Year of the Pig

Why this could be the year China falls in love with the smiling pink Peppa Pig that has taken the world by storm

  • London-listed Entertainment One, which owns the smiling pig cartoon character, sees China as one of its biggest drivers alongside the UK
  • On Tuesday, the beloved pink pig also makes her big screen debut in China, in Peppa Celebrates Chinese New Year
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2019, 10:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2019, 8:52pm

As China ushers in the Year of the Pig, globally beloved cartoon Peppa Pig is ramping up its presence in the country that has become a key market in just three years.

Peppa Pig has taken children worldwide by storm since 2004. What began as a preschool animated television series in the UK of a smiling pink pig, has spanned into everything from backpacks to bicycles and even theme parks.

The brand makes up about 62 per cent of revenue for London-listed media group Entertainment One’s Family & Brands division, according to the company’s 2018 annual report. Peppa Pig’s revenue grew 21 per cent from £70 million (US$92 million) in 2017 to nearly £85 million last year.

China is no exception to the hype, and was named in the report alongside the UK as a primary growth driver.

First aired in China in June 2015, Peppa, friends and family have accumulated 60 billion views on state-broadcaster CCTV and video services like Tencent, iQIYI and Youku. Live licensing agreements rose from 22 in 2017 to 43 last year, and more than 45 million books have been sold since launching in 2016.

It is a great opportunity. China as a whole for us as a business is really important

Considering there were roughly 95 million children under the age of 5 in China, according to the National Bureau of Statistics in 2015, that would represent around one book for every second child.

This year’s zodiac animal could not be more timely for the animated character as it plans to expand in the mainland.

“It is a great opportunity,” said Olivier Dumont, president of Family & Brands at Entertainment One. “China as a whole for us as a business is really important. China over the past few years has really opened up internationally and as a result is becoming one of our main partners for content making, funding and as a market place.”

“The way we see it, it is an almost normalising of China in being an important market and trading partner for us, in the same way as the US or UK. It is up there as one of the main territories in all areas of our business: development, production, distribution.”

Peppa has been seizing its one-in-twelve-year chance to celebrate the pig, boosting an already huge popularity.

On Tuesday, Entertainment One will release the film Peppa Celebrates Chinese New Year, in partnership with China’s Alibaba Pictures (part of Alibaba Group Holding, which owns the South China Morning Post). It marks Peppa’s debut on the big screen, featuring five episodes alongside a live action story.

A trailer released on January 17 shows an elderly sheep farmer trying to find out what Peppa is after his grandson asked for the character as a Lunar New Year gift. It went viral, attracting hundreds of millions of views across platforms in China.

Two new episodes of Peppa Pig celebrating the holiday will also be aired worldwide on Tuesday, “so it is really that Peppa’s success in China is going the other way and the entire world is going to celebrate the Year of the Pig with Peppa,” said Dumont.

“Quite a few [countries] will air the episodes in Mandarin, which has never [been] done before,” he said. “It is a big deal, a big event for both us, Peppa, and to some degree China. Given how successful the Peppa Pig brand is around the world, it will mean that Chinese New Year will be known by quite a few children and their families thanks to this operation.”

The company has created holiday-specific merchandise, like a branded red envelope and a golden Peppa coin box, both tailored to the new year tradition of giving money.

What are the most popular traditional games and toys in China?

These products are likely to boost brands sales in the Year of the Pig more than usual, said Dumont. But, “we are not trying to generate a huge spike during Chinese New Year, we are here for the long run.”

In early January, two Family & Brands vice-presidents were hired to open an office in Shanghai, “amping our presence” in China, he said.

“[Headcount] is going to increase significantly. Both the vice-presidents are going to be hiring in their respective areas”, of marketing and licensing. According to Dumont, there are no plans for offices elsewhere in China.

Alongside expansion, the focus for the next year is ‘location-based entertainment’.

In 2017, Entertainment One signed a deal with Merlin Entertainments to roll this out worldwide. The first space was opened in Shanghai in October, with an 11,850 square foot Peppa Pig World of Play in LC Mall, Pudong. A second is due in Beijing, while three more are planned for the US this year. Last year, meanwhile, the company signed a three-year deal for a stage show to tour China.

China-specific merchandise has also been created, in a nod to the market’s growing importance. Peppa Pig products sold globally were phased out of China in the final quarter of 2018 and a toy line solely for the country was launched through a partnership with toymaker Alpha Group.

Pig-themed items hog the limelight as Hong Kong’s most popular Lunar New Year market opens at Victoria Park

“That is the first clear sign that we are adapting to local needs and tastes. We are appointing local licensees to create products which are adapted for the China market,” said Dumont.

The partnership also gives Peppa the ability to gain traction in tier three and tier four cities.

“The deeper you go into the country the more they rely on TV … and probably less awareness [of Peppa] there will be, which leaves room for growth as the country continues to develop. That just creates even more opportunities.”

Meanwhile, controversial headlines last year that Peppa was banned from social media platform Douyin for inappropriate content identifying with the shehuiren, or gangster, culture was not an issue, said Dumont.

“We were getting quite frustrated with how successful the brand was becoming with an audience which was not the target audience because it is not healthy,” said Dumont. “We didn’t mind, [in fact] were quite happy that Douyin censored Peppa from that platform.”

“It is very much a family brand with strong values which resonate tremendously all around the world with families, including Chinese families and that is what the heart of Peppa Pig is.”