Licensing’s feature frenzy

Licensing 99, this year's edition of the annual June licensing trade show in New York, found the market at a crowded plateau, but new licensing programs for upcoming theatrical releases still managed to generate pockets of frantic activity....
July 1, 1999

Licensing 99, this year’s edition of the annual June licensing trade show in New York, found the market at a crowded plateau, but new licensing programs for upcoming theatrical releases still managed to generate pockets of frantic activity.

Universal Studios had one of the busiest booths at the show, with much of the action centered around live-action/CGI movie The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, scheduled for a summer 2000 release. Already, the studio has signed 48 licensees, including Fruit of the Loom (underwear), PCA Apparel (children’s sleepwear), Stanley De Santis (T-shirts and sweatshirts) Mary Meyer Corporation (high-end plush), Houghton Mifflin Interactive (computer software) and Simon & Schuster (publishing).

Other Universal darlings included Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a live-action film starring Jim Carey as the Grinch, coming out for Thanksgiving 2000, and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, a live-action prequel to the Flintstones feature released in 1994. Scheduled for release in spring 2000, the prequel comes with a licensing program focusing on gadgets from the film and new characters such as Puppy Dino and The Great Gazoo.

Not to be outdone, Warner Bros. showcased two features of its own-Osmosis Jones and The Iron Giant-as well as announcing tentative plans to produce new live-action films for Batman and Superman.

Animated feature Osmosis Jones, which was green-lit just days before the show, takes its audience on a tour through the body of construction worker Frank Detomello as white blood cell cop Ozzy tracks down an evil virus introduced to Frank’s body by a dirty meatball. The theatrical release is set for holiday 2000, and Warner Bros. Television Animation has already green-lit 13 episodes of an animated series to air on the Kids’ WB! as well. Warner Bros. is currently seeking licensees for all major categories.

The Iron Giant, an animated feature debuting on August 6, has already signed most licensees, including master toy Trendmasters, Freeze, Fruit of the Loom, Innovative Fashion Group, S. Goldberg & Co., Scholastic and DecoPac.

Warner Bros. also announced a new licensing program for Cartoon Network original animated series The Powerpuff Girls. Master toy licensee Trendmasters heads up a program aimed at girls ages six to 11 with plans to hit mass retail with playsets, action figures and vehicles starting late fall. The apparel category has also been filled, but there are still vacancies in the gift, stationery and back-to-school supplies categories.

The big push from Sony Signatures was for live-action/CGI feature Stuart Little, and live-action TV spin-off feature Charlie’s Angels, as well as animated series Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, new CGI series Max Steel, animated series Starship Troopers: Bug Wars and a revival of the video game-based property Q*bert.

Sony announced plans to support Stuart Little’s December release with an in-school program created with Scholastic. The program will kick off in October and feature a teaching guide, a student take-home assignment and an essay contest featuring a prize package of Stuart Little merchandise. Radio Shack has signed on to cross-promote the feature with a radio-controlled vehicle inspired by Stuart’s car, and Hasbro Interactive has signed on to produce a Stuart Little CD-ROM game for the fall.

Hasbro Interactive will also be relaunching the Q*Bert franchise with new 3-D and classic versions of the `80s arcade game, shipping for Sony’s PlayStation and Windows-based computers this fall. An animated TV series is also in the works, with a licensing program featuring Q*Bert toys, plush, board games and publishing aimed at kids ages four to 11 kicking off next year.

Executive VP of worldwide consumer products Peter Dang also announced that Imageworks president Ken Ralston has been signed to direct Jumanji II, set to release for holiday 2000. Dang stressed that Ralston has already started designing a flock of distinctive animal hybrids for the film, which will make for a healthier licensing program than the regular animals in the original. Other Columbia projects to watch for include Trumpet of the Swan, an animated feature aimed at kids ages two to five, releasing theatrically for holiday 2000 and on video for first quarter 2001, and Manchester Prep, a Cruel Intentions spin-off series for teens and young adults, debuting on Fox this fall.

Children’s Television Workshop, which is co-producing animated series Dragon Tales with Columbia TriStar Television Group, announced that Hasbro has been signed as master toy for the series. Hasbro’s Dragon Tales line of feature and non-feature plush, games, puzzles and preschool toys will begin shipping in April 2000.

Twentieth Century Fox had yet another new feature to announce, as well as plans to rejuvenate the Simpsons franchise with a big marketing push. Animated sci-fi feature Titan A.E., the second release from Fox Animation Studios, is slated for a summer 2000 release, and Fox L&M is gearing up for a full licensing program covering publishing, apparel, gifts, accessories and other categories. A fashion show for potential partners in New York showed dark, post-apocalyptic, prototype apparel aimed at the teen set. The master apparel licensee will be announced shortly, with the first duds showcasing at Magic in late August.

Family Guy was on the block as well, hoping to add to a slate of existing licensees including master toy Fun-For-All (which is planning to produce a plush line based on the show’s characters), Kalan, Winterland, Ata-Boy Magnets, Headstart SportsWear and Stanley Desantis. Fox also announced a deal with Squeeze to produce a teen line of necklaces, bracelets, rings and hair clips, inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The line kicked off at WB Stores, Miller’s Outpost and Hot Topic late June and retails for US$5 to US$12.

On the marketing side, Fox is hoping to inject some more life into an expanded Simpsons program with a 10-month multipartner cross-promotion kicking off next year. Coordinated by the newly formed News Corp. One marketing division, and supported across the board by several News Corp. groups, the promotion will feature Nestle’s Butterfinger chocolate bar brand and herald the signing of a new master toy licensee to make interactive toys with voice capabilities. Other new merchandise planned for the series includes plush backpacks coming out for kids and teens this fall, and new licensed kids apparel with an edgy skateboarder look.

Over at Viacom, there are plans to revitalize the Terry Toons franchise, which features Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle and others. Senior VP of international licensing Jonathan Zilli says Viacom is looking at how to repackage its library of 680 episodes for TV and launch a licensing program for kids ages six to nine.

Viacom has also expanded the role played by Cinar with The Busy World of Richard Scarry animated series from producer to licensing and entertainment partner. Cinar now holds responsibility for licensing the entertainment and education categories, as well as developing a new TV series based on the property. Zilli adds that Viacom has found Richard Scarry’s world a little too busy for licensing, and will narrow the program to focus on a few select characters in the future.

Finally, the big news at The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company was that PBS will be stripping live-action series Noddy (BBC Worldwide/The Enid Blyton Company/Catalyst Entertainment) starting in September. Kenn Viselman, president of itsy bitsy, which has North American licensing rights for the show, says he now plans to accelerate the property’s plunge into the mass market and hit mass retail by holiday 2000. JCPenney has already signed on for a retail promotion to push soft toys and apparel this spring, and Viselman says he will soon announce new additions to a licensing roster which currently includes GUND, Learning Curve, PolyGram and Harper Collins.

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