Víkverji celebrates with Magnús Scheving and his colleagues in LazyTown that they have reached a huge contract with the BBC in Great Britain. BBC broadcasts reach 57 million viewers, so this is a huge addition to the large group of children of all ages around the world who can now see this uplifting entertainment. LazyTown is as Icelandic a production as can be, with the entrepreneur Magnús at ...
LazyTown has received market rights. The phenomenon is no longer the brainchild of one visionary, and is well on its way to becoming a powerhouse in international children’s television. Where there are no lazy people in LazyTown Entertainment; Merchandise, a traveling show and a movie are among the things currently on the drawing board. – Helgi Mar Árnason walked around in LazyTown.
The TV programs about the lazy inhabitants of LazyTown, in which the cunning Sportacus manages to avert them from evil, have now been shown in 46 countries. The aim is to expand that to 78 countries by the end of the year. No children’s television program has been so widely distributed, neither before nor since.
The ice was broken with a contract with the American television station Nickelodeon, where the series has now been shown for over a year with a feigned popularity, it was the fourth most popular show among American children of elementary school age with 4.4 million viewers each week. It can then be argued with good reason that this week LazyTown has won the last big battle when an agreement was concluded with the British national television, the BBC, to show the programs about LazyTown. Those in the business know that the BBC doesn’t accept just anything for shows, the station makes huge demands on quality and message, but it seems that they fell at their knees for Sportacus and the other residents of LazyTown.
How can you not be impressed by a show that encourages children to exercise regularly, eat healthy food, go to bed early and be generally calm and docile and kind? And what’s more, the kids enjoy it! The viewing ratings confirm it. If ratings from many countries around the world are compared, it is safe to mention LazyTown in the same breath as well-known TV programs such as Bubba Byggi, Stubbana, Pokemon, etc. If LazyTown is found on the Google search engine, the entries are in the millions.
The episodes about LazyTown have now been shown in the United States, Canada and South America, Spain, Germany, Norway, France and most recently in Iceland, and received a great welcome everywhere. For example, LazyTown has managed to become one of the most popular children’s programs on television in Germany and Norway right from the first day and is now among the most watched children’s programs in all these markets.
At first glance, the philosophy behind LazyTown seems to be very simple. The goal is to be world-class television for children, full of fun and exercise but without violence and with endless possibilities. And the children seem fascinated by what they see on the screen; the colors, the shapes, the characters. The houses are like in cartoons, the main protagonist is a superhero but still human, in blue tracksuit bottoms, with an hat and ski goggles and stand on his hands, does flip flops and high jumps. The characters, i.e. the ones who are not of flesh and blood, struggle with some bravery that they then have to work on and receive loyal encouragement from Sportacus. Except, of course, the lazy demon Robbie Rotten, who plots to spoil all the fun, plans that always end up happening something to him. And in every episode, Bing Bang Dingaringaring resounds, an almost unbearably catchy song that the children never tire of singing and dancing to. “Children on a sensory-stimulating journey through LazyTown” said the American newspaper Boston Globe in its judgment about the TV series, and really hit the nail on the head.
Profit in 2008
And when you look closely, behind the colorful appearance and the simple message, there is a well-thought-out overall picture. In each television show, certain values that should, or should not, adorn good children, almost like a commandment, without losing the entertainment value. These values should then be reflected in everything related to LazyTown.
LazyTown is well on its way to becoming an international brand, and there is much more at stake than just TV shows. Much more. Today, the company is run partly with equity capital and credit and income from the sale of TV shows, but plans assume that in 2007 it will have a positive capital flow and run with a profit in 2008. When that happens, LazyTown’s greatest potential for income will lie in the sale of so-called LazyTown products . According to the company’s plans, more than half of LazyTown’s income will come from the sale of these products within three to four years.
Here in Iceland, diverse production has already seen the light of day under the banner of LazyTown; books, CDs, videos, plays, cards, clothing, radio station and economy. The 35 television programs that were produced for the world market are only the latest from LazyTown’s workshop. Nevertheless, the episodes can be called the beginning of the development of the great power of LazyTown.
LazyTown products will be sold in all the areas where the shows will be shown, and the main target group is children between the ages of 4 and 7. Sales have already begun in the United States, where the exclusive right to sell products marked LazyTown is in the hands of the television channel Nickelodeon. However, it will not always be the case that the holder of the exhibition right will also have the exclusive license to sell the product brand LazyTown. The company itself will choose its own pieces from the value chain and handle the sale of the brand itself, but sell the license to another party. Income from the sale of the trademark is distributed differently between LazyTown and the right holder, but as a rule, LazyTown receives more than two-thirds of the income. In Hérland, LazyTown itself handles the sale of LazyTown products, from concept to production.
Strict rules of use
And the brand will be sold under strict conditions and its use must always meet the requirements set by LazyTown itself. Thus, it must not be associated with any product unless it is in accordance with the values that LazyTown stands for; it must be of the best possible quality, the entertainment value must be paramount, it must be original and must in no way be associated with violence, to name a few. Those who have familiarized themselves with LazyTown’s philosophy can be convinced that they will never see the face of Solla staring, or any other resident of LazyTown, on the outside of a soda bottle.
This kind of big picture is nothing new in international business, even when the big picture is about noble ideals. BodyShop comes to mind, where all products take into account one thing; environmental protection. But probably few such complete films have been directed at children.
Exhibition tour in the making
And there is certainly no one lazy in the company LazyTown. According to the company’s staff, Sportacus, Stephanie, Robbie Rotten and all the other residents of LazyTown seem to be well on their way to becoming children’s favorites around the world. Well over two hundred people work at LazyTown when the production of the television series is underway, all professionals in their field. And as the company has grown recently, there is no need to, it has to keep the boat afloat. Over the past year, efforts have been made to sell the 35 TV series around the world. However, preparations for the production of the next series or series have already begun and the filming of 18 episodes will soon begin at the beginning of the year. The series has already been sold in certain markets, i.a. in the United States and the United Kingdom.
An exhibition is also currently being prepared that will be taken between major cities, a kind of exhibition tour in the spirit of pop or rock bands, where characters from LazyTown will entertain children in large exhibition halls or in sports stadiums. The show is based on Magnús Scheving’s ideas and experience in entertaining children around the world. That work may have come a long way and LazyTown is now in talks with people who, among other things, has designed tours for the Irish rock band U2.
There is also a film to be made about the residents of LazyTown, and preparations for it have begun. In addition, various smaller projects are on the agenda; workout videos, sports videos made with famous athletes, dance videos and much more.
And although the size of the company has increased and it has now really become a large company, internally there is a strong emphasis on not losing sight of the ideal. LazyTown stood approx. for the Energy Initiative of thousands of children in October 2003 and received the Nordic Health Award for it in 2004. LazyTown has also received recognition for preventive work for the benefit of children from the Reykjavík Natural Medicine Association.
The show is about to start
LazyTown is, after all, the brainchild of Magnús Scheving and his wife Ragnheiðar Melsteð. The company LazyTown has been operating in Iceland since 1995, and during that time the couple has gathered around them a large group of professionals to make the idea a reality and spread it around the world. And it must have taken the qualities of a superhero like the Sports Fairy to do so.
It is difficult to put LazyTown in a category with the so-called expansion companies, even though the company has been successful all over the world. After all, Magnús Scheving says that LazyTown is not thought of as such. “It is dangerous to be right at the wrong time. It took us many years to convince people of LazyTown’s potential, and that’s why things had to be done in stages. It was necessary to do the homework, work on the home market and study it. But of course we have also enjoyed the boom in the economy, the liberalization is more and better access to capital. This has given companies the possibility to move the pens out.”
It’s not just about money
Magnús says that LazyTown is and will be an ideal job that will hopefully generate income. “We will take care not to sell LazyTown to something we don’t believe in.” LazyTown will never be used to sell fast food or soft drinks. There are, for example, never advertised films on Útvarp LazyTown or Easter eggs, even though good advertising revenue can of course be obtained there.
We have stood firm on this, but we certainly find ourselves following new paths. Candy manufacturers, fast food chains, soft drink manufacturers are heavily involved in advertising products aimed at children. Of course, these giants are willing to pay large sums of money to use brands, but we will still hold our own. Money has never been the driving force in LazyTown. Then he wouldn’t have existed for twelve years, because I still haven’t started to get back what I’ve invested in the project and won’t until a few years from now if everything goes well.”
Magnús says that LazyTown is not preaching perfection. Don’t even try. LazyTown, on the other hand, offers a certain balance, that everything is best in moderation. “The trick is to make fun children’s content that educates children about healthy living, without preaching to them. It has been very difficult to write the stories about LazyTown, because it is extremely complicated to mix entertainment, education and training, not to mention action and humor. We tried a number of screenwriters before we found an author who understood what LazyTown is all about. We immediately set ourselves a very narrow framework; the content must not contain violence, it must be very playful, international and related to health and sports without being explicitly stated.”
“Change the diet of an entire generation”
And Magnús seems to be on time with the message. Recently, there have been reports of actions around the world aimed at improving children’s health by improving their food. This is how Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California in the United States, plans to eliminate junk food in the state’s schools. British TV chef Jamie Oliver takes part in the British government’s fight against childhood obesity. Magnús says this is a positive development. “Illnesses that can be attributed to unhealthy food and lack of exercise are a big concern, and many people have tried to do something about it. But everyone needs to work together. There are too many children suffering from lack of exercise and wrong diet. If nothing is done, the problem will become major as time goes on, because diseases related to this are very expensive for society. We started with the so-called Orkuátak a few years ago and the results were obvious, having a significant effect on the consumption of vegetables and soft drinks during the campaign. In many places, we met with great understanding of this project, while others wanted nothing to do with us. We then received the Nordic Health Award for the project and plan to repeat it early next year.”
And Magnús says the response everywhere is good, not least from the children’s parents. “We received an email from a mother in Idaho, USA, who told us that her son had suddenly started to eat carrots and other vegetables after watching LazyTown, but he had never done that before. She then studied LazyTown’s ideology and said that we did not realize what we were doing. “You are changing the diet of an entire generation,” she said in the email, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. We are very proud of the kind of response we get to the shows.”
World class technology
The technology used to record the TV shows about LazyTown is one of the most advanced in the world. The technology is digital, called High Definition Virtual Cinematography, and is expensive, the cost of producing each episode is about half that of other similar children’s content. Magnús says that such sophisticated technology is rarely used when recording children’s material. “This technology will become commonplace in most countries of the Western world within a few years. That means that LazyTown will then be the only children’s content available for such television. In addition, this technique is important when duplicating the content, because the quality is never reduced during dubbing.
And we decided to use this technique because we wanted to use an equal amount of puppets and actors in an animated background to avoid having to build a whole town, which would have been hugely expensive. So we got the most skilled people in the field of HD technology in the country, studied the theory and even improved it where necessary. When we start shooting the new episodes, LazyTown will be the most advanced HD studio in the world.
Of course, this was an expensive process, but it results in cheaper post-production and much better quality that attracts the attention of television stations around the world.”
And why run this activity in Iceland? “I may be old-fashioned, but it is a struggle for me that this activity is here at home. It would undoubtedly be more profitable to run this activity in another country, especially in terms of various services such as food and accommodation. But when you look closely, there are many things in Iceland that recommend that we record the shows here. Filmmaking enjoys tax incentives in this country, and there are world-class staff here who work quickly and safely. The location between the two biggest markets is also an advantage.”
And Magnús says he is happy with LazyTown as it looks today. The projects ahead are to take care of what has been done and collect income from the sale of charity goods, in addition to the fact that various large projects are in the pipeline. “I’m happy with how LazyTown has shaped up and I think we’ve done a good job. Now we have set up the exhibition and then we can open the door and let people in,” says Magnús.
In the right place at the right time
Screenings of LazyTown will begin on the British national television, BBC, on October 3rd. The BBC operates 8 television stations, i.e. on m. CBBC and CBeeies are two of the UK’s most popular children’s television channels. BBC is i.a. known for the shows about Stubbana and Bubba Byggi and have achieved incredible popularity all over the world. Bubbi Byggir and Stubbarnir each have a turnover of about 500 million US dollars in retail sales per year.
Michael Carrington, the head of CBBC, was in Iceland recently to sign an agreement with LazyTown for the shows of the programs about LazyTown on the BBC. He was joined by Naomi Gibney, the BBC’s director of children’s content. They say the BBC has a great responsibility as a state media, not least towards children. Parents trust the BBC to inform and educate their children and entertain them at the same time. They say that there is now a great awakening in the UK about the importance of fitness and exercise, since around 1 million British children are suffering from obesity. The fight against obesity is thus a priority for the British government. “It is up to the BBC to do its part in the fight against obesity. So we started thinking about how we could do that. We wanted to entertain the children without preaching to them. Then Magnús Scheving came upon our shores and he had spent a lot of time developing this very idea. So we thought it was out of place to spend even more time reinventing the wheel. It can therefore be said that Magnús was in the right place at the right time.”
A completely different complexion
Carrington and Gibney say various means have been used to get children to eat healthy foods and exercise. A lot of it was simply not fun enough and the message therefore did not reach the children. “The BBC has a very popular children’s cookery show which focuses on healthy eating. Other programs focus on exercise and others on various social changes. But all this can be found in LazyTown. The whole feel of the shows is in a different way than the BBC would do. There is a great mix of actors, puppets and animation, the music is good, the production quality is exceptional and the power that shines through is obvious. We are therefore very excited about having LazyTown join us and will show the show in prime time or as if it were our own production.”
The BBC rejected LazyTown two years ago, but Carrington says that then people thought the programs were too “American” and did not understand the idea behind them at all. “Neither did they meet Magnús Scheving and were infected by the passion he puts into the project.”
Carrington and Gibney expect nothing more than that LazyTown will be shown on the BBC for the next few years. The most popular programs have been shown there for many years, as it is not customary to show a program for only one year. “We stay loyal to the shows and show them for several years, even if they don’t become popular overnight. We were e.g. have been showing Bubba Byggi for six years before we sold the show outside the UK and for nine years before it really hit the world stage. Although LazyTown doesn’t get top ratings in the first week, it doesn’t matter. There is no magic formula, you just have to be patient.”