Well-loved Kiwi toy Buzzy Bee is soon to be brought to screens around the world, while ushering in a new concept in children’s interactive entertainment at the same time.
Local entertainment company Lion Rock Ventures has just signed a co-production deal with Malaysian production company Lemon Sky Animation to produce 52 seven-minute TV episodes featuring the iconic character.
The Buzzy Bee property remains 100 percent New Zealand-owned but LSA will share a minority of the distribution and merchandising receipts from countries other than Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.
Lion Rock has also secured an agreement with international TV sales company Beyond Entertainment to distribute the new series worldwide, including taking the show to Cannes in October, where it has been accepted into the ‘Kids Jury’ competition – an event where children are the judges.
The Malaysian deal gives Lion Rock enough programming to last several years on kids' TV channels.
Lion Rock director William McKegg said production was now underway on the show, which is funded to more than NZ$5 million, due mostly to financing from Malaysia's MAC3 Co-Production Fund. The fund is administered by the government’s MDEC (Multimedia Development Corporation), which McKegg says is not dissimilar to New Zealand’s Ministry of Economic Development.
According to McKegg, Malaysia is making a name for itself as an emerging talent in animation and represents an 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," he said.
“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."
He said the show would bring children's TV into the digital age.
Within the show, Buzzy hosts Rolling Down’s Radio, a small community-focused radio station. Viewers at home watching the show can call in and talk directly to Buzzy and record their own stories after the show online, collecting a 'library' of stories.
“Theatrically, we have broken the fourth wall, introducing the perception of two-way conversations with our animated characters,” McKegg said.
“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.”
McKegg said 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."
The Buzzy Bee brand is more than 70 years old and was transformed into a character brand by Lion Rock, a management and licensing business formed in 2002 to take the toy global.
It initially operated a wholesale distribution business before to switching to a licensing model engaging partners to commercialise various consumer products including books and DVDs.
The first series of Buzzy Bee and Friends was animated by Auckland-based Flux Media, and bought by TVNZ. It was also sold to Australia and Norway.
According to McKegg, the Buzzy Bee TV show is predicated on “lovely old fashion values that actually never expire".
Lion Rock has a head start in the online space because the animated digital assets it created in the first TV series made it easier to launch the second series including the web-based initiatives, he said.