Kilburn Live is building new worlds of entertainment with branded characters

As the world continues to recover from Covid, entertainment options are thriving. Kilburn Live, led by CEO Mark Manuel, is developing an entirely new range of ticketed entertainment options. Kilburn licenses content from brands like MattelMAT
and dr Seuss to bring family-friendly entertainment like the world of Barbie.

This is meant to be family friendly entertainment. The idea is like a rundown amusement park with something for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest visitors. With bright colors and thoughtful staging, the activations bring to life what previously only existed in imagination. Their strategy offers families a place to go and share experiences, away from the sofa and TV. In Barbie’s world there are games to play, scavenger hunts, puzzles to solve and just the sheer joy of wandering through a scenario that used to live only in the imagination and has never before been fully created and made available to the public.

Last week I interviewed Mark Manuel. He said: “When we embarked on this quest, on this journey, we said from day one: it has to be really entertaining, you have to blow them away so that they can visit it.”

The World of Barbie experience and the other projects Kilburn creates are not museum exhibits. They are interactive, unlike the video displays that power Van Gogh and the entire category of pop-up projection-based events. Instead, Kilburn spends months planning and vast sums of money to create a life-size representation of Barbie’s life. Barbie’s vehicles are full-size, as are her home and all other elements in her world. Kilburn occupies up to 20,000 square feet of real estate and builds a full immersive world that only exists in a specific location for a short time.

barbie, dr Seuss and the other brand spaces Kilburn is installing around the world are experiential immersions into places previously available in toys, books and videos. The development of this new genre opens up many opportunities for growth. First, anyone with kids and a few spare bucks to spend is always looking for something new to do with the family. Since these projects are only in town for a limited time, they attract the visitors who want to get in before the takeaway window closes. In a way, it follows the model pioneered by Cirque De Soleil, which built an oddly attractive tent in a visible location and then sold tickets to their shows until demand died down, at which point they moved the show to a different location misplaced.

However, there is an important difference between what Kilburn builds and a circus, sporting event or live performance. Kilburn’s projects are interactive. The family does not leave to watch, but to get involved, both in the activities within the world they have built and with each other. Family bonding can come from passively watching a performance, but memories build on activities that created interactions while navigating an unfamiliar space.

As Mark Manuel said during our interview “People don’t always want to consume entertainment the same way, so I keep saying that an increase in streaming services is great for our business … because you don’t want to be doing the same things over and over again.”

Your business model is very interesting. Kilburn licenses the rights to characters and designs from the companies that own the intellectual property. They then design the project to be built, finance the construction costs and start marketing the tickets. Aim for around $30 per person, which works out to $120 for a family of four. Based on this simple model and a few other projects, Kilburn will generate over $30,000,000 in gross profit over the next twelve months.

However, this mockup is not as simple as creating a template design that can be built in different places. Kilburn must staff the space once it’s built, engage the audience in attendance, and continually assess whether to extend the time they stay in a given location. Once construction is complete on a site, it is a sunk cost. The longer the attraction lasts, the greater the chance of monetizing the space.

There’s a whole different potential for future revenue streams that will become profitable. Kilburn’s customers who attend activities like World of Barbie take lots of photos and post them on social media. In fact, the visitors of the pop-up become influencers for the brand. The data resulting from this engagement reinforces both awareness of Kilburn’s products and affinity for the characters who licensed them. This could lead to larger cross-promotion partnerships and revenue streams. Just the promotional push Kilburn does to boost ticket sales increases overall brand awareness for Barbie or Dr. Seuss when the project is in town.

The post-pandemic entertainment world is evolving. Moviegoers have fallen sharply as people have increased the size of their televisions at home and have become more comfortable watching movies from the comfort of their sofa. Sporting events continue to raise prices, making it difficult for working-class families to attend games frequently.

The types of attractions now being built by Kilburn and others entering this space combine the familiarity of well-known characters like Barbie or The Cat in The Hat with a curiosity as to what lies beyond the ticket booth and behind the door to activation is only brief in the city.

Kilburn works at scale because his team has the knowledge of how to translate two-dimensional characters familiar from cartoons or toys into fully articulated worlds filled with carefully designed activities, recreations, and interactive play. This creates a virtuous circle in which everyone wins: the brand gets a lot of exposure for their products, the consumer has a limited opportunity to enjoy the experience, and Kilburn is able to sell some tickets and merchandise.

This segment of paid entertainment, created to exist in a specific location for only a short time, is gaining traction. Kilburn is moving fast to stay on top as consumer expectations change and competition increases. It’s easy to spot a team that wins because of their diligence and foresight. Mark Manuel leads a team that brings the imagination to an ephemeral reality while elevating the brand profile of those he works with.


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