids’ merchandises and thirdly, there can be no biggest Indian super hero than Krrish.

How exciting is the FMCG space in India for the licensing market?

FMCG is one area which is at par or even better when compared to the Western nations. So, while I say, that biggest challenge is traditional retail, FMCG on the other hand, is an interesting space mainly because of its amazing distribution network. A ‘Tom & Jerry’ packaging on a Parle biscuit will reach more number of people than a ‘Tom & Jerry’ apparel. So, FMCG is valuable, not only in terms of the revenue it brings, but also in serving your fans.

What are some of the biggest trends which we can expect to see in 2015?

Some of the biggest trends would be the continued emphasis on digital, then ‘super hero’ as a genre is becoming very popular and it is also becoming a new trend along with ‘local’. The reason why characters like ‘Chota Bheem’ do so well is because there is nothing like being brown and speaking in local language. E-commerce is also another trend which is here to say, so when I say that we have customers who are aware of the brand, but the product doesn’t reach them because of the lack of the organised retail structure, e-commerce solves this challenge to a great extent.

Can you tell us a bit more about the emphasis on digital?

Digital licensing is whatever comes from digital – it can be a game or an app. Nobody ever thought that a game like ‘Angry Birds’ will become such a rage one day. Another form of digital licensing is ‘sky Landers’ which is a way by which a toy seamlessly links to a game. So, everybody seems to be taking it to another level and we will see more licensing opportunities coming from the digital world.

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