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This month, industry figures are looking at the UK’s most watched drama series of the 21st Century, Line of Duty – and its potential for brand extensions.
As it wrapped up its sixth series, Line of Duty was breaking records as the UK’s most watched drama series of the 21st Century.
Over 15 million people tuned in to watch the finale of the show earlier this month, as viewers finally discovered the true identity of corrupt copper H – a mystery that has bubbled away since the show debuted back in 2012.
But there’ll be no spoilers here. If you happen to have missed it, Line of Duty is a police procedural following the investigations of anticorruption unit AC-12 and its three main players: Steve Arnott, Kate Fleming and Ted “Mother of God” Hastings.
So, what’s the appeal? Well, there’s the twists and turns that creator Jed Mercurio is known for, as well as suspenseful interview scenes that fast became a staple of the show. Then there’s Steve Arnott’s waistcoats, Ted’s one-liners and the endless stream of police acronyms and abbreviations which have all caught on with fans.
But, for its immense popularity, there remains no official Line of Duty merchandise and the licensing rights don’t actually sit with the BBC. Instead, the production company behind the show – World Productions – holds the keys to any brand extensions. Their approach to licensing thus far is best summed up by Ted Hastings himself: “Nobody makes mugs of AC-12.”
Except they do, just unofficial ones…
Yes, a quick look at Etsy finds mugs, air fresheners, playing cards and even candles inspired by the show, while Thortful has a whole host of Line of Duty-themed cards, featuring quotes from the show and illustrations of the cast…
We asked Open 2 Design’s Matt Burtonwood, Games London’s Michael French and Sophie Bloomfield Consulting’s Sophie Bloomfield about Line of Duty’s brand potential, and the areas it could thrive in.
Matt Burtonwood, Director, Open 2 Design
I was just checking out some of those mugs on Etsy… I’m looking for a HMP Blackthorn mug if you see one anywhere!
There’s clearly a market for the brand evidenced by an array of fairly dodgy knockoffs already on the market. I guess the question is: do you leave them to it, as a form of fan fiction or do you look to control what gets put out there. It’s a tricky one.
I think a lot of these things come down to timing. Are we at ‘peak’ Line of Duty? If we start to see the seasonal aisles filled with AC-12 giftware, does it start to devalue the brand and all the good work that has been done? I’m sure that’s a question the production company must wrestle with on something like this.
For me, it’s about finding the right partner and the right opportunity. It definitely feels like a great fit for a board game, party game or live action experience. I could definitely see a Line of Duty escape room, where you gather evidence to find the bent copper before you can leave the interview room. You could record it on an interview cassette as a souvenir.
I could see it as an escape room board game too. Or what about a licensed Line of Duty version of Scotland Yard from Ravensburger? A spin on that where some players are bent coppers who look to help H escape while others try to catch him would be cool. The concept of finding clues, deception and working against the clock are evergreen themes in board games. Add in co-op play and we’d be sucking diesel!
Michael French, Head of Games, Games London
The creator and producers of the show might not realise it, but Line of Duty lends itself incredibly well to a video game – and in principle has both creative and commercial potential in the interactive space. Given the show’s focus on tense analysis, investigation and character interplay it’s actually natural to see where a respectful video game version would follow.
There’s a new wave of interactive narrative studios and content being made in London right now that could use original filmed clips starring talent from the show – or the staff at another AC unit if budgets are tight or talent not available.
Check out the games from Flavourworks (Erica on PS4, PC and iOS) and Branching Narrative (Deathtrap Dungeon on PC and Mobile) to see titles that use high quality clips from professional actors and married it with a gameplay interface.
Also, it’s clear that the success of Line of Duty has already inspired investigative-styled games – suggesting a market opportunity for the brand owner. Want to sit in the interview room and grill a suspect? A recent short game from Sky for the TV show Bulletproof used a new artificial intelligence engine from Charisma to allow players to dynamically question a criminal character from the show. Interested in sorting through evidence and finding clues? Electric Noir’s Dead Man’s Phone is one of the best in the ‘found phone’ genre of games that are immersive yet accessible.
For all these existing concepts, the idea of adding performances and interactions with Hastings, Arnott and Fleming would add a whole new layer of appeal. In fact, story-driven games are key to unlocking more mainstream audiences for games the way the show has in TV; a great game paired with the Line of Duty universe could be compelling for more than the stereotypical gamer demographic.
Sophie Bloomfield, Creative Director, Sophie Bloomfield Consulting
Unless you’re living under a rock, you would have seen the massive cult following that Line of Duty has generated over the past few years. From the outside, initially it looked like a classic BBC police drama, but something about investigating corruption inside the police organisation really struct a cord with the British public.
What’s interesting is the structure of the show and how it includes the audience as part of the investigation, similar to HBO’s The Wire or AMC’s Breaking Bad. I think this is key to its popularity and licensing potential. But how could this equate to licensing opportunities? There are a few routes that I think would work perfectly for the brand.
Looking at experiential could be key. In the physical world, escape rooms would be a great opportunity, but in the digital space, app and online role-play games would appeal too. It would be incredible to do a VR game around Line of Duty – imagine playing the roles of Fleming or Hastings!
I first came across this show from friends talking about it – and the constant GoggleBox coverage of it. People’s passion about who H is became so cult that you could totally image having some novelty merchandise around simple quotes from the show.
Other categories that would be fantastic fit for the brand would be board games and publishing. Wouldn’t a book of terminology from the show be a fantastic Christmas gift for the ultimate Line of Duty fan! You know Jenny from GoggleBox would be the first one to buy this!
Overall, Line of Duty definitely has the potential to be an all-year round franchise brand.
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