"Three years ago, none of this stuff was here," said Hanna-Barbera President Fred Seibert. Surprisingly, nobody had saved any of it, the former ad agency executive explained. But once he found out how valuable the merchandise had become, Mr. Seibert began acquiring as much as he could for the company.
And that pretty much symbolizes the determination of Mr. Seibert and his staff to hang on tight to the past and future cartoon offspring of Hanna-Barbera and nurture those brands.
Ted Turner hired Mr. Seibert in 1992; a year earlier, the media mogul bought Hanna-Barbera from the Great American Entertainment Co. for $320 million. Mr. Turner had his eye on such cartoon classics as "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons," not to mention Hanna-Barbera's library of 3,000 cartoons. These represented powerful new fuel for his film, TV and merchandising businesses.
The problem was Hanna-Barbera's previous owners had licensed the distribution and merchandising rights for many of those prized programs and characters.
Turner Broadcasting System, for example, didn't partake in the $100 million-plus raked in by the live-action version of "The Flintstones" last year; the previous owners had sold those rights to Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment.
But Turner did work with the distributor, Universal Pictures, to create the movie's licensing program and an attraction at Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood.
Turner's charge is to regain control of Hanna-Barbera's past and drive the company into the future. For instance, this year will bring a new multi-tier marketing program for "The Flintstones," which turns 35 in '95; the development of "Jonny Quest" into a franchise of "Flintstones"-size proportions; and the unprecedented introduction of 48 new cartoons (most featuring brand new characters) for Mr. Turner's Cartoon Network.
Hanna-Barbera's renaissance comes after a decade of decline. The company used to produce two-thirds of all the cartoons on Saturday morning network TV. Today, it fields none. New rivals muscled in with more contemporary characters, while old foes like Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. returned with better animation and more sophisticated marketing. On top of that, Hanna-Barbera strayed from its strength and ventured into live action.
How this affected profitability neither Hanna-Barbera nor Turner Broadcasting System will say. But Mr. Seibert-a former partner at the Fred/Alan agency in New York-was clearly brought in to whip Hanna-Barbera back into shape.
"We didn't know if we were a kids producer, a family producer, a cartoon producer and or an animated films producer," Mr. Seibert said. "By bringing me in with my advertising and marketing background, I can help position this company to compete by looking at our competition and determining our unique selling proposition."
And Hanna-Barbera's USP is as strictly a "cartoon studio"-no feature films, no live-action programming.
Mr. Turner made use of Hanna-Barbera's cartoon library almost immediately by launching the Cartoon Network in the fall of 1992. The rapidly growing cable net today has 12.5 million subscribers, and currently boasts some of the best ratings in cable.
But Hanna-Barbera is just now starting to realize its full potential for Mr. Turner, as it regains control over some valuable properties. Back when it was a mere independent producer, Hanna-Barbera sold rights to pay for projects or just plain make a buck.
"That won't happen here," said Exec VP Jed Simmons. "Our business philosophy is brand building and copyright protection-create new characters, grow the old ones, maintain control."
"The Flintstones" is a case in point. The syndication rights to 165 episodes, which generate millions of dollars a year, have been owned by the Program Exchange for the past 14 years.
No longer. The deal expired in December, and already, the new Turner Program Services syndication company is taking to market a 1-hour "Jetsons/Flintstones" block. "Flintstones" cartoons also air nightly on the Cartoon Network.
In addition, Hanna-Barbera this year will roll out two line extensions of "Flintstones" merchandise-Cave Kids, aimed at children, and Classic Flintstones, the 35th anniversary flagship line, aimed at Generation Xers and baby boomers.
Mr. Seibert and his staff have organized the Hanna-Barbera properties according to their potential and devised a 10-year plan to market them. The next A-caliber property to get "Flintstones" treatment: "Jonny Quest." Mr. Seibert sees "Quest" becoming "the `Home Alone' of adventure," with its high-tech, multicultural themes a perfect match for the '90s kid.
A new 2-hour animated "Quest" film will air on Turner Network Television this fall; a series of children's books are in the works from Turner Publishing. A new 65-episode syndicated cartoon strip, introducing the new '90s "Quest," will bow in January '96. And a live-action film should hit in the summer of '96.