NEW YORK, NY; MAY 20, 2017—It’s not the carefully worded polished press releases or the beautifully choreographed licensee summits that generate the “news” of Licensing Expo. It’s in how the companies behind those releases and events complement, contrast and compete with each other that the trendlines can be discerned.
Here’s what to look for behind the booths and between the aisles at this year’s Expo in Las Vegas May 22 (when Licensing University and the summits commence) and May 23-25 (the formal show):
- Digital Properties. Add BuzzFeed, AirBnB and others to the digital celebrities we’ve seen in prior years.
- Speed to Market. The digital environment has made “I want it yesterday” reality.
- International box office. Studios forecast the geographic breakdown of licensed merchandise sales globally based on box office trends. Well, folks, box office outside the U.S. is now often two-thirds of the total. Where would you place your bets?
- Made local. Not just Brooklyn or USA — but local pride is a point of differentiation for all manner of properties and goods.
- Retail consolidation. Store closings isn’t where the story is. It’s the transformation of mall spaces into entertainment environments, the on-going quest for seamless integration of online and offline shopping, and the need to turn the shopping experience (again, online or off) and the products themselves into “experiences.”
- Competing with licensees. Another aspect of the retail story — licensees and licensors are going head-to-head with the retailers they once feared competing against.
- Online/mobile shopping. Corollary to Nos. 5 and 6. Sports — specifically Fanatics — is paving way for other property types. And while Fanatics started as the online seller for most leagues and teams, it’s opening physical locations as well. Outside sports: Keep an eye on what Amazon is up to in bricks and mortar, localizing product selection and rewarding its best customers.
- New wave of anime. More coming on the globalization front.
- Public properties — mass transit following NYPD. This is different than non-profit licensing. It’s working in Australia, the UK, and more.
- Experiences/Services are on the rise. Online “clubs,” touring shows and museum-like exhibitions, hotels. If you can “experience-ilize” it, you’ve got a selling point to test.
- This term has shifted from serious upscale limited editions to mass toys. Are trading cards ready for a comeback?
- Subscription boxes. This is a fad that will play out. It won’t disappear, but there’s a reason book clubs and record clubs went the way of the dinosaur.
If you’re at the show and would like to meet up, contact me at email@example.com. I’m also moderating the Licensing University session, “The Basics of Licensing,” featuring manufacturers consultant Gary Caplan (Gary Caplan Inc.), and licensing agents James Slifer (The Joester-Loria Group) and Joanne Olds (The Buffalo Works, specializing in representing artists). Here’s a preview of the session, which takes place Monday May 22, 9-11:15 a.m.
EN ROUTE, LAS VEGAS, NV to NEW YORK, NY; June 23, 2016—Over 26 years attending Licensing Expo, whether sitting down to interview people or walking the aisles, I always get variations of the same question (especially from exhibitors who rarely get to leave their booths): “What are you seeing on the floor?” “What’s new?” “What’s hot?”
The truth is, when you’re at the show, the elaborate exhibits, the characters walking around, the noise, the constant visual bombardment make it difficult to process what you’re experiencing beyond realizing that the longest line at the show was to have your picture taken with Grumpy Cat (except for those of us allergic).
So to all who asked me that question this year, while I was in my tradeshow stupor, and to those just wondering, 35,000 feet on the way home offers the needed distance to pull some thoughts together.
The key theme for me: Sustainability has dual meanings. One is environmental, which is subject for another time. The other is about sustaining the life of a property in a digital age. I’m going to focus on the entertainment/character/gaming worlds here, but that subject is top of mind for every brand, fashion, sports, art, and other licensor, manufacturer, agent, and other player as well.
Traditional media still count, certainly to companies rooted in it, but the fact is many of the digital content producers don’t yet understand the importance of multiple platforms, including the traditional ones.
“Linear still has the reach and consistency you need” to support a licensing program, Cartoon Network’s Pete Yoder told me. “But we also know mom hands off [he moves his smart phone from one hand to the other] to the kids.” Three key changes in the digital age:
- “We’re developing content specific to each digital medium. It’s based on the same IP but we’re not just re-editing 11-minute programs to 90-seconds.”
- “We’re ordering the number of episodes we need by medium from the beginning.”
- “Years ago you needed 6 months to a year after a program was a hit to get a licensing program underway. Now the question is, ‘When are you launching the first access to the brand’” via any medium.
At Activision, the “traditional” medium is games, and that — just as obviously as TV is for Cartoon Network — continues to be the core. But the news at Activision is a Netflix commitment to two seasons of a Skylanders Academy series. “Our audience is 6-12, with a real sweet spot of 6-9,” the company’s Ashley Maidy noted. A linear program, for her, has the potential to “bring new kids in — younger kids whose older siblings know the game, as well as others who just haven’t been exposed to it at all. . . .It’s a marriage of digital product and multiple platforms.”
The transformation of Skylander across platforms has proven easier than for Call of Duty, but a film is in the works for that, as well.
Activision’s challenges — and a common refrain at many companies: “We still have to educate buyers and retailers who are tradition-bound that our customers aren’t watching TV. And with no ratings for Netflix, how do you measure success?” [Aside: One of the most promising areas to Activision founder Bobby Kotick, Maidy says, is eSports, which Kotick believes — and Activision will be playing an ever-greater role to accomplish — could be as big as the NFL in five years. Why not think big?]
Both Yoder and Maidy agreed with me that even two years ago if someone had offered them Netflix as an outlet for a series they would have turned up their noses. Not anymore.
That said, hyperbole from the digital world doesn’t really help on the measurement count, in part because it feels as though (not just at Licensing Expo, but in the “wider world”) that the digirati don’t really understand what’s important to know. They can measure all sorts of things, but those numbers don’t necessarily translate to something the IP, ad, or licensing worlds can use.
Consider Paladin Software’s James Creach, speaking as part of the Digital Licensing Summit program at the Expo, who observed that “the Super Bowl is watched by 112 million people but 1 billion people are active on social media in a month.” Well, an event watched simultaneously by 112 million people — roughly one in three Americans — is a very different story than a billion people spread across almost as many messages of all sorts. The latter isn’t unimportant, but the comparison does no favors in selling the medium.
I didn’t get to speak with anyone from Youtube, but their booth looked like a lost opportunity. Clearly a major player as an outlet for new IP as well as for creating new channels for existing programming, the company had a huge space. But from the outside all one saw was a small sign with some of the properties named. No effort to educate what the properties are, where Youtube fits in, how it translates into consumer products or even just to pique interest. I don’t think I’m alone among show attendees (OK, of a certain age — but younger as well) in having heard of only a very few of the properties named.
I’ll get off my soapbox in a moment. But coming from the print publishing world, one of the things I’ve watch many “digital-only” publishers discover is that at this point in time, to satisfy advertisers, they still need print. Similarly, digital video celebrities or others will find it difficult to sustain their fame or develop long-term careers without multiple platforms — and I don’t mean just multiple social media. Just as traditional media have been forced to embrace new media, so new media will need to embrace the old. Tyler Oakley, who is part of the Dreamworks/Awesomeness stable, gets it: he’s out there touring with a live show, there’s a documentary, AND he keeps up his video and social media output. Rock and roll, watch out. [Commented one music merchandiser: “We survived superheroes and Star Wars. Music is trending up.”]
Most trenchant observation by a newcomer to licensing at the show, though: John Haugh, the 3-months new CEO and President of Iconix, at a reception for Peanuts licensees: “I know many of you would like a Peanuts movie every year. We would too, but nobody does a movie every year, not even Star Wars. And I want to remind you that many of you have done very well with Peanuts for 50 years before there ever was a movie!” Talk about sustainability!
NEW YORK, NY; May 16, 2016—The joy of Surtex, which focuses on art, about half of which is available for licensing, the other half for sale, is its co-location with ICFF, a show for contemporary and avant garde furniture and design, and the National Stationery Show. The three shows crossover with the licensing world on both the design and manufacturing levels, and feature interesting packaging ideas as well. It takes a great deal of walking, but there is a wealth of creativity to be seen and inspiration to be had.
There is also fluidity across the shows in that some exhibitors would be wholly comfortable in different areas — particularly some of the artists found in ICFF and the Stationery Show who might be best served by the Surtex audience of manufacturers and retailers. That’s what makes a 5+ hour walk here fascinating (and I didn’t make it to the downstairs furniture show which in the past has been heavy on upscale living and bedroom offerings, lighting, and the like).
Most interesting finds this year were the first two exhibitors at the far end of the hall on the third level in an area dedicated to emerging designers.
Mike Joyce is an established graphic designer whose Stereotype graphic design agency features a portfolio strong on album art (Katy Perry, Iggy Pop, others) and advertising (Volvo, Visa, etc.).
His “personal project,” Swissted, started in 2012, combines his “love of Swiss graphic design and punk rock by redesigning old” concert posters into International Typographic Style posters. He takes information such as the band lineup, date, venue, and ticket prices from the originals (which he collects) and creates entirely new designs. He sells museum quality prints on 140 lb. cover stock in multiple sizes from $50 (17”x23.75”) to $150 (36”x50.5”) but is looking to “carry it to the next level” and is open to licensing the work.
Next to Joyce is Airplantman Josh Rosen, who creates vertical garden frames and tabletop “vases” — I hesitate to use the word (he calls them vessels) to house airplants.
The plants are dipped in water for a few hours about once a week. Easy to see the frames or vessels licensed by botanical gardens or other nature-oriented or environmental properties, and certainly sold in those venues. The frames, available 11”x11”, 11”x18”, and 24”x18”, are powder coated aluminum with nylon coated stainless steel cable that holds the plants in place. They retail for up to $135.
Other creative executions:
- Cardboard six-pack beer carrier with attached greeting card from Beer Greetings. It’s the beer equivalent of the ever-popular wine bag with card on the carrying handle. In this case the card is the side of the package. Retails for $4.95, which is the same as a mid-range greeting card these days. The company has been selling the item direct for about a year and a half and started wholesaling the line about six months ago.
- Monster Factory has been making licensed Volkswagen children’s play tents for some years (I remember seeing them at Bed Bath & Beyond); now they’ve added a VW van pet carrier, a cooler, picnic blankets, and a pet bowl.
- New coloring books are still pouring forth, despite the fact that the market is reportedly cooling.
Galison, exhibiting in the Chronicle Books booth, has a recently-released Andy Warhol coloring book with the Warhol Velvet Underground album cover banana on the cover (Galison has a range of Warhol items, including soup cans and a coming Time Capsule kit). Paris-based Omy, distributed in the U.S. by Ameico, has pocket maps, postcard books, fanny packs, pencil cases and other items. Hester & Cook has placemats and placecards. Sourcebooks offers calendars, dream books, and such. The list goes on.
- Flash drive manufacturer Mimoco, which specializes in licensed drives, says sales of classic Star Wars models have cooled off, though younger fans are still interested in the newer characters.
If Star Wars, its best seller, indexes at 100, the second best-selling line, Marvel, would index at about 75, a sales rep says. The company has confidence that Star Wars has longevity while it expects the Marvel line to drop off over a five to six year period.
About three and a half hours into walking these shows, I was starting to think there were substantially fewer letterpress companies exhibiting than the last few years, and that Brooklyn had lost its cache. Not at all. Minutes later I made it to a dedicated letterpress area in the stationery show—and within about 10 minutes and two or three aisles had come across I Am Here Brooklyn (jewelry), Boundless Brooklyn (DIY paper sculpture kits of water towers, bridges, etc.), Gold Teeth Brooklyn (greeting cards), Umlaut Brooklyn (cards and wine bags), and the representative from French chocolatier Marie Belle, which has a New York store in Soho, immediately informed me (with no prompting) that they now have a store in Brooklyn, too. Not to mention that many of those letterpress firms are located in Brooklyn even if the company names doesn’t shout it out.
On the packaging front, two exhibitors made great use of cork-stoppered glass vials: Japan’s YHM Jewelry, which also has a Brooklyn store but which mostly sells online, uses glass vials about 6” high that have a little greenery at the bottom and eyehooks in the cork from which are suspended necklaces or earrings. It’s a beautiful presentation (and the much of the jewelry is quite nice and very original). Similarly, the aforementioned I Am Here Brooklyn uses much smaller vials for its hammered metal pendants with an initial on them. Again, makes for a nice display concept.
Unto itself Surtex, which is relatively small, isn’t formally a curated show, but it’s always seemed to attract a high quality of exhibitors. Plenty of seasonal art, children’s, florals; many agents, some of which have a certain consistency of taste across the artists they represent, some of which are totally varied in an effort to have something for every retail need; many new artists each year looking to test the waters. Surtex is as good a barometer of what’s available for licensing for textiles and other goods as you’re going to find. The bonus is that the co-located shows might not be as focused on textile-oriented designs, but are full of licensable ideas — from designs to products to packaging.
The shows opened at the Javits Center here yesterday, and run until 6 p.m. today and until 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Next up: I’ll be at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas June 20 (day before the show opens), 21 and 22. I am available to conduct personal tours of the show based on your needs. Two slots remain. For information about the personal tour, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also leading a workshop, How to Work With Licensing Agents and Consultants, as part of LIMA’s Licensing University on the 21st. My panelists are an all-star team of Gary Caplan, Gary Caplan Inc.; Carole Postal, CopCorp; and Ilana Wilensky, Jewel Branding. To register for Licensing University, click here.