Entertainment Properties Energize Prospects for Toy Licensing
A report of the 29th Annual Licensing Expo and the first in a series exploring the 4E’s of 2009 toy trends

Entertainment provides toy makers with a distinct competitive edge and the 29th annual Licensing show was the perfect stage to view more than 7,000 properties from 500 exhibitors under one roof.  An abundance of new characters and entertainment properties gave the industry a virtual B-12 shot after the Licensing Industry Merchandiser’s Association (LIMA) announced its estimates that licensors collected $5.7 billion in royalties in 2008, a 5.6 percent drop from 2007.  Character licensing, which greatly impacts the youth business, accounted for 46% of total annual royalties.

One of the most influential new exhibits was a an area dedicated to interactive entertainment, a market segment with tremendous growth potential as it relates to kids and young adults. According to the NPD Group, video game hardware and software sales reached US $21.33 billion in 2008.

The Entertainment Software Association and NPD reported that family-friendly video games accounted for more than half of all game sales in 2008, making it the most popular genre. Looking ahead, game companies will design their marketing efforts using online and other methods of promotion to mirror the excitement and anticipation of a movie premier. “This approach to marketing is a template which toy makers might look to emulate as a way of building community and brand recognition,” Rice added.

Overall, the new Las Vegas location had its pros and cons.  Attendance seemed slightly down with both exhibitors and retailers scaling back on staff, as well as less on-site media coverage.  On the plus side, however, exhibitors stated that the buyers who attended were serious about doing business. 

“The move to Las Vegas was a good one,” said Nicholas Durbridge, Copyrights Group co-founder and chief executive, Chorion. “People who are here are here for a reason, and they are ready to do business.”

Marie-Laure Marchand, Managing Director of European firm Big Bocca, echoed this sentiment: “This Licensing Show had less traffic, but the people who attended are the decision-makers, so I am pleased with the results of the new location.”

Building on a Strong Foundation
The licensing world isn’t all about blockbuster properties from the movie and entertainment studios. The major toy companies also have evergreen brands that compete on the same scale as movie licenses.

In addition to being licensees, toy companies also play licensor for properties with toy roots. For example, Hasbro’s Transformer franchise started as toys but made the leap to the big screen; and a new agreement with Electronic Arts will continue to support its properties in the interactive area. Importantly, Hasbro’s landmark joint venture with Discovery will include a TV channel and online elements.

Mattel will raise the profile of its Hot Wheels brand with a complete new roster of licensing, promotional and distribution partners for apparel, role play, publishing and videogames, inspired by the introduction of the much anticipated original animated TV series Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 which will run domestically on Cartoon Network and in Canada on Teletoon. The show features a team of teenage drivers with five race cars who must work together to save the earth from intergalactic predators.

At Disney, global sales of merchandise inspired by High School Musical and Hannah Montana grew more rapidly in 2008 than any other Disney franchise, including its Princess line. The wildly successful Cars franchise reached $2.5 billion in sales in 2008 and is expected to retain its popularity in 2009 with a series of five-minute Cars Toons. The whimsical short episodes, developed by Pixar, are being shown on the Disney Channel, in movie theatres and on Disney DVDs to pave the way for the next movie installment, slated for release in 2011.

Reyne Rice, TIA’s toy trend specialist, noted the marketing influence of global brands: “When Disney celebrates and promotes the tenth anniversary of Disney Princesses, awareness of the princess mentality will drive more consumers to retail and more retailers to stock up. This will improve sales for all related products that incorporate glitz, glamour, fantasy lifestyle and role play.”

Exploring New Opportunities – Kids
A new crop of kid’s entertainment properties from around the globe generated buzz at the show for their licensing potential. 

“What’s interesting is the number of new entertainment properties coming to the U.S. because of their initial success abroad,” says Rice. “Many of these properties are already global phenomena, with a dedicated fan base and should also resonate with U.S. consumers.”

Chloe’s Closet
This new animated preschool TV series illuminates a girl’s love of role play and dressing up for different careers.  Set for a 2010 release from the MoonScoop Group, Bandai has acquired the worldwide master toy license.

Dive Ollie Dive
The popular PBS preschool animated series from the MoonScoop Group is the official mascot for Unesco as part of its new educational campaign to teach children about the importance and beauty of the world’s rich underwater cultural heritage.

Geronimo Stilton
This popular Scholastic book property with Italian origins is scheduled to make its small screen debut in fall 2009.  Moonscoop manages the license worldwide, except in Italy, where Atlantyca manages.

Go Go Crazy Bones
Originally launched a decade ago, these fun, miniature collectible figures, with more than 160 characters, make this hot game ripe for a 2009 US market re-launch; iToys is the master toy licensee.

Gormiti
In domestic test markets since February, the property has been tracking above expectations. The #1 Italian boys brand will have a 4th quarter U.S. launch; Playmates has the master toy licensee.
 
Kamen Rider Dragon Knight
Developed in Japan, this series for boys ages 6-11 combines martial arts, transformation and supernatural elements in boy’s action figures and in a live action TV format. Bandai holds the master toy license.

Little Big Planet
The characters from the popular PlayStation game, the winner of thirty Game of the  Year awards worldwide, will be developed into a toy line featuring SackBoy and SackGirl. Target Entertainment manages the licensing in the USA.

Mike the Knight
The excitement and enchantment of medieval times comes alive in a new series for the preschool set from HIT Entertainment, which recently expanded with a new movie division to develop its intellectual property into future theatrical releases.

PopPixie
This energetic new girls brand from Italy-based Rainbow Productions named Bandai as European master toy licensee, which already pre-sold related toys to more than 20 countries. The new property is an extension of the popular Winx franchise, represented in 120 countries worldwide.

Pucca
This Korean-born girls character pop-culture lifestyle brand was snapped up by Warner Bros. with related products set to launch in 2010.

Sushi Pack
These adorable sushi-themed anime-inspired characters, an American Greetings property aimed at 4-8 year olds, is slated for a 2010 launch. Big Time Toys nabbed the master toy license.

Waybuloo
A just-introduced UK property from CBeeBees is already the #2 kid’s television show after just two weeks on air; these whimsical characters are sure to capture the hearts of many with their emotion-themed storyline. Fisher-Price has been named the master toy licensee for Europe, with U.S. television rights still in negotiations.

Exploring New Opportunities – Adults/Collectibles
In addition to new kid’s properties, there is exciting news in the adult/collectibles market, specifically targeting women. Mattel’s 50th anniversary program for its iconic Barbie brand continues full steam ahead with a new suite at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas based on over-the-top Malibu Barbie style. For a mere $4,000 per night, one can revel in the custom pink décor designed by Jonathan Adler and experience the fun fantasy of Barbie’s vacation getaway house.

Audrey Hepburn’s classic style will be celebrated by Alexander Doll as the company creates dolls based on the Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Funny Face star.

Bringing even more girl power to center stage is the new “Marvel for Her” property, which draws on Marvel’s amazing cache of female superheroes including She-Hulk, The Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, Shanna the She-Devil and others. Disguise holds the master license.  Eventually, select characters may filter down to the youth market.

 

With origins in publishing such as books, comics, kid’s television or blockbuster movies, there was a broad spectrum of new properties at Licensing Expo ‘09 to lure consumers back to shopping once the economic recovery kicks in.