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Silvergate: showcasing the power of brands in LBE

From Octonauts to Peter Rabbit and more, we look at how the company’s attractions are engaging a global audience

Lisa Macdonald Silvergate
Lisa Macdonald

Silvergate Media, an award-winning media and production company, has built a formidable portfolio of live event and attraction partnerships on a global scale. It also works with the industry’s leading attraction partners so children can be immersed and participate in the worlds of their favourite characters.

Silvergate’s critically acclaimed and engaging shows include a wide range of content beloved by families, such as Octonauts, the Peter Rabbit TV series, Hilda, and Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt. It has also recently launched a new series, The Creature Cases.

Lisa Macdonald is SVP of consumer products and content sales at Silvergate Media.

An international licensing specialist with 20 years of experience in children’s and family entertainment, she spoke to blooloop about Silvergate’s live events and attractions. She discussed the global footprint of the company’s brands and how these can translate to larger, all-encompassing immersive experiences.

Creating emotion and excitement

Macdonald has always worked, she explains, in the kids’ and family space:

“I was originally in publishing at Scholastic, before moving into broader consumer products. Then I expanded that remit into attractions and brand development as well. To a degree, that goes hand-in-hand with live events and attractions. Past companies also include Sanrio, where I worked on the Mr Men, and Chorion, where our portfolio included Noddy, Paddington, The World of Eric Carle, and other IPs.

“I love working in this space. It started with a passion for seeing books translated into great content, and then into consumer products. Now, at Silvergate, our portfolio is mixed: either based on books or our own IPs developed in-house, by our talented team of executive producers in New York. It’s such a fun, colourful environment to work in, and children are a brilliant audience.”

creature cases silvergate

Talking about the first time she experienced a live show, Macdonald says:

“It is a reminder that you are not just dealing with a business, but with entertainment, and with children, who are getting to see their favourite character come to life. The emotion and excitement that goes with it are incredible. It’s the same every time you launch toys or a new experience; seeing that enjoyment first-hand is great.”

Silvergate’s live events and attractions

Silvergate’s properties have enjoyed success in the live events and attractions sector. The company has collaborated with many partners to harness its USP in the creation of compelling, imaginative experiences that entertain and educate.

With a live events scope that extends across Merlin Entertainments’ attractions across the US, China, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai’s Global village and FECs in Asia, the portfolio’s potential is now set to expand still further as The Creature Cases launches on Netflix.

Chico Bon Bon

Macdonald identifies the elements that make Silvergate’s live events and attractions category so successful:

“Ultimately, the success is underpinned by the strength and enduring appeal of our IPs. At the heart of all our IPs are great shows that kids want to watch again and again and that parents feel good about them watching. That comes from amazing storytelling, engaging characters, and richly imagined worlds. These lend themselves well to consumer products, but also to immersive experiences.”

That is the creative piece. Additionally:

“From a business perspective, we’ve also got a brilliant distribution network for our series worldwide. We are working with all the leading streaming platforms and broadcasters, and we have our own official YouTube channels. This enables us to grow a huge and very engaged fanbase. And then, of course, we’ve got great partners. The IP can be great, but if it isn’t executed and managed well, then those attractions or live events may not be a success. And that’s where Merlin, Willows Farm and Lappset come into their own, as well. It’s a team effort.”

The universal appeal of the IPs

The Silvergate IPs have a universal and enduring appeal. This ranges from the visually evocative and sympathetic reimagining of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and friends in a Lake District idyll to the earnest aquatic Octonauts, exploring the natural world through the lens of conservation. There is also the engaging Chico Bon Bon, applying engineering solutions to the problems of the mechanically challenged town of Blunderburg.

Octonauts Above and Beyond

“On the face of it, they seem very different,” Macdonald says. “But actually, they’ve got a lot of common threads running through them. Firstly – and this goes back to my point about the strength of the attractions – we have brilliant content from our production team. This comprises the wonderful storytelling and those engaging characters.”

The priority is to create fun and entertaining shows for children, she explains:

“Storytelling comes first at Silvergate. It’s never a case of considering the toy line first, for example, and then just layering the story on top, our production team’s goal is to create world-class entertaining and engaging shows. Kids can be quite discerning and would recognise that.”

Creating the shows that families want

In terms of creating shows that parents want, she adds:

“All our shows deliver some educational curriculum and values. It might be overt; in the case of Chico Bon Bon, for instance, it’s a STEM curriculum. Each episode touches on different themes – from elasticity to air pressure. The natural world and conservation are strong themes for The Creature Cases and Octonauts.

“Peter Rabbit, for younger children, has a softer but equally important curriculum. This is rooted in friendship, teamwork, and perseverance, which is a key thread for kids these days. Peter Rabbit’s motto is ‘A good rabbit never gives up.’”

Peter Rabbit Explore and Play Blackpool

There is also, she says, a certain balance involved. Children can be discerning, and are quick to catch on when something is thinly disguised advertising:

“But if it’s a show the parents feel good about, then they are happy to engage with consumer products, with live events, with the wider world of those characters, because they feel that there’s value in it for their children.”

Exploring with Octonauts

Attractions and events need, to an extent, to engage the family as well as the children.

“The Octonauts attraction at Sea Life Shanghai, where you get immersed in the Octopod, and you go through the Ray Bay on an expedition with the Octonauts, is an attraction that can serve the whole family. You can spend a day there together. Certain shows, particularly the Octonauts, in this case, can serve a wide audience. And, of course, it’s always better to have a show that the parents enjoy watching, too.”

Merlin’s Entertainment’s Octonauts Attraction at SEA LIFE Shanghai, China launched in 2020. It is the world’s biggest Octonauts attraction. A fully submerged Octopod in a Stingray Bay experience gives children the chance to play and explore in a real-life playset.

Octonauts Baskin Robins Silvergate

Merlin’s investment in this permanent attraction highlights the epic scale of the Octonauts brand. The attraction has made a big splash with families, welcoming over 500,000 visitors annually by offering an authentically themed experience that fully immerses kids into the Octonauts universe

With edutainment at the core of the Octonauts IP, this attraction reflects the educational values of the TV series. Visitors join Captain Barnacles, Kwazii, Peso and the rest of the crew to learn about the world’s oceans as they help save baby rays.

Silvergate introduces The Creature Cases

The Creature Cases is the latest addition to the Silvergate stable.

“It’s our hot-off-the-press latest launch,” says Macdonald. “We launched worldwide in April on Netflix, and now we are in the top 10 for all English language content worldwide in numerous countries worldwide. In the UK we’re number one today in kids’ content. In the US, Canada, France, and Korea, to name a few, we’re in the top 10 for kids.”

Unlike Peter Rabbit and the Octonauts, which are based on books, The Creature Cases is an original series.

“It’s produced by the same team who produced the Octonauts,” Macdonald explains. “This time, they have worked with a wonderful French animation studio called TeamTO, best known for PJ Masks.”

The Creature Cases Silvergate Media

The Creature Cases is the creation of lead writer, Gabe Pulliam, working alongside executive producers Kurt Mueller and Adam Idelson. It follows Sam Snow and Kit Casey, lead detectives at CLADE, the Covert League of Animal Detective Experts.

“Essentially, in every episode, Sam and Kit get sent on a mission by Peggy Scratch, whom I always think is the ‘M’ equivalent at CLADE. Off they go to solve an animal mystery, which generally involves exploring the habitats and behaviours of different creatures, such as mole rats, for example. Rather than working geographically, like Octonauts, it’s based more around the different environments or biomes that animals can live in, like grassland or desert for example.”

A focus on conservation

The Creature Cases centres around animal behaviour and learning zoological facts, and continues to support Silvergate Media’s ethos of strong creative and visually impactful shows.

“It’s a slight step up from Octonauts,” says Macdonald. “The core audience for Octonauts is three to five. For The Creature Cases, it can span a little older.” 

A musical ‘fact file’ recaps the information conveyed during each episode. This is accompanied by real-life animal footage. The strong focus on animals and their habitats brings a positive educational theme to this new series. The Creative Cases is likely to appeal to animal-based and immersive attractions.

“It’s brightly coloured. There is a lot of music, and loads of different technical gadgets, and they fly around in a talking jet called RON.

“From an attractions point of view, that kind of mix is interesting. It offers so many possibilities, in terms of visitors being able to become members of CLADE (the world-leading animal detective agency!), or to fly the RON jet, using VR and other types of tech.”

The show features tech and gadgets alongside natural science and zoological themes. This creates a unique combination that will appeal to immersive experiential partners. Thanks to its educational and entertaining storyline, there is also a lot of potential for successful activations such as children’s escape room and detective-based activities.

Exploring STEM topics

Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt is also relatively new; the first episode having aired on Netflix in May 2020.

“It’s a fast-paced slapstick construction comedy aimed at three to six-year-olds,” explains Macdonald.

“Each episode deals with a different STEM theme. Chico Bon Bon has a team, the Fix-It Force, who live in the mechanically challenged town of Blunderburg. In each episode, there’s a problem. It might be that they need to help someone deliver a pizza across the canyon and end up using air pressure to do that. Or it might be that they need to get a piano to the top of a tower block, so Elkin John, the local star, can give a concert. They use pulleys to do that.”

Importantly, she adds:

“Each episode focuses on the engineering cycle of trying, testing, improving. It doesn’t always go to plan straight away. There is engineering, ingenuity, and teamwork, as well as the odd banana break Chico takes when he needs to regroup!”

Silvergate is looking to launch Chico Bon Bon in China, where it sees much potential. Locations like Bon Bon Lab and Tool Force 1 could provide a rich source of material for FECs across Asia, and this would build upon the success of the Octonauts IP in the region.

The Octonauts universe expands

In terms of the global footprint of the brands, Octonauts is the biggest IP.

First launched on screens in 2010, Octonauts has a global broadcast platform spanning many territories. It has huge fanbases in the US, UK, and China, and more recently the show extended its reach by debuting in Latin America and the Middle East. Appealing to audiences around the world, Octonauts has superb storytelling, educational narratives, and compelling characters that cross cultural divides.

She explains:

“Our lead market is China, where we have a huge partnership with Wanda for FECs and wider licensing. We launched new content for Octonauts, which is called ‘Octonauts Above and Beyond’ last September. It takes the Octonauts’ adventures onto land for the first time.”

Until this point, the engaging Octonauts team, led by resourceful polar bear Captain Barnacles, had confined their exploration to the depths of the ocean.

“Being on land gives us a whole host of new possibilities,” Macdonald says:

“From a visual perspective, there are so many more environments. There are new creatures to be explored, like tigers and elephants – the giants of the world. And then all the minuscule little bugs that kids love to look at and get the low-down on.”

Presenting relevant subjects

The content is, Macdonald points out, very relevant, especially in the case of The Creature Cases and Octonauts. In many ways, the content of Octonauts has even more relevance in today’s world than it did when it launched a decade ago, because of the growing awareness of climate change and the environmental situation.

“There has been a step-changeover the last ten years,” she says. “Above and Beyond is the first new content that we’ve launched in five years. Octonauts has been going for 10 years, so it’s an important moment for us. Season one launched on Netflix in September 2021, and the next season on 2 May 2022.”

Octonauts Above and Beyond Silvergate

“We are using that new content as a springboard in terms of re-energising the consumer products program, and what we are doing with the brand worldwide.”

During the process of creative development and in-line planning, Silvergate is starting to build in top-line FEC concepts:

“This is intended as inspiration for how we can bring Above and Beyond to life in the live events and FEC space. It shows how we can incorporate different environments: jungles, the Arctic, volcanoes, for instance.”

Silvergate & the importance of partnerships

Partnerships are key when working with the brands.

“We have all sorts of different partnerships. Consumer products are our day-to-day bread and butter, starting with toys. In the case of Octonauts, we’ve got Moose Toys, who are relaunching the toys as we speak. We’ve had samples of new vehicles and plush toys arriving in the office.

“The toys are going into 1800 Walmart stores in the US before a wider rollout. They are also launching exclusively at Smyths in the UK and rolling out worldwide following that. Toys are the biggest piece.

“As far as broader partnerships are concerned, again in terms of Octonauts, we have a longstanding relationship with Sea Life. We’ve done a number of different event trails in Sea Life centres. This year, we’ve launched The Great Gup Adventure in the US starting at Mall of America.”

The Great Gup Adventure is a new activity trail that will begin at SEA LIFE at Mall of America before launching at other locations around the world. This expands of Silvergate’s successful global partnership with Merlin and continues on from last year’s successful activity trails at 13 SEA LIFE centres.

“It’s brilliant to be back in the States, supporting our live events partners and seeing them be able to use Octonauts or other IP to draw people in,” adds Macdonald. “Everyone’s eager, post-COVID, to get out and about. It’s so good to see it all reawakening.  Long may it last!”

The company’s other recent partnership with Merlin Entertainments, Blackpool’s Peter Rabbit: Explore & Play, is a £1m attraction underpinned by the much-loved show’s superb storytelling and compelling characters. Here, children can hop into a life-sized Peter Rabbit world in an educational and fun environment.

Silvergate reaches a global audience

Silvergate Media’s fanbases are expanding. This is because the shows enjoy daily exposure through streaming platforms.

“The rapid expansion is definitely because of our great partnerships with content providers. We have relationships with all the big streaming partners, like Netflix and Amazon as well as HBO Max. In the case of Peter Rabbit and Octonauts, for example, we work with the leading linear channels as well. So, we work with CBeebies in the UK, Super RTL, the leading preschool channel in Germany, and ABC in Australia.

“We are also very present on YouTube and have our own official channels in multiple languages. These grew hugely through the pandemic, but we’ve also seen continued growth through 2021 and 2022.”

Chico Bon Bon Silvergate

Currently, the official YouTube channels for Peter Rabbit and Octonauts have a combined subscriber count of just shy of 3 million, with over 120 million hours watched annually

“In short, it’s that marriage of best-in-class global partners, and best-in-class local partners. In China, we partner with China Central Television (CCTV), the state broadcaster, for Octonauts, which is a very special position. We have co-produced content with them, which gives us an ‘in’ that some other IPs don’t have.”

On the topic of breaking news:

“We are also announcing a partnership with Tencent in China for The Creature Cases. We’ll be working hand in glove with Tencent on the content rollout, but also on the full IP rollout in China. That is something we’re excited about.”

Brands and LBE

Immersive experiences are a significant growth area across the industry.

“We’re seeing a trend for experiences, often in the place of tangible goods,” Macdonald says. “We are hoping that that surge that was happening pre-COVID is going to continue post-COVID as well. Immersive experiences provide such natural brand extensions. There is a real magic about taking a child to see their favourite character in real life, or to experience their favourite character’s world. It comes true for them.”

This is, of course, a formidable responsibility:

“You’re juggling loads of requirements from a brand perspective, as well as consumer expectation. Our philosophy is that we, as brand owners, need to partner with the experts in a particular area. That might mean the experts in toy development or those in live events or attractions. But we do build that initial creative development piece into our planning.”

She envisages that brand experiences in the global markets will become increasingly important:

“You can see that with the studios already. Those immersive experiences are very much an extension for them. It is a further way to engage their audience. From our perspective, it’s also critical to our brand strategy.

“We will also look at things like multi-brand experiences. For instance, marrying The Creature Cases with Monkey with a Tool Belt. So, you enjoy a morning exploring the natural world and animal behaviours with Kit Casey and Sam Snow and, then embark on a STEM afternoon with Chico Bon Bon.”

Tailored to the audience

It is an interesting market, in that this audience is very young, and it also refreshes quickly.

She comments:

“It’s a three-year window, really, and then it turns over. But, depending on the IP, there is also that ability to stretch it to an older audience. With the Octonauts, again, we often see that an older sibling has previously enjoyed Octonauts, and their younger sibling is now into it. While it isn’t going to be the older sibling’s go-to brand anymore, it is still definitely something that they can enjoy with that younger sibling and have a family day out. We know co-viewing happens, too.”

Octonauts_Above and Beyond Silvergate

Conversely:

“With an IP like the Peter Rabbit TV show, it is firmly aimed at our preschool audience, which has different advantages. The strength of that IP is partly the fact that it speaks to families outside of holiday times. This means it can be used by Merlin or others to draw people in regularly during term time with their pre-schoolers, who aren’t at school.”

Adventures with Peter Rabbit

The Emmy-award winning preschool Peter Rabbit animated TV series is a co-production between Silvergate Media, Nickelodeon, and Penguin Random House. This reimagines Beatrix Potter’s world and brings the brand to a new generation.

Silvergate’s Peter Rabbit live events attractions have also enjoyed exponential growth over the years. The UK, as the home of Peter Rabbit, boasts the most attractions. The expanding pawprint of this beloved property has seen the creation of multiple locations including an Adventure Playground at Willows Activity Farm in St Albans (2016) and Peter Rabbit Adventure at Flamingo Land (2017), as well as a dedicated Hippity Hop ride at Alton Towers (2019).

The latest Peter Rabbit Explore and Play opened at Blackpool Seafront in February 2022. This is the brand’s first stand-alone attraction for Peter Rabbit, developed in partnership with Merlin Entertainments. Launched in half term week, it is already performing beyond expectations in terms of visitor numbers.

Kate Shane, regional director, Merlin Entertainments Blackpool, says:

“Merlin ‘hopped’ at the chance to work with Silvergate again, especially on such an iconic and globally loved character as Peter Rabbit. The new attraction is already delighting locals and visitors to Blackpool alike, both old and young.

“It was a really exciting moment for us at Merlin Blackpool to become the home of this brand new concept of Peter Rabbit: Explore & Play. By working with partners like Silvergate, who have such a varied portfolio of outstanding brands and IP, we’re further strengthening Blackpool’s status as the UK’s number one family seaside resort.”

Silvergate continues to expand

Silvergate now plans to tap into the potential opportunities in South-West England, Scotland, and Ireland. It will also be looking to expand the footprint of the current attractions

Meanwhile, in the UAE, visitors can enjoy The Peter Rabbit Adventure Zone, which launched at Global Village in Dubai in 2021. This houses a series of fun and interactive activity areas. It was created in response to the initial popularity of a stage show that drew in audiences from the UAE and wider regions. As the region’s leading multicultural family destination, this attraction at Global Village is a great showcase for Peter and his friends in the Middle East.

When Asia celebrates the Lunar New Year in 2023, we will enter the Year of the Rabbit. This is a cultural opportunity that Peter Rabbit is poised to leverage; Silvergate is in talks with partners about using the brand in these celebrations.

The impressive case studies achieved to date across Silvergate’s portfolio of children’s properties within the live events and attractions category are founded on partnerships with top-tier global partners. LBE concepts are included in style guides and discussed at the earliest stages of production. This means that the brands’ evolution and commercial programme is built with live events in mind and therefore the finished shows lend themselves to this format.

Brands are scalable and also have a universal appeal to families. They feature educational values and high-quality original content as well as loveable characters. Each property demonstrates an impressive potential to create immersive brand experiences in global markets.

With its proven success in the live events sector, and a rich seam of content to mine for inspiration, Silvergate is ideally situated to meet – and surpass – demand for well-produced immersive brand experiences based on their popular content, bringing consumers’ favourite characters and locations to life and creating happy memories for families around the world.

Images kind courtesy of Silvergate Media

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Lalla Merlin

Lead Features Writer Lalla studied English at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University. A writer and film-maker, she lives in rural Devon with husband, children, and an assortment of badly-behaved animals, including an enormous but friendly wolf.

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