Does anyone really want to be called a big loser? And even if they do, would they want that label stamped on T-shirts and swag, serving as a constant reminder of their, um, loser status?
Turns out they do, at least when it refers to The Biggest Loser, a reality show that’s become a workhorse on NBC’s primetime schedule and drew more than 8.2 million viewers for its sixth season premiere last week. More than that, it’s emerged as a multimedia brand that’s a showcase for product integrations and a powerhouse licensor with multimillion-selling books and fitness DVDs.
That merchandising is set to expand dramatically in the months ahead with kitchen appliances like blenders and scales, a Facebook-like online community, branded exercise equipment and a Wii Fit game from video game developer THQ.
Also on the horizon: A mobile Internet application that will let users get workout tips at the gym, recipes at the market and calorie info at restaurants from their cell phones, via a partnership with publishing house Rodale.
It’s rare for a nonanimated or nonkid-targeted TV show to spawn much of a licensing line. TV networks and production companies don’t usually pursue many categories outside the basic apparel, books or gift items (unless they have the good fortune to have all-ages crowd-pleaser American Idol).
But to keep up with a licensing business that has evolved far beyond coffee mugs and calendars, NBC Universal’s consumer products group has mined Loser for a litany of healthy lifestyle products, including premade meals, protein shakes, calorie counters, bathroom scales, specialty publications, inspirational books by the show’s trainers and a subscription-based online Biggest Loser Club. Consumers have responded, to the tune of some $50 million in retail spending on Loser products, whose numbers will double by 2009 from the current raft of deals.
Reveille, the production house behind Loser, pitched the concept at the height of the makeover reality show wave in 2004, knowing there could be resistance to the idea and its borderline offensive name. After all, it centered on massively overweight people challenged to drop pounds in front of a national audience, while winning meant being dubbed a loser. The current incarnation is dubbed Biggest Loser: Families (contestants are related, working in teams of two).”We took a calculated risk with the name, but we hoped from the start that it could become much more than a TV show,” said Mark Koops, executive producer at Reveille. “We thought it had multiplatform potential.”
After a solid freshman season, NBC Universal’s consumer products group started a measured merchandise rollout, scoring with one of its first products, which became the top-selling fitness DVD in 2006. Four titles are on the market now, with 1.5 million units sold, and at least two more are planned. Merchandise is aimed at fans of the show who watch because they want information on changing their own lives and getting fit.
“We wanted to translate the motivational nature of the show into product,” said Kim Niemi, senior vp-NBC Universal. “We’ve always focused on the tools.”
The show has become not only a licensing success but a continuing case study in brand integration. The 24-Hour Fitness chain was the first to get on board, with its involvement growing every season both on and off-air, and Subway, Kraft, Wrigley, Brita filters, Quaker and others have been written into storylines. Longtime partner Rodale will step up its placement this season, with editors from Prevention and Men’s Health popping up within the show.