Toy Fair NY 2020: What Was Cool, What Might Last, What Was Missing
NEW YORK, NY; February 26, 2020—Characters (and logos) trending up: Harry Potter and Frozen II are still everywhere. Don’t underestimate the staying power of NASA for kids, especially with the namesake organization increasingly active once again. And EVERYONE wants Pink Fong’s Baby Shark license for something. (So maybe there’s another season in Baby Shark, but will that really have long-term staying power? Remains to be seen.)
Hot product: Kids Embrace car seat liners featuring DC, Disney, Marvel, Nickelodeon characters. SmarTrike similarly has generic liners (e.g. lady bug) inside some of its strollers.
Smart product: Crayola’s Dry Erase Wall Paint — a clear coating that’s painted on and turns any wall into a dry erase board. (Pictured: Crayola’s Warren Schorr and Licensing International’s Sharon Weisman.)
STEM/STEAM is more integrated throughout the show as virtually all traditional toy companies get involved.
Tiny “collectibles” (the offspring of Shopkins and Polly Pocket) are trending toward smaller groups — six or eight rather than dozens and then more dozens.
Tangle Pets, Ztringz, and other stress relievers are vying to take back the shelf space that went to fidget spinners and shaped rubber bands a couple of seasons ago.
Scratch-off comes to toys: A few weeks ago I wrote about scratch-off greeting cards; now 4DPuzz introduces NYC, London, Paris and world map scratch-off jigsaw puzzles that reveal skylines and other landmarks. The company is primarily known for its beautifully elaborate 3D Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and other licensed puzzles. (The scratch-offs are not on their website as I write.)
Like Harry and Frozen, kid “influencers” (I can’t say it without the quotation marks) are everywhere: 8-year-old Ryan Kaji/Ryan’s World Youtube channel, with almost 24 million subscribers; 10-year-old gymnast/martial arts video star Payton Delu Myler, with 23 million Instagram followers; and Blippi, a preschool Youtube edu-tainment property created by adult Stevin John with toys coming from Jazwares.
Conversation/get-to-know-you card games are taking on renewed life even as board games continue to resonate for Gen Z’ers, Millennials and others. (Pictured: Yours truly with a Settlers of Catan sheep. Not live. The sheep, that is.)
Sometimes what’s missing is just as telling: Far fewer upstarts showing robot and other electronic building sets than the last two years.
If ever there were a Toy Fair that spoke licensing — it was almost as though if you didn’t have a license (or weren’t trying to license your own property), you were just background noise. I’m not suggesting that’s good. I’m just reporting the impression walking the aisles for a day. And yet…
Quote of the show: “Licensing is great, but it doesn’t work across the board.” Ryan Fens, M&M Sales Enterprises, manufacturer of swings and other outdoor products with licenses for Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, John Deere. Hoping to get the Baby Shark license and add a sound box to play the song while the child swings. (Says I, that sound box would be special to make the parents crazy!)
Is There No Rest for the Disney Consumer?
On the surface, embedding 750 sq. foot Disney Stores in 25 Target stores starting next month, with another 40 planned a year from now, is a win-win: It’s a great differentiator for Target, gives Disney properties further exposure, and guarantees additional distribution for some licensees’ and Disney Store-exclusive merchandise.
• To what extent will Target’s Disney shops siphon business from mall-based Disney Stores? The Target outlets will have 450 SKUs — 100 of which are exclusive to and available in Disney Stores. Does that mean the other 350 will be available elsewhere anyway? (Stand-alone Disney Stores have long claimed 90% or so of their selections are exclusive, though similar items are often available elsewhere.)
• Will Target customers in areas where there aren’t embedded Disney Stores feel unloved? Is there room to roll out the concept to Target’s 1800+ stores in North America?
• Is there a saturation point for Mickey/Star Wars/Marvel/Princesses/etc.? Is the consumer complaining that those properties aren’t ubiquitous enough?
• The release says Target will manage these store-in-stores. To what extent will the mass retailer be forced to showcase whatever Disney wants to promote — regardless of how well it does? If a movie is a clunker, can Target yank that merchandise out of its Disney Stores the way it does when such a property is displayed in the regular assortment? (Who needs who here? Technically, the answer is no doubt “Yes.” But the reality is it’s a business of relationships, and will Target want to risk displeasing Disney?)
• What impact will this deal have on Disney licensees’ relationships with other retailers — Walmart in particular? Will Walmart stop selling/reduce the amount of licensed Disney merchandise it stocks in stores where there’s a Target-Disney nearby? Or is Disney so critical at this point that it doesn’t matter (that could well be the case).
Let’s not forget Disney overbuilt its Disney Stores, sold them, then bought back the scaled down version. The Warner Bros. stores went through a similar experience, albeit without the range of properties Disney has amassed: Initial exclusivity at a very limited number of flagship Warner Bros. stores brought great results, so they overbuilt, overexposed the merchandise, and lost the cache. Warner, however, never got back into its own retail operation.
Walt Disney the man was a consummate marketer. He rotated his animated films out of circulation for seven year periods, waiting for a fresh audience before re-releasing them. That continued through the early years of home video, when Disney put its videos “in the vault” and then re-released with fanfare. (Now they remake them and/or add new titles to the “franchises.”) Even individual characters were promoted and would then take a back seat for a number of years. Mickey never disappeared, but he wasn’t always the focus of Disney marketing efforts. Some years it’s Minnie. Or Donald. Or even Goofy!
Today, the theory seems to be everything out there all the time: As many new movies as they can crank out for each “franchise” to bring home the box office and merchandising magic of quarterly growth for The Street.
Is there no rest for the consumer?
Amazon’s Big and Others’ Little Boxes: An Idiosyncratic Take on Licensing Expo
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.
Ira’s Fearless Forecast: Entertainment Licensing 2016-2017
NEW YORK, NY; DECEMBER 9, 2015—Over the next few days I’ll post some prognostications on various sectors of the licensing business. While I (and everyone else on the planet) have written plenty about Star Wars in recent months, that is unquestionably the story of the moment. So let’s start with a look at the impact Star Wars is having on entertainment licensing and where the market is headed.
Looking at 2015, Star Wars has been the best news in entertainment licensing and, assuming the movie performs as expected, will likely be the entertainment segment’s blockbuster for 2016 as well.
But Star Wars has also been the worst news in licensing for 2015, sucking the juice out of every other pop culture property this year, likely keeping even hot newcomers such as Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol from realizing their full potential, and holding back other retro properties that have had difficulty gaining placement at retail, such as Iconix’s Peanuts. Minions has held strong. But Superheroes? Maybe their powers aren’t infinite, at least in the licensing universe (and maybe those powers were diminishing even before the Star Wars onslaught).
From Hudson newsstands at airports to Nordstrom’s children’s department to Walgreens, Star Wars is ubiquitous and has been since back-to-school.
I wasn’t monitoring the licensing business in 1977, but this is the movie credited with initiating the modern licensing business. Given the institutionalization of licensing today, and the Disney machine behind Star Wars now, we’re no doubt looking at a licensing blockbuster of a whole different order of magnitude.
Today, for manufacturers and retailers waiting to release merchandise with the new movie’s art — remember, so far, with a few notable exceptions such as the BB-8 Droid, it’s been all classic images — it’s a matter of waiting for the force to awaken and do its part.
What will the net effect be on entertainment licensing for 2015-2017? Star Wars does not appear to be carrying the rest of the business up with it. Rather, it is displacing just about everything else. Still, in the aggregate it is more than compensating for others’ lost growth or stagnation, which is why entertainment licensing overall will show substantial growth for 2015 and probably 2016.
Licensing today is generally a matter of who are you going to knock off the shelf in order to get on. Star Wars is different, though: In addition to usurping others’ shelf space, Stars Wars found new distribution (such as at Nordstrom and Hudson) that hadn’t been given over to entertainment toys, apparel and collectibles to this degree before. That is enlarging the segment as a whole.
If the movie does indeed perform as expected, Star Wars will also be the worst news in licensing for everyone else in 2016 and, for Disney, an even worse story for 2017. Why?
Once Star Wars merchandising runs its course — and it will run its course — Disney will have to replace the Star Wars licensing juggernaut with something else. Even though there’s another movie scheduled for 2017, the second release in a series never generates the same in merchandise sales (and rarely at the box office) as the first. If superheroes are still in style — and that’s a big “if” — Disney will have Marvel to fall back on. Or perhaps they’ll have another Frozen. But it’s hard to bet on those scenarios.
The good news is that once Star Wars does run its course, that should re-open the shelves to other entertainment properties, and there’s no dearth of those in the wings.
Ira’s Fearless Forecast: Retail sales of licensed merchandise based on entertainment properties in the U.S. and Canada will be up 7%-9% for 2015.
Ira Mayer, former publisher and executive editor of The Licensing Letter, conducts competitive research and consults for companies in the licensing business; you can contact him by clicking on the “Contact” button at left.
Iconix Battles Its Own Star Wars In More Ways Than One++
NEW YORK—November 6, 2015: Iconix is re-stating its financials for 2013, 2014 and 2015 with a net impact of about $3 million. Ultimately not a huge amount for a public company, but enough to send the stock plummeting 58% today as of 1 p.m. Results for the quarter and year-to-date will be released Monday, but essentially the bad news is out. And it’s no surprise. (See my previous post on Iconix last August for more on the company.) The company also noted that an SEC inquiry into its 2014 financials continues.
Meanwhile, no one has been announced as a permanent replacement for founder/ex-CEO Neil Cole, and although the Peanuts movie opening today, which the company has been betting on to turn its fortunes around, is getting good reviews, they’re not money reviews. “Pleasant” isn’t the sort of adjective that brings out the masses (kind of the equivalent of “she/he has a great personality”), and Iconix is revising downward its forecast of licensing revenues for the year yet again because of Peanuts, because too many of its fashion brands aren’t cutting it at retail, and because of soft performance in key European and Chinese markets.
You’d think Star Wars was the movie opening today, but that’s got more than a month to go. Iconix is surprised that Star Wars is getting the amount of shelf space it is already. Hard to know what galaxy they’ve been hiding under. In a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn Heights, NY, there are 17 linear feet of tables alongside the escalator that are pure Star Wars, with another 3-4 places around the store offering still more. At Costco two properties dominate the toy aisles: Star Wars and Frozen, the latter the property Disney credits for its strong consumer products performance year-to-date.
About 10 years ago, when Peanuts was still licensed by United Media and I owned and published The Licensing Letter, I was granted permission to use a classic panel of Lucy in a lemonade stand to adorn our booth at Licensing Expo. We had invited various licensing consultants to be “Licensing Doctors,” advising newcomers on licensing strategy. We couldn’t change the wording on the actual panel, but we were permitted to attach a little piece of “fence” to get our message across. Feels as though there’s some irony in there somewhere.
Wonderful to wake up to a front page NY Times story about the success of University of Alabama licensing, the first two words of which are “Bill Battle.” Battle, now 73 and truly one of the stars of the modern era of consumer products licensing, played for Alabama in his day. In 1970, at 28, he coached the competition at Tennessee. He founded Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) in 1981, building the company to handling licensing for about 200 of the leading colleges, universities and conferences before selling to IMG in 2007 for a reported $100 million (IMG is now part of WME). Since 2013 Battle heads the Alabama athletics department. Great to see him get this kind of national recognition. The article, incidentally, notes that CLC guaranteed Alabama $9 million in royalty revenue from sales of licensed merchandise for this year (translate that to about $200 million at retail), and $103 million through the 2024-2025 season (in excess of $2 billion at retail over the next decade).
Activision Blizzard, which is acquiring Candy Crush developer King Digital, is forming a studio to develop movies and TV shows based on the properties it owns, including Candy Crush, Call of Duty, and Skylanders. Unit is headed by Nick van Dyk ex-SVP corporate strategy for . . . Disney.
China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce is endeavoring to stamp out counterfeiting of Disney merchandise. Unusual for a crackdown like this to focus on a particular company’s IP, but (a) Disney is such a huge chunk of the market and (b) the company is building a theme park in Shanghai. Seems like all roads, no matter where, lead to the House of Mouse.
Is Star Wars the (Old) New Frozen?
In the decade following the release of the original Star Wars movie in 1977 the licensing business overall grew more than 10 times, from $4.9 billion in retail sales that year to $54 billion in 1986, according to The Licensing Letter Databook.
Star Wars is credited as the catalyst for much of that growth — certainly in the entertainment sector, but across the rest of the licensing business as well. In recent years, worldwide retail sales of merchandise based on the Star Wars characters and imagery has hovered in the vicinity of $2 billion annually.
So as the rollout of new Star Wars merchandise begins this Friday, with a new movie coming in December, what are the prospects for Star Wars sales now?
A widely reported bullish analysis of Disney’s stock by Macquarie Securities analyst Tim Nollen puts the number at $5 billion in the first year following release of the movie (which is a funny time to start counting, since the merchandise is going on sale more than three months before the movie comes out). Good forecast or is Nollen building unrealistic expectations for investors?
“Star Wars is on a whole other level from anything we’ve ever done,” Dynomighty’s Sydney Pham told me at the NY NOW gift show in New York recently. Dynomighty makes Tyvek wallets, passport holders, and other accessories, and festooned its booth with Star Wars displays.
“We started pre-selling the classic images a month before the [mid-August] show; we’ll have new images from the movie for the spring. But even the classic images are outselling all of the best-sellers we’ve had for eight years,” Pham said.
That’s pretty strong language. Joyce Washnik, editor of Giftbeat, a newsletter for the gift industry, sees Star Wars crossing all retail channels, including specialty gift stores which, traditionally, might not touch a pop culture phenomenon such as Star Wars because so much merchandise is available at Walmart, Target, and everywhere else.
Still, Washnik says, gift stores had a great run with Frozen and she sees Star Wars following in those footsteps. Frozen did just shy of $1 billion in retail sales of consumer products in its first year following release, based on my analysis of various Disney statements over the past few months. And that was for a property no one had ever heard of and for which Disney probably could have done more had the studio, retailers, and manufacturers anticipated the immediate success of the movie. (Not being able to anticipate that is why movies and merchandising are art not science, thank you.) In the case of Frozen, the licensing program had to be revved up quickly in response to the movie’s wildfire takeoff; needless to say, Disney knew what to do.
For perspective, Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty do a little less than $4 billion each in retail sales of licensed merchandise annually, worldwide. Disney Princess and Winnie the Pooh are just below $3 billion each, and Cars and Star Wars have done about $2 billion each. Note that all but one of those — Hello Kitty — are owned by Disney.
If the new Star Wars movie bombs, which seems unlikely, Disney will still have built momentum and had three months to sell the goods. That’s analogous to most fast food promotions which end before the movie opens…just in case.
Nollen writes that Star Wars “could generate $5 billion in consumer merchandise sales in its first year of release…[and] this would easily net Disney about $500 million in licensing and retail revenue.”
Using the loosest of calculations, $5 billion — which is greater than the value of the entire licensing business pre-Star Wars! — would be $2.5 billion at wholesale. Since royalties are mostly calculated on wholesale, and the rule-of-thumb for rough estimates across all categories is a 10% royalty rate, that’s $250 million net to Disney. Even if the royalty is higher (likely), it’s still not going to come to $500 million. But $250 million? Even Mickey wouldn’t sneeze at that.
Good forecast or unrealistic expectation? As Robert Browning wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Written for Star Wars, no?
Will Minions Freeze Out Frozen, The Way Frozen Froze Out Everyone Else?
Licensed Minions products will be everywhere in advance of the July 2015 release date for the Despicable Me spinoff, right in time for the all-important back-to-school season. The question for licensees and retailers is whether the Frozen short that Disney is releasing in front of Cinderella next month, and the complementary marketing the Disney machine will undertake until the next full-length feature, will keep Frozen dominant right through to the next movie or whether Minions can steal share of market the way Frozen did from Barbie, American Girl, and just about every other doll on the market in 2014.