Ahead of this month’s Licensing Expo, Licensing Biz caught up with Julian Zag, EVP Global Operations and Head of Consumer Products at family entertainment powerhouse ZAG, to talk about the incredible global success of Miraculous – Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, and what’s next for the smash-hit brand in the licensing space.

Can you briefly describe ZAG, and your role at the company?

ZAG is a global independent entertainment studio specialising in world-class storytelling across TV, film and digital platforms. Our foundation is rooted in creating compelling characters and developing masterful storytelling, all infused with original musical scores.

ZAG’s founder and CEO Jeremy Zag is a visionary director and composer. He initially formed ZAG in France in 2009, then expanded the company to the USA in 2012 with the Global Brand Franchise office in Santa Monica, California, and more recently, an additional head office in Miami, Florida.

Our company is home to several world-class entertainment properties under the ZAG HEROEZ label, including our flagship, globally renowned property Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, a 3D-CGI-animated superhero aspirational action-comedy series. New titles include Power Players and, most recently, Ghostforce, which just started to roll out last year.

Miraculous has taken off in a huge way, globally. Why do you think it appeals to kids so much?

Fans across the globe have fallen in love with the series protagonists, Ladybug and Cat Noir. The characters are engaging, likeable and admirable, but most importantly relatable, as family and friendships are always an important part of the storylines. At its core, Miraculous is a coming-of-age series about awkward kids learning about loving themselves and finding their true powers. Ladybug and Cat Noir are faced with discovering their own powers even if it scares them, even when it is hard to do. Core values are family, friendship, courage, love, and girl empowerment.

ZAG has taken great pride in creating breathtaking animation that draws in the audience and keeps them coming back for more. As a result, Miraculous resonates with a much broader audience than we originally anticipated. TV ratings clearly indicate that both girls and boys watch the show (55% to 45% on average). Digital data from YouTube, Tumblr, Netflix and social media from Twitter to Instagram all indicate we index high in the pop culture space with teens and young adults.

Do you have any recent viewing facts and figures/social media stats for the property?

Season four of the series debuted last year. It had its global premiere in April on TF1 in France, garnering an outstanding 47.7% market share amongst kids 4–10 years old, while in the U.S., the new season premiere on Disney Channel garnered incredible #1 ratings for girls 6–11 across all cable channels. In Germany, it achieved a 46.4% share among all kids on Disney Channel and is the #1 series. We are also ranked #1 on Disney Channal in Japan, and on Super! in Italy. Miraculous is still topping the ratings charts in Latin America, and on Gloob in Brazil, Miraculous has remained the #1 series for girls for four consecutive seasons, with the overall audience a 48/52 boy/girl split, highlighting that the show appeals widely to both boys and girls and family audiences.

Miraculous is huge across social. On YouTube, Miraculous just crossed 30 billion views!

Roughly how many licensing partners do you have for the property? I know last year it was around 300, has that number increased?

Yes, we currently have approximately 400 licensees around the globe, including several global and pan-regional partners. Global deals include Playmates for toys; Ferrero for chocolates; Swatch’s Flik Flak for watches; Epopia, which is a unique epistolary letter format that encourages children to read and write through interactive storytelling; PMI for a line of collectibles, impulse, stationery and school supplies; PEZ for candy dispensers, and Spread Group for print-on-demand.  We also recently extended our deal with Rubies for costumes across EMEA. Other pan-regional partners include Crayola and InSpirit Designs.

It’s nice to see a girl superhero for once. Is diversity and inclusion important to ZAG?

What is important to ZAG is that everyone has to be able to connect to the story, from anywhere in the world, at any age. We care about telling honest stories to help people to ”discover themselves”. Therefore, everything has to be grounded in real life, with a little touch of magic to help our heroes to jump through their reality.

Where is growth coming from? E-commerce is clearly strong… In terms of markets, is there one territory that performs better than others? Are there any untapped markets you’d like to enter?

All territories are performing well and we continue to see huge growth across the board.

 In terms of untapped markets, The Middle East and Africa have become a top priority for ZAG, and the Disney/MBC broadcast combination is a perfect duo for us to reach children across the region.  Miraculous is garnering strong ratings, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where the series ranked in the #1 slot on MBC, following its launch in 2018, and has remained in the top 20 programmes ever since.  We recently appointed Carlotta Caracciolo as our first VP, Middle East and Africa, to oversee the company’s consumer products strategy in the region.

And, most recently, our consumer products programme in Japan is becoming very successful, especially now that Miraculous has become number #1 on TV on Disney Channel Japan, which is incredible since Miraculous is not a Manga property.  We see seeing increasing requests from companies wanting to join our licensing programme every day.

Are you able to give details of any licensing deals around the release of the Miraculous Awakening movie this autumn?

The movie release will be supported by a major QSR programme; an expanded toyline from ZAG Lab and Playmates which will be available online and at bricks-and-mortar stores and incorporates new characters, the first vehicle featuring a convertible scooter, a collectible line of Kwamis, a movie 2-pack, and Movie Collector Ladybug; the launch of the first Miraculous Console Game from ZAG Games, developed by Magic Pockets and published by GameMill Entertainment, to be available on XBOX, Playstation and Nintendo Switch; a new mobile puzzle game from ZAG Games, developed with Crazylab; and several co-branded partnerships with some more of the most influential companies across the globe for numerous consumer products categories, including one with one of the biggest automobile companies in the world.

What are your goals at Licensing Expo? If you have your ‘dream’ show, what would that involve?

We have so much good news to share with our partners who we haven’t seen in person for over two years, and we want to celebrate our success with them. For example, we hit over $1billion in retail sales, sold over 250 million products, and just hit 30 billion views on YouTube. We also have big plans in the works to share with partners around the launch of our Miraculous US$100+ million theatrical movie as I mentioned. We know we will have a dream show!

Do you want to talk about the latest viewing figures/licensing deals for GhostForce?

Or course! Disney Channels U.S. acquired the series and premiered it on October 4, 2021, on Disney XD. The series also launched in most European countries and is getting incredible ratings, regularly ranked among the top #3 shows. In Latin America, the series debuted on Discovery Kids in December, except for Brazil where it debuted on May 2.

Looking to the future, are you considering any new ways for kids to engage with ZAG properties, ie, through NFTs or live experiences, or via the metaverse?

We are seeing strong demand for immersive and live experiences. The Miraculous live-action stage tour from Proactiv was very popular in Spain prior to the pandemic, and we’re pleased that this will be relaunching, starting with Latin America this summer, and Europe in the autumn. We’re also close to announcing a U.S. partner to bring a new live show to North America.

Earlier this month, we launched and already sold out of tickets for Miraculous Paris – Tours of Ladybug and Cat Noir, a virtual family getaway to Paris. Led by a travel guide, families can join a virtual tour to visit real Parisian monuments, and the event includes original Miraculous content, behind-the-scenes secrets and games. We will continue the event this summer.

We’re also in negotiation with a theme park – more on that to come!

What trends are you noticing globally among kids? Do you think anxiety is a big factor after covid? 

For us, we are seeing kids wanting to interact with our brands in any way they can, and we want to deliver the very best experiences for them so that they can enjoy themselves even amidst the events of the world around us.

ZAG will be at Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24-26 May 2022.