The buzz on Buzzy Bee
Buzzy Bee is taking to the airwaves, and soon you’ll be able to join him. Fiona Milburn sat down with William McKegg, the creative director behind Buzzy Bee, to find out how Lion Rock Ventures has developed a multiplatform storytelling world around this iconic Kiwi toy.
On the new Buzzy Bee television show …
Buzzy runs a radio station in Rolling Downs and, at the top of every show, a child rings in with a problem. Usually, it’s something social like, “my sister’s forcing me to share my toys and I don’t want to.” It’s all about the responsibility of belonging to a community. Every episode has that as its foundation. The characters then do a story on how to solve the problem and, at the conclusion of the show, we bring the child back in and resolve the episode.
The new TV show has the same Buzzy Bee look that we all know and love. But now, we’ve also got live action children. The episodes are all pre-recorded and use kids from around New Zealand. We've made 52 episodes and, if all goes well, we’ll probably have to make another 52 pretty quickly. Israel has already picked it up.
On taking the television show further …
We took the TV show overseas: we took it to MIPCOM, we took it to Kidscreen, we took it to Australia. We said, “this is where we’re going with this, what do you think?” The feedback was strong, broadcasters loved it. They loved the colours, loved the show, but wanted some sort of interactivity.
Interactivity is the hot thing at the moment. It’s the principle of lean back and lean forward entertainment. The broadcasters weren’t asking for fully lean forward, they didn’t want “look out he's behind you”, but they did want kids to be more involved.
“OK, that’s a pretty cool idea,” we thought, and decided to tweak the show. We also addressed the other two questions that everyone asks, “what app have you got?” and “what’s your website concept?”
In the TV show we tell original stories with a social message. We give the appearance that children watching can ring up Buzzy Bee and ask questions. They can’t really, but that’s what it looks like.
With the new website and app concept, children have the ability to tell their own stories. It’s kind of a hybrid of the TV show. We’ve taken the concept of Buzzy Bee running his radio station, added video, and kids being able to call in using a skype-like mechanism.
On the new Buzzy Bee website/app and creating social moments …
The software we’ve developed lets kids video record a 30 sec or 1 minute story. It’s very simple. The instructions are audio driven, no text. Our audience for the website is roughly 3 to 6 years. They push one button, it uploads their story into a file which then goes out to their mum, their dad, their granny, their grandfather, their uncle … whoever the parent wants to include in this list, on every device.
Children can create all sorts of cool stories and, with one press of the button, they can share it with the family group. Then, at the end of the story, there’s a pre-recorded message that can be sent back to the child. “That was awesome! I love you!” You can’t type it. It’s pre-recorded at the moment for very specific reasons. The next day, the child opens up the computer or iPad and they’re getting all this mail from Grandma, from Granddad, etc. saying “that was so cool!”
It’s not a big complicated thing. We want everyone to be able to use it. It’s also secure. Parents control who sees it. It’s not facebook. You take the temperature of this idea with parents and it’s, “No, if it’s on facebook, then I don’t even want to know about it.” Because of the threat of paedophiles, security is a big concern.
Most families aren’t in the same town, sometimes parents aren’t together. Children can now communicate, with the family group, through storytelling. At the end of every TV episode, Buzzy Bee prompts children to go to the website and tell their own stories based on what happened in the show. Buzzy asks, “Do you have to share stuff with your sister? Do you like sharing?” There will also be prompts for other story ideas on the website.
Children are sharing content with the family and parents are building a catalogue of video clips of their child growing up. It’s a repository of the little stories of that child.
We all crave what are called social moments. You only have to go to a kindergarten play and look at the audience. There'll be 25 cameras held up recording it. This then goes onto the computer and nobody ever watches it. Now you can do this, and Grandma will get it about a minute later. You can share these moments, thanks to Buzzy Bee, this website and its accompanying apps.
On the economic model …
I'm the father of small children and have been seduced into buying millions of apps. This is OK, but the ones with the freemium model, where they ask you for micro transactions, they get to be annoying.
The freemium model is great for adults, because they’re in charge of the purchase decision. But, when children come to mum and dad and ask for $2.50, then $2.50, then $2.50, and so on … it gets to be annoying. If you take the device off them, then they scream and shout. This beautiful child, that was once very polite, becomes a demon. And you, as a parent, start getting resentful of that app.
Actually, all the data says you should go with the freemium model. You make more money. Normally, if it costs $20 for a subscription, then they’ll probably end up spending $40 by choosing freemium micro transactions. But, we’re not doing that. It creates all this angst and we don’t want any negative correlation between our brand and parents. We want parents to think that it’s a good thing that their children are playing on the Buzzy Bee website, and playing with the iphone app, etc. We want them to be encouraged by that. We want to bring the family together, not push them apart.
However, if you’re a parent, and you want your son or daughter to be able to share stories, then we need email addresses and mobile numbers for everyone on your family list. As parents, you control all that but to optimize the functionality you will pay a small yearly subscription. It’s a premium for a year but we don’t bother you again.
On building the Buzzy Bee story world …
When we acquired Buzzy Bee it was just a toy, which we saw becoming a storytelling intellectual property. We engaged a number of creative people, I was involved, Wendie Hall was involved, and we devised this world. It’s got very strong merchandizing behind it obviously, but it’s also colourful and social. It’s simple, culturally unspecific, and we can translate it into any language. Every culture in the world has wooden toys, so you’re not creatively limiting yourself. We were lucky with the look of Buzzy Bee. We haven't changed that one dot.
On brand protection …
We take what we think is a very pragmatic approach to copyright defence in New Zealand. We will come down hard on inappropriate use and non authorized, large scale, commercial use but grannies knitting Buzzy Bee socks at the local market, that’s great, that’s fantastic. Buzzy Bee is a privately owned brand but it is also New Zealand’s, there’s no question about that. We’ve had cigarette companies wanting to use Buzzy Bee and it’s “no you just can’t.” We want Buzzy Bee to be held in high regard by all New Zealanders. It’s on a street sign that points to The Beehive in Wellington and its little wings spin around. It adorned the keel of Emirates Team New Zealand. It was given to Prince William as a little baby and then when he returned, as a man, he was given Buzzy Bee silver cufflinks. It’s a national symbol of pride.
On transmedia …
Transmedia, if my understanding is correct, is a property that can be utilized across multiple media successfully … not all properties can be across everything. But, I’m pretty relaxed about the term, it’s a good term. I suspect it will stick around.
In respect of one brand, multiple areas of activity, we see Buzzy Bee divided into two schools. They are storytelling mediums and non storytelling mediums. Storytelling mediums are television, theatrical, publishing, the internet to a degree, and music. When you tell stories you’ve got characters, you’ve got expression, and you’ve got an audience. It’s a form of entertainment. Then, you’ve got all the other stuff, which is mostly merchandizing, brand alignments, and images.
The minute the brand starts landing in another territory they’ll ask, “what else have you got in terms of storytelling content?” Obviously we have television, apps, and an online virtual world. We have publishing, we can supply books. We have a theatrical show, a big musical event show, which is cool, very cool! And then, of course, we have toys.
On where to next …
We’ve got the new website’s beta trial starting in November. So if you’re reading this please go and sign up for the beta trial. And, we want to go live on December 1st with the basic recording facilities. We want to get it out there and see if it works. It’s a new idea. We know there’s things like Viddy, but the ability for children to communicate with their family group, using clever technology, simply, so that everyone can use it, that’s new. We don’t know of anyone who's doing it yet.
It will be screening on TV2 in December.