Sequel licensing combines the tried-and-true and the truly new

With the continued popularity of the blockbuster sequel, coupled with many more launching in this first year of the new millennium, what does it take to make your licensing program stand out the second or even third time around?...
January 1, 2000

With the continued popularity of the blockbuster sequel, coupled with many more launching in this first year of the new millennium, what does it take to make your licensing program stand out the second or even third time around?

To Tim Rothwell, senior VP of domestic licensing and retail at Universal Studios Consumer Products, licensing a sequel means entering more familiar territory where lessons about what works have already been worked out, to some extent.

‘We’ve actually learned a lot. On the first Flintstones, the merchandising and licensing program was based more on the live-action adaptation…[it was] not the best way to maximize the merchandising program.’

This time around, with Viva Rock Vegas set to launch in May 2000, Rothwell’s team is going about the merch program with a scaled-down, more focused approach. All merch will contain both elements of classic characters and a decidedly ‘Vegas’ approach-a Viva Rock Vegas poker game is planned, for example. As well, since the flick takes us back to Fred and Wilma’s courtship, the consumer product division can take advantage of the younger look of the characters to make product that is fresh. In Rothwell’s opinion, line art works much better for a licensing program than art based on live-action characters. Products will range from plush and novelty giftware, to a smaller apparel range than the first flick, along with food and candy, tattoos, stickers, balloons and posters. Once again, the mass market will be the target.

Rothwell says each sequel release is different, however, and one has to be aware of how successful the first program was, and in which categories. For example, in working on the licensing plans for the third Jurassic Park flick , which is set for release in 2001, an even larger program is planned because The Lost World’s set of licensed merch was such a success-somewhat of an anomaly for a sequel, says Rothwell. Although not many licensees are signed at this point, so far Hasbro has been granted the master toy license for the triquel. Also, the third program will mean branching out into some nontraditional categories for a flick about dinosaurs, such as the drug and grocery markets.

As for The Mummy, which garnered over US$400 million at the box office, it had a much more focused licensing program than The Flintstones, which will be broadened when the sequel hits sometime in 2001.

‘The popularity caught everyone off guard,’ says Rothwell, and he predicts this year’s Mummy merch program will do even better than the first, which was buried on shelves loaded with Star Wars product. This time around, he says he wants to create a substantial toy line that will include action figures, along with Halloween items like yard art, cards and T-shirts. Although no licensees have yet been signed, he predicts most of the old partners will be keen to participate.

When licensing a sequel, it’s beneficial to keep previous partners on-board for a number of reasons, he says. That way, they are more loyal to the brand, and in turn, they help to develop the brand in the marketplace.

The Rugrats Movie sequel, The Rugrats In Paris, which is set to open next Christmas, is a bit of a different story, says Leigh Anne Brodsky, senior VP of consumer products for Nickelodeon. That’s because the licensing program for the Rugrats property is ongoing. The new movie will serve mainly to ‘inject excitement and a reason to update the product line.’ Currently there are over 100 licensees.

The most important goal in developing a licensing program for a sequel, says Brodsky, is to make sure it ‘reflects moments of the movie that were high points for kids.’ To that end, the consumer products division at Nick is working closely with the script department. Mattel has been granted the master toy license, and other major partners include Illinois-based Tiger Electronics, Michigan-based Flying Colors for stationery kits and activity centers, New York’s Freeze and Giant for apparel, along with Mattel Media for CD-ROMs and video games. Brodsky says there will be some new licensees in the video game area and some extra titles. Books will also be a big part of the program, including coloring and activity books from Ashland, Ohio-based Landoll and novellas by Simon & Schuster of New York. All merch should launch by November 2000.

The licensing program will also be boosted by new characters that often help create more imaginative art for the licensing programs, especially in the book category, Brodsky says.

In the case of Disney’s Fantasia/2000, Disney Consumer Products spokesman John Singh says the program will remain small and upscale. The film launched this month at IMAX theaters across North America and will then have a wide release next summer. Although it’s a stretch to call Fantasia/2000 a sequel 59 years after the original came out, similar concepts and spirit will be reflected in the licensed merchandise.

For example, Walt Disney’s Burbank-based Art Classics Group is producing a line of limited-edition porcelain figurines. The collection was launched in art galleries and department stores this month. Singh says the program will be focused on jewelry, watches, desk accessories, giftware, fine chocolates and cookie jars. Compared to the large number (about 50) of licensees for November’s Toy Story 2, Fantasia/2000 has only a handful.

Singh says licensing to Disney is increasingly about relationships with partners and not about collecting a large number of licensees.

In Rothwell’s opinion, licensing the sequel means trying not to repeat the mistakes made the first time. The most meaningful aspect, to him, is that you are more able to see what will be a success. ‘You have more manageable expectations.’

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