Digerati50: Learning the world-class game

  • Keen to share experience on competing at global level with global mindset
  • Has co-ownership of IP with a Gwen Stefani owned animation series

Digerati50: Learning the world-class game

This article formed part of the Digerati50 magazine that was published in Feb 2016. The digital version of that publication can be downloaded from the links at the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Malaysia’s broadband champion.

IN his over three decades as an entrepreneur in the creative content space, from analogue to digital, Low Huoi Seong (pic), founder and CEO of Vision Animation, thought he had seen it all.

Yet, there he sat in February 2014, the founder of a small Malaysian-based animation studio and licensing company, facing high-powered executives from the world’s largest toy manufacturer, Mattel Inc – and these executives were actually pitching to Seong on why they were best suited to be his merchandising partner for a children’s animation series called Kuu Kuu Harajuku!

And by April 2015, Mattel had signed a global toy licensing deal with Seong. It was certainly a first for the Malaysian creative content industry. Never before had a licensing deal been signed before the characters had appeared on TV.

It was actually the power of the ‘Gwen Stefani brand’ that swayed Mattel. Two years earlier in 2013, Seong and his partner Craig Zimbulis set up Viz International Sdn Bhd, a licensing agency to represent the intellectual property (IP) of brand owners.

“Having had my hands burnt on an earlier licensing deal, I knew this was a very sophisticated and difficult space to play in, but we wanted to learn so that one day we could better monetise our own IP,” says Seong.

By this time, two things were very clear to him. “There was just no money to be made by focusing on producing content for the local market. Secondly, the money was in licensing, merchandising and global sales,” he explains.

Opportunity came knocking when Seong and Zimbulis discovered that Gwen Stefani, the US singer-songwriter, was open to the idea of an animated series based on her backup dancers, the Harajuku Girls. Viz International already had a relationship with Stefani, carrying one of her fashion brands.

Roping in Australia’s Moody Street Kids for its storytelling ability, they jointly sent in a proposal for a cartoon show targeting girls aged six to 10. Stefani liked the concept and six months later, Seong had a licensing agreement that gave him co-ownership of the IP that comes out from Kuu Kuu Harajuku.

From working with Mattel on its licensing strategy and approach, Seong has come to realise one thing: “I finally have my foot in the door on how this game is played at the world-class level, and the scope, planning and strategies are breathtaking.”

He is now keen to share what he is learning with his peers as well. “I think they can benefit from my exposure on learning how to compete at the global level and thinking about this game with a global mindset, without feeling they need that one big hit first, locally, before going overseas.”

Despite the Gwen Stefani name behind his cartoon series, the first few episodes of which aired late last year in Australia, success is by no means assured for Seong, who has forked out his own money as well towards the A$7.5-million (RM22-million) budget per season.

Meanwhile, Seong is simultaneously working on convincing two global broadcasters to carry his series, while trying to raise funds to ensure the budget for Season 2 production is met.

Little wonder that he says, “I feel that I am just really beginning to learn how the content game is played at the world-class level.”

The creative content ecosystem will have its world-class player if Seong is successful.

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