In the grand scheme of the kids entertainment industry, surely missing one market event isn’t a big deal. Or is it? Maybe not so much a big deal as an indication of where the business is going. Lego significantly reduced its role at Toy Fair 2000. Mattel followed in February, with Hasbro indicating a similar position for next year. Some suggest an American mainstay, an industry institution, is falling. As some of the bigger players in the production industry start to similarly scale back at other market events, I started to wonder whether these were isolated, economically-specific scenarios, or if there was something more to it. . .
Warner Bros. recently announced that it wouldn’t be attending MIP-TV. Coming off of a massive merger, the company targeted MIP-TV as the first
opportunity to cut costs and provide some breathing room. When business is soft, people do tend to scale down.
But maybe, I would argue, the downtime is exactly when you should be spending. It’s that old ‘you’ve got to spend money to make money’ adage. The smaller companies are singing that tune, ramping up to make a big splash at MIP-TV, while the bigger players, for all their size, become that much harder to find.
‘Never take your face away from a buyer,’ says Kenn Viselman, chairman of The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company. Like Licensing 2000 International (where the company reported a 40% stronger presence than the year before), itsy is mounting a big MIP-TV push. Still, Viselman can understand why a market like MIP isn’t as crucial to a company like Warner as it is to him. ‘The big companies meet with the buyers anyway,’ he reasons, ‘and there’s a certain arrogance in the bigger guys; they don’t want to be perceived as competing with the smaller guys.’
Still, looking to Mattel’s private showing at its home base in Tucson, Arizona, an exclusivity is established. The problem, perhaps, in pulling out of a major market event is you can’t see your product on the shelf with everyone else’s, you can’t gauge industry response.
‘Competition is good,’ says John Morris, sales director for HIT Entertainment. ‘MIP’s a great meeting place. You get a good feeling for the market, and there’s fast turnaround on whether people like your product or not. So long as our clients keep going to MIP, so will we.’
There’s also an argument of obligation. If you’re in the kids business, insists Joel Andryc, executive VP of programming and development for Fox Kids Network and Fox Family Channel, then MIP-TV is a must-attend event. ‘It’s locked into my schedule,’ says Andryc, since as a buyer, he needs to see what is out there on a global level.
Focus is an issue, and one reason I’m sure MIP isn’t as crucial to WB (although there’s no indication that the company won’t return next year). With feature films and the scope of its programming in mind, the company probably relies on up-front deals and people knocking on its doors at home.
For those reasons, people like Pat Ryan, DIC’s executive VP of international sales, don’t know why WB had such a big presence in the first place. For her part, Ryan says DIC is really gearing up for MIP-TV this year, flexing its once-again-independent muscles.
Leading to some clarity: Like Toy Fair, it seems that whatever the reasons for companies pulling out, the result is that the events are becoming a showcase for the more independent, perhaps smaller and more focused producer. When WB did go to MIP-TV, or when any large company is in attendance, they tend to monopolize buyers’ time. By pulling out, suggests itsy’s Viselman, the smaller prodcos can flourish and start stealing the show.
Word to the wise: W. K. Kellogg was one of the few major North American packaged goods manufacturers to continue advertising during the Great Depression, gaining incredible traction with consumers, great cut-through and good PR. Some see the majors pulling back from markets as inevitable, as their business become more internationally entrenched and integrated. Some see it as penny-wise, pound-foolish.