How much is that Teletubby?

  • 1999-08-12
  • By Paul Beckman
VILNIUS - For the past year or so, the British-made Tele-tubbies show has managed to entrance children world-wide. When it hit Lithuanian television screens this past spring, the four colorful Teletubbies easily hypnotized a new audience of children.

Needless to say, the show's popularity has also led to enormous business opportunities in Lithuania as everywhere else around the world. Teletubbies products, such as backpacks, key chains and talking dolls, have emerged as the hottest selling toys in the country - and swarms of people are trying to cash in.

The LRT television station provides Lithuanians with two half-hour doses of Teletubbies everyday - once in the morning and once in the evening. According to a Baltijos Tyrimu survey, almost 50 percent of children aged five to eight catch every single episode.

The Teletubbies phenomenon has also proven profitable business. A Kaunas-based firm called Voira bought the license to distribute Teletubbies products in Lithuania. Voira, which also distributes popular toy brand names such as Lego and Mattel, has seen the Teletubbies products relentlessly push their way to enormous popularity.

"At the moment, the Teletubbies are the most popular toys in Lithuania," said Vilija Bulanaviciene, Voira's marketing manager. "We recently participated in a week-long Teletubbies festival in Palanga. There was an event in which children made Teletubbies from sand and could get free Tele-tubbies toys. The advertising company which organized it said a lot of children came and that it was very successful."

In July, retail sales amounted between $40,000 and $50,000. Still neither Voira nor their retail shops, Zaislu Planeta, are raking in as much as they feel they could. According to Audrius Nomeika, Voira's import manager and director of the Zaislu Planeta shops, unofficial or "black market" Teletubbies are being peddled in Lithuania's markets and some shops.

"Sales of fake Tele-tubbies are probably about the same if not a little bit more (in comparison with our sales)," explained No-meika. "We are the only company with a license to sell Teletubbies products, but we probably only have about one-third of the market."

One reason the Tele-tubbies' impersonators are selling so well is because official products cost about twice as much. A soft Tinkie Winkie toy with an ability to talk, for example, costs more than 200 litas ($50) at Zaislu Planeta's central Vilnius location. With the average salary in Lithuania being around 1,000 litas per month, the price of real Teletubbies is often too steep for many parents.

"I shelled out 100 litas to get my television fixed so my son could watch the Tele-tubbies," said the mother of a 19 month-old boy named Arturas. "I didn't feel a need to fix the television, but my friends kept telling me I was hurting my son by depriving him of the Teletubbies."

With 100 litas already spent just to get the Tele-tubbies to show up in her living room twice a day, Arturas' mother said she was not yet willing to buy any of the more expensive Tele-tubbies toys. But Arturas' loyal following of the show made it difficult for his mother not to buy anything.

"I bought a small Tele-tubbies figure at the market for 9 litas," said Arturas' mother. "I didn't go there specifically to buy Tele-tubbies toys, but just to shop. But since we bought it, he has been carrying it around everywhere."

Nomeika said the future may bring a more intense battle between the real Tele-tubbies and their impostors.

"Given the purchasing power of Lithuanians, many could not spend as much, so they are buying fake products," said Nomeika. "We are planning to decrease prices to fight these fake Tele-tubbies."