NEW YORK, NY; FEBRUARY 18, 2019—If it’s all about the elevator pitch, these three new products from three first-time exhibitors explain themselves instantly. As do licensed applications. All exemplify classic play value, each with a neat twist. Check them out in person before you leave Toy Fair, or online.
#1. The Door Fort, from Cortex Toys (booth #4245). Inventor Jesse Darr loved building forts as a kid — and now that he has his own child, remembers how his parents would be left with putting everything away once he went to bed. The Door Fort is his answer. Hangs on the door. Open the door, fold it out to three dimensions, Velcro to the door post. Voila!
One major license is already in the works. Easy to picture Darr’s generic Princess Castle as, say a Disney Princess castle, no? How about Thomas? Pretty much name your property. Contact: John Cowan, MD, CEO/Founder, Cortex.
#2. Cubcoats (booth #5974). It takes 13 seconds to demonstrate how a plush character pillow transforms into a machine-washable fleece hoodie — and back again (OK, back takes 16 seconds).
In addition to original designs, they have Mickey, Minnie, Minion, Marvel, and Troll versions, and they’ve just signed Nickelodeon. The product was exclusive to Nordstrom for fourth-quarter last year, but is now available for wider retail. This is beautifully executed. Contact: Brydie O’Neill, VP Product Development; Angela Michael, Business Development/Sales.
#3. VertiPlay Marble Run by Oribel (booth #4135). Yes, it’s another marble run, but with a literal twist: Base boards are wall-mounted and tracks posted on the base pieces. It’s even decorative, and the tracks can be moved into different designs. This is so new it’s not on the website yet, but Singapore-based Oribel has offered other vertically-mounted toys for toddlers for several years. This is clearly for older kids in a bedroom or playroom. Contact: Smriti Modi, Growth Hacker (great title!).
NEW YORK, NY; May 26, 2018—In the end, it’s all about boxes, isn’t it?
Amazon was, is, and will remain The Topic for licensors, manufacturers, retailers, consultants, agents, and anyone else involved in the business of licensing. And what is Amazon about if not boxes?
The headline out of Licensing Expo in Las Vegas this month had to do with Merch Collab, the online retail behemoth’s new program offering design and manufacturing/sourcing expertise for fast-to-market licensed merchandise to be sold on its eponymous website.
But as much as has been written about Amazon’s impact on retailing, that impact can’t be overestimated. Whether Epic Rights’s Dell Furano holding forth on the shift of music and celebrity t-shirt and jersey sales from venues to physical retail to online or Cartoon Network’s Pete Yoder enthusing about the technology behind Amazon Go, the company’s prototype supermarket (and likely all-merchandise) store of the future, to cite but two conversations during Expo, any conversation about retail inevitably turned to Amazon.
A part of that discussion that tends to be underrepresented, however, concerns Amazon’s various experiments with physical retail. Just as many “digital-only” magazines discovered the need to develop physical magazines because that’s what advertisers demanded, so, too, Amazon clearly recognizes that physical retail isn’t going to disappear.
My friend Marty Porter, executive director of the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA), and author of the Record Plant Diaries, calls this phenomenon “physigital,” and predicts that physical media will cater to the luxury segment of the market while digital will be for the masses. Amazon understands and lives that concept instinctively.
That’s one type of box. In my idiosyncratic take on what was fun and interesting at Licensing Expo, though, there’s another:
Cross Bratz with Shopkins, mix in the unboxing craze, add steroids, and you have Boxy Girls, which debuted exclusively at Walmart via Jay@Play the week of this year’s Licensing Expo. The child gets the doll in a box that has additional little boxes with clothes, accessories, makeup and other items. There are add-on boxes with multiple surprise boxes, boxes with two limited edition dolls plus little boxes, and so on. This is completely of-the-moment. Jay@Play is represented by Cynthia Hall Domine’s licensing agency, Synchronicity.
Cartoon Network (CN) has worked with subscription box licensees Loot Crate and Box Blvd., notes CN’s Pete Yoder, who sees boxes as viable long term rather than a fad, particularly as the ratio of consumables is increased in the mix.
In a larger context, boxes (and unboxing) are part of the trend toward licensing experiences rather than products. CN has been upping the number of live and touring shows it does, says Yoder, especially in Latin America and EMEA. CN launches its first cruise ship in 2019 — cruises have become a staple for Disney — and the network has its CN-themed Six Flags amusement park in China. In the U.S., Adult Swim’s Rickmobile started touring the country last summer; now there’s an Adult Swim music and comedy festival scheduled for Los Angeles this October and featuring Run the Jewels, among other acts.
BuzzFeed had one of the more curious booths — certainly for those of us who aren’t regular BuzzFeed addicts (that includes me). Visitors toured its big red box of a booth, with only the name out front by entering a series of doors that led to rooms that had displays and might also be housing BuzzFeed execs for meetings in action.
There wasn’t much to fill you in on exactly what the rooms represented (I went through three times at different points in the show, uniformly hearing people mystified and curious) until you read the thick newspaper-like handout that explained the rooms were themed to popular BuzzFeed channels — in particular the foodie Tasty brand room, which had a display of kitchen utensils and a chef preparing pancakes and other goodies. Turns out the line of Tasty-branded utensils are also a Walmart exclusive.
Shout out to BuzzFeed for the best swag of the show: When you got to the end of your self-guided tour there were bags on pegs and shelves from which to select whatever items you wanted — multi-colored measuring cups and whisks, cosmetics cases (or maybe they were pencil cases?), glass water bottles, miniature yo-yos…Eric Karp is heading up the licensing effort.
And moving beyond boxes. Way beyond boxes:
The dinosaur roaming the show entrance near the Universal booth and scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting passersby was presumably promoting the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom movie opening June 22. I say presumably because no one was indicating what he was about, despite a handler upfront in dinosaur-wrastling get-up and a handler in the back keeping people away from the giant tail. The guy inside this costume wielded it phenomenally well.
Lenovo’s Jedi Challenges, available since late last year but offering demos at the show to attract other properties is the first augmented reality game I’ve seen that defined the genre for me: Put on the goggles, extend your lightsaber and you’re jousting lightsaber to lightsaber with a Jedi. Or in local mode, with another player. Asked whether the Star Wars relationship with Disney bodes well for Marvel and other Disney franchises down the road, a spokesperson suggested that “it’s easy to imagine” such a scenario but for now they are “concentrating on Star Wars.” That said, more software is needed to justify the expense of the $199 headset, but the play value is pretty incredible.
Walking malls in recent months conducting licensing tours, I’ve been struck by the variations on the classic photo booth — booths that upload to Instagram, selfie booths (contradiction in terms, no?), booths that feature licensed properties. At the show, Sony Pictures had an interesting iteration with a screen featuring characters from its upcoming Hotel Transylvania 3, opening July 18. Facing it, when you moved, the character mirrored your moves. Your image appeared in the corner near the movie character. More traditional: When Grumpy Cat wasn’t available in person for a photo, you could step in an old-fashioned photo booth and pose next to a preprogrammed Grumpy Cat.
On the promotional side — and what is Licensing Expo if not a promotional event? — kudos to WWE and, especially Sesame Street (see photo up top for your humbled blogger and friends), for the photo ops in the show’s registration area. Great way to talk into a show.
The booth garnering the most speculation was perhaps that of Jonathan and Drew Scott, known for their HGTV Property Brothers home-fixer-upper TV show. The booth referenced Property Brothers but the license being offered was Scott Brothers.
I assume Property Brothers is owned by the network and that the Scotts want to control their own licensing. (That’s akin, so to speak, to the situation many chefs featured on, say, Food Network, find themselves in: Network owns the show and controls licensing rights, but savvy chefs have retained the rights to their individual names.) The Scotts’ booth — a large, multi-tiered, beautifully outfitted affair — was packed when the brothers were on hand, and not very populated the rest of the time, save for a few staffers.
Licensing Expo is not just about entertainment, though it can feel that way. There are heritage brands, literary properties and artists along with fashion labels, sports properties, and others. Among the heritage brands new to the show this year were two fourth generation members of the family that founded Capezio, the classic dance apparel and footwear brand. While the brand was once licensed to a wider audience, it has in recent years been more limited to the dance community. Reimagining the brand through licensing is the plan.
The Licensing University program sponsored by LIMA orients hundreds of newcomers to understanding the benefits of licensing, the structure of the business, the trendlines and more.
I had the honor once again of leading the opening “Basics of Licensing” panel with “godfather of licensing” Gary Caplan, of Gary Caplan Inc., and Hallmark’s Katy Briggs. Thanks to you both, and to LIMA’s Marty Brochstein for inviting all three of us to participate.
Finally, at the airport leaving Las Vegas, there was a great pop-up booth dedicated to local hockey team the Vegas Golden Knights, who made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Sporting goods stores in Fashion Show mall were also festooned with Knights merch, but the pop-up was a great unintentional last impression of the show!
Looking for a licensing assessment to assist with strategy and new business development? I’ll help you identify the white space for your licensing program through competitive analysis. Visit www.iramayer.com for details.
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.
Following up on why there won’t be a “next” Pokémon GO, as if there hasn’t been enough written about it:
- Book and toy as well as mass merchants and other specialty retailers, are not surprisingly reporting vastly increased demand for Pokémon merchandise. See Publishers Weekly for bookseller (and bookstore café managers’) comments on how the “New Pokemon Game Takes Bookstores By Storm.”
- While there have been reports that Nintendo is signing Pokémon GO licensing deals “left and right” (see NY Post), that is inaccurate on several counts: First, Nintendo doesn’t control the rights, The Pokémon Company (TPC, of which Nintendo is a part owner) does. Second, The Pokémon Company signed its deals for the 20th anniversary of the property last year and marked that occasion with a Super Bowl commercial this past January. So while the degree of success of the app was unanticipated, the fact that there would be renewed attention on the property, which Millennials grew up with, was not.
- The Pokémon Company London office covers all of Europe, where poster and other merchandise licensee GB Eye’s Max Arguile relates to me his own conversation with the company. “Given that there is no difference between the artwork of Pokémon and Pokémon GO,” Arguile says TPC told him, “it makes no sense for them to spend time negotiating licenses that would effectively replicate what they already have in the market (and either making licensees pay twice for the same thing or annoying them by appointing a competitor). The only difference in artwork is the addition of GO to the logo. If [their position on not licensing separate Pokémon GO Images] changes they will let us know but right now they are busy fielding multiple calls every day from all the major retailers — this is where the real money is, not in adding licensees. [In the wake of the Pokémon GO Phenomenon,] Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Primark, Debenhams, Matalan and M&S have all ordered big apparel ranges for Q3/Q4 2016. This will be achieved by print-on-demand. Other categories, such as bedding are going into most of the same retailers.” Arguile adds that TPC forecasts “some big collaborations in 2017.”
- The most recent estimate of worldwide retail sales of licensed Pokémon merchandise is for 2014 at $328 million, according to The Licensing Letter. I estimate that in 2015 the property would have been down somewhat as is typical prior to an event such as a 20th anniversary. Published reports of $600 million seem way out of range.
- Publishers Weekly isn’t the only non-game trade magazine reporting on Pokémon. Try this one from Billboard, about the characters landing in music business offices. Not to mention the fact that the New York Police Department issued Pokémon GO Safety Tips, sent by email to subscribers to its various alerts as well as posted on its website.
- While Millennials are the core audience, even among my boomer contemporaries, the topic literally came up in every dinner conversation the past week, and a number of friends have downloaded and played with the app, though they’re not going out in search of merchandise. (At least not until this filters down to their grandchildren…)
NEW YORK, NY; July 12, 2016—Here’s the Pokemon GO story — “How Pokemon GO Took Over The World And Why There’s No Point In Ripping It Off,” a commentary by The Wrap’s Phil Owen — you need to read if you’re wondering how to cash in on the craze.
For years I’ve been warning people that building their business plan on being “the next Beatles,” “the next Disney,” “the next Andy Warhol” is to set yourself up for failure. If you do that well, great — and hopefully you can be prepared for how to prolong the life of the property or project. But most business propositions aren’t going to hit the stratosphere.
Years ago I asked Clive Davis, the legendary music business impresario and then Arista label-head, how surprised he was when the single “There Goes Another Love Song” off the Outlaws’ debut album was a hit “out of the box.” “Not surprised enough not to know what to do.”
It was a brilliant answer that I’ve quoted often, and that has informed much of my research into and thinking about pop culture over the years.
I don’t agree 100% with Owen: I suspect there will be a market for other Pokemon GO-like augmented reality games. They just won’t be the phenomena that Pokemon GO is, and as long as the creators don’t scale up for being “the next Pokemon GO” at least some will be viable.
The critical question is how long Pokemon GO can be sustained and, for Nintendo, whether it will have a salutary affect on sales of Nintendo game systems, games and licensed merchandise. (See my recent post, “Sustaining Licensed Properties In A Multi-Platform Universe.”) Generally, the faster a fad takes off, the faster it crashes.
FYI, if you’re a gamer of a certain age thinking it’s time to cash in on your dusty classic Pokemon collection, eBay had 440,296 Pokemon items available when I just checked, 95,548 of them trading card collections.
Need competitive research? Someone to bounce marketing strategy off of? To educate corporate officers about licensing? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.