Kilburn Live Builds New Worlds Of Entertainment Featuring Branded Characters

Winford Hunter

As the world continues to recover from Covid, entertainment options blossom. Kilburn Live led by CEO Mark Manuel is developing an entirely new array of ticketed entertainment options. Kilburn is licensing content from such brands as Mattel
, Hasbro
and Dr. Seuss to present family-friendly entertainment like the World of Barbie.

This is meant to be family friendly entertainment. The idea is sort of like a cut down amusement park in that there is something for everybody from the youngest to the oldest in attendance. The activations use bright colors and carefully thought through staging to bring into life that which only used to exist in imagination. Their strategy gives families a place to go and share an experience, off of the sofa and away from the television. Inside Barbie’s world are games to be played, scavenger hunts, puzzles to solve and just the pure joy of wandering through a scenario which used to live only in imagination and has never before been created at full scale and accessible to the public.

I interviewed Mark Manuel last week. He said “when we embarked on this on this quest, on this journey we from day one said: it’s got to be entertaining right, you got to blow them away for them to visit.”

The World of Barbie experience and the other projects Kilburn creates are not museum exhibitions. They are interactive, unlike the video displays which power Van Gogh and the whole category of pop up projection based events. Instead, Kilburn spends months in planning plus enormous sums of money constructing an entire life scale representation of Barbie’s life. Barbie’s vehicles are full sized as are her home and every other element within her world. Kilburn is taking up to 20,000 square feet of real estate and building out a complete immersive world which only exists at a particular location for a short period of time.

Barbie, Dr. Seuss and the other branded spaces being installed by Kilburn around the world are experiential immersions into places which previously were available in toys, books and video. As this new genre develops it opens many avenues for growth. First, anyone who has children and a few discretionary dollars to spend is always looking for something new to do with the family. Because these projects are only in town for a limited time, they draw attendance from those who want to get in before the window to go is closed. In some way it follows the model pioneered by Cirque De Soleil which would build a curiously attractive tent in a visible location, then sell tickets to their shows until demand tapered at which time they would move the show to another location.

However, there is a key differentiator between what Kilburn is building and a circus, sporting event or live performance. Kilburn’s projects are interactive. The family goes not to watch but to engage, both with the activities inside the world they’ve built and with each other. Family bonding can happen from passively watching a performance play out, but memories are built upon activities which created interactions while navigating an unfamiliar space.

As Mark Manuel said during our interview “people do not want to consume entertainment the same way all the time so I keep saying a rise in streaming services is great for our business … because you do not want to be doing the same things over and over again.”

Their business model is very interesting. Kilburn licenses the rights to characters and designs from the companies which own the intellectual property. They then design the project to be built, advance the costs of construction and begin the process of marketing admission tickets. The target is around $30 per person, which equals $120 for a family of four. Based upon this simple model, and a few other projects, Kilburn is in line to gross in excess of $30,000,o00 over the next twelve months.

However, this model is not as simple as just creating a template design to build out in various locations. Kilburn has to staff the room once built, engage the audiences which attend and continually evaluate whether to extend the time in which they remain at any given location. Once construction is complete on a site, those are sunk costs. The longer the attraction remains, the better the chance to monetize the room.

There is a whole other potential for future revenue stream which is becoming viable. Kilburn’s customers who visit activations like World of Barbie take lots of pictures and post them on social media. In effect, the visitors to the pop-up become influencers for the brand. The data which flows from this engagement builds both the awareness for Kilburn’s products and affinity for the characters which they’ve licensed. That could lead to greater cross-promotional partnerships and revenue streams. Just the promotional push Kilburn makes to drive ticket sales enhances overall brand awareness for Barbie or Dr. Seuss when the project is in town.

The post pandemic world of entertainment continue to evolve. Movie theater attendance is way down as people upped the size of their at home televisions and grew comfortable watching films from the sofa. Sporting events continue to raise prices making it difficult for working class families to attend games frequently.

The sorts of attractions which are now being constructed by Kilburn and others entering this space combine the familiarity of well-known characters like Barbie or The Cat in The Hat with the curiosity of what lies beyond the ticket counter and behind the door to the activation which is only in town for a short time.

Kilburn is executing at scale because its team has the knowledge of how to translate two dimensional characters known from cartoons or play toys into fully articulated worlds filled with carefully thought out activities, replications and interactive play. This builds a virtuous cycle in which everyone wins: the brand gets spiking attention to its products, the consumer enjoys a limited opportunity to enjoy the experience and Kilburn gets to sell some tickets and merchandise.

This segment of ticketed amusements created to exist for just a short time at any given location is gaining traction. Kilburn is moving quickly to stay out in front as consumer expectations shift and competition rises. It’s easy to spot a team which is winning because of its diligence and foresight. Mark Manuel is leading a team taking imagination into a transitory reality all while enhancing the brand profiles of those with whom he works.

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