Pink-haired Romi, princess of the Emotion Kingdom, comes to Earth to catch cute and mischievous creatures called Teeniepings that each have a unique power linked to an emotion or a concept they represent. Romi lives as a normal girl in Harmony Town, going to school and working in a bakery, but secretly turns into a magical princess when catching the Teeniepings.
The setting of the brightly colored 3D animated film series “Catch! Teenieping” may sound like just another kid’s show, but it has captivated the hearts of millions of young children worldwide on TV and Netflix. Figurines of its characters ranked as the top-selling Children’s Day gifts in South Korea earlier this month.
With little girls begging their parents to buy one Teenieping toy after another, they have become known as “pasan-ping” -- “pasan” means going bankrupt. Hotels and bakery chains rolled out Teenieping-themed rooms and limited edition cakes ahead of Children’s Day, while retail outlets held promotional events themed after the colorful creatures.
“About 90 characters have been introduced over three seasons since 2020, and more will come,” Choi Jae-won, vice president of SAMG Entertainment, the creator of Teenieping and other global hit animated series such as Miniforce, Superdino and Lulupop, said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
“Children love immersing themselves in a specific world, like dinosaurs or fairies, building knowledge of that world and exchanging it with their peers. They get curious and excited about who will be on the next episode or the next season.”
Like Japanese media franchise Pokemon, which has over 1,000 species, Teenieping unleashes dozens of new characters with their own roles and characteristics each season, catering to children who love collecting figurines and cards as well as various other merchandise ranging from apparel, games and educational devices, to food and beverages.
The number of children has declined amid Korea's record-low birth rate, but the market for kids’ toys, fashion and entertainment is growing as one child has their parents, four grandparents, unmarried aunts and uncles all buying things for them -- a phenomenon locally referred to as “one child, eight pockets” or “10 pockets.”
The size of Korea's kids industry has grown from 8 trillion won in 2002 to 27 trillion won in 2012 and 50 trillion won in 2020, according to the Korea Creative Content Agency.
Choi calls Teenieping a “platform-type” form of intellectual property, in which an endless number of figurines can be created on a given platform, which is the Emotion Kingdom.
“For a platform-type copyrighted product to be launched, the market has to be mature; the company has to be highly experienced; and there should be ample investment,” he said.
“Huge prior investment must be made to produce the figurines of some 30 new characters each season. Instead of licensing toy companies, we make our own toys (through OEM companies) and most other merchandise, as the income from the merchandise is much bigger than the income from the series itself.”
Established in 2000 by chief executive Kim Su-hoon, who taught himself computer graphics in the 1990s, SAMG Entertainment grew into a 3D animated film powerhouse, co-producing computer-animated girl superhero series “Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir” with French and Japanese animation studios.
Following the global success of “Miniforce,” “Catch! Teenieping” has been rated the most popular kids’ show on TV and online streaming in China, and among the top 10 on Netflix in the US and Australia. SAMG has also recently released a new robot action series, “Metal Cardbot.”
Around half of SAMG Entertainment’s approximately 300 workers are animation studio staff.
“It takes at least six months and as long as over a year to come up with a key visual of a main character of a series,” Choi said.
“Despite having produced many well-made series, there were times when the company’s revenue and earnings seemed risky to investors, but we could weather through because we made solid animated shows.”
SAMG Entertainment got listed on the tech-heavy KOSDAQ market late last year. The company's sales in the first three months of this year jumped 30 percent on-year to 21 billion won.
Teenieping is currently being aired on Japan’s terrestrial television channels following a cable channel. The company plans to begin toy exports to Japan within this year.
It also inked deals for media distribution and toy exports to Eastern European countries.
The company also plans to open an indoor theme park called “Emotion Castle Adventure” based on Teenieping and Miniforce near Seoul.
“As for now, we are focusing on content for kids, but we will eventually expand our target audience to become a family entertainment company. The cinema version of ‘Catch! Teenieping,’ which is currently in the making, will have a broader target,” Choi said.
“We aim to be the Disney of Korea.”