Official branded stores selling merchandize relating to The Simpsons – the US animated sitcom – will double in China this year, according to Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products.
“By the end of this year, we will probably have about 40 stores, or even 50 stores, up from 25 stores at the end of 2016,” Pinky David, the company’s vice president for Asia Pacific told Asia Times in an interview.
Target consumers of Simpsons-branded products are mainly aged between 18 and 40 in China, with a core group between 20 and 35, David said. “The products are targeting the mid-to-high-income group in China,” he added.
Since debuting on television in the United States, in 1989, more than 600 episodes of The Simpsons have been broadcast. Parodying American culture and society, it is the longest-running American sitcom.
Ups and downs in China
The series was broadcast in China during the early 2000s but was banned in 2006 due to a controversial episode from 2005 titled Goo Goo Gai Pan. In that episode, Homer Simpson refers to Chinese leader Mao Zedong as a “little angel who killed 50 million people.” The episode also makes references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and Tank Man, the unidentified man who stood in front of a column of PLA tanks on June 5, 1989.
In September 2014, Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution and Sohu.com Inc, a video-on-demand service provider, struck a deal to allow Sohu Video to make The Simpsons available online. Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products had set up its first branch in the Asia Pacific region five months previously and appointed Singapore-based Pinky David as vice president to handle licensing and retail programs.
Last May, the company and its local partner, HerChain Clothing Company, jointly launched The Simpsons inaugural store in Taikoo Li Sanlitun in Beijing, with other stores following in Shanghai and Xian. Each of the stores features over 125 specially curated items.
“The Simpsons brand has become so popular globally as a lot of celebrities are wearing it. Some Chinese celebrities are wearing it and posting their pictures on social media. Many consumers are coming to our stores and buying the products,” David said. “Over the medium term, we will expand our network to 100 stores within the next three years.
She added: “We are very fortunate because all the challenges of opening new stores are managed by our local partner… I am responsible for the licensing part, ensuring our intellectual property right in China.”
David has an obligation to report to Fox in the United States whenever piracy or infringement issues are identified.
With the 28th season of The Simpsons series now being broadcast in the US, the brand is involved in collaborations with various global labels, including Havaianas, the Brazilian flipflop maker, and Skinnydip, a London-based fashion accessory brand.
In 2016, per capita disposable personal income in China increased to 33,616 yuan (US$4,886), representing nominal year-on-year growth of 7.8%, or a real increase of 5.6% after adjusting for price factors, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics.
David said Fox was aiming to meet the strong consumer demand in China by granting licenses to local parters to create products with its movie brands. She said the movie Alien: Covenant, which will be in theaters in May, represents another big opportunity following the soaraway success of Avatar, an epic science fiction film released in 2009.
”We hope China will release [Alien: Covenant]. The government usually does not confirm the release so early… We wouldn’t know before the last 30 to 90 days.”