Licensing Show checkup

Licensors are looking to paint the Javits Center green this month as licensees and retailers descend upon Licensing 2001
International in search of that rare kid property sub-species-the elusive long-legged evergreen. Current market conditions are forcing licensors to weave safety netting...
June 1, 2001

Licensors are looking to paint the Javits Center green this month as licensees and retailers descend upon Licensing 2001

International in search of that rare kid property sub-species-the elusive long-legged evergreen. Current market conditions are forcing licensors to weave safety netting alongside the magic throughout their licensing programs, with the words longevity, measured and patience on many a set of lips pre-event.

Following a pattern well-documented in KidScreen over the past year, Sony Pictures Family Entertainment (SPFE) is developing addendum animated series for its slate of upcoming kid flicks (under the studio’s Columbia Pictures label) as a buffer to the three-month exposure window stigma attached to film properties. Licensing arm Sony Pictures Consumer Products (SPCP) has created a deal structure that allows licensees to package SPFE films and animated series into one agreement. ‘Having these animated series in the fall after a summer release gives licensees the continuity they need in this market to drive retail,’ says Al Ovadia, SPCP’s executive VP. ‘It allows them to take ownership of a property over an extended period of time, creating movie-based product that can roll over into the animated series. And everybody has been exceptionally responsive to that.’

Columbia Pictures’ summer 2002 sequels Stuart Little 2 and Men in Black II are currently being licensed under the new deal structure. Hasbro (master toy) and Activision (video games) have hopped into Stuart’s little red car, and SPCP hopes the animated series-slated to premiere on HBO Family in fall 2002-will provide a long, smooth ride. At press time, Ovadia was seeking additional partners in apparel, accessories, collectibles, domestics, gifts and novelties, Halloween, stationery and party goods, housewares, interactive and publishing, though he expected the bulk of the program to be in place prior to Licensing Show. The sequel to 1997′s US$585-million box office hit Men in Black has attracted the interest of video game manufacturer Infogrames, and Ovadia was negotiating a master toy license at press time. Building on the success of Men in Black: the Series’ four-year run on Kids’ WB!, an all-new animated series is currently in development for fall 2002.

Tying into another current market trend (see ‘My retailer, my vendor,’ page 74), SPCP will focus on a retail exclusive for SPFE-produced preschool series Harold and the Purple Crayon. Two retailers were in talks with SPCP at press time, with an announcement expected at Licensing Show. ‘We see this property as a long-term opportunity that allows us to be more patient and less hurried in our licensing efforts,’ says Ovadia. ‘We’re trying to be more particular in how we manage this.’ Briarpatch (board games, puzzles), CTI (balloons) and Peaceable Kingdom (greeting cards, stationery) have already signed on the crayoned line. However, Ovadia says the box is not yet full and he’s open to exploring additional opportunities. Based on the book by Crockett Johnson, the series is set for a January 2002 debut on HBO Family.

And while many licensors explore exclusives to test the market on untried properties and potential evergreens, HIT Entertainment’s U.S. division has signed and is seeking exclusives for overseas hit Bob the Builder and Barney, arguably a classic (love him or hate him, you know his name and face). Sears has signed an exclusive deal for Bob the Builder apparel, and will be setting up in-store boutiques with a wide range of products (see ‘Bob sets up shop at Sears,’ page 62). ‘Our efforts have been carefully seated so as not to over-proliferate the market with product. We’re working with a smaller group of licensees that cover a broader range of product,’ says Holly Stein, HIT’s senior VP of consumer products for North American operations.

Thus HIT’s Licensing Show focus for Bob will be on shopping for retailers beyond the Sears deal, though licensing opportunities are open for year two of the program, mainly in packaged food, branded food, promo partners and QSR deals. ‘That is something we deliberately held back on because it’s not a movie property where you want to do everything at once,’ says Stein. ‘We wanted to have something fresh to go back to the marketplace with every year.’

With an all-new Barney series slated to premiere on PBS in fall 2002, HIT is also looking to put a fresh licensing face on the famed purple dinosaur, a property newly acquired through HIT’s purchase of Lyrick. Kids Headquarters has just signed on as master apparel licensee, and HIT will be working on an exclusive with an as-yet-unnamed retailer for spring ’02. With two new partners in driver categories-Fisher-Price was recently granted the master toy license-Stein predicts a turnaround for the Barney business, one that will open up new opportunities for additional partners. Scholastic, recently named exclusive U.S. publisher for Barney, will release a line of hardcover, paperback, coloring and activity books this fall. Categories currently available include packaged goods, domestics, housewares and gifts.

Brands are also gaining market momentum pre-show, and with licensees pegging brands for tween girls as a major interest (see ‘Pre-market reality check,’ page 80), licensors with such gems in their bag of tricks should fare well. Debra Joester, president and CEO of licensing agency The Joester Loria Group, has high hopes for her new tween/teen graphic brand Wanna B, a collection of sassy girl characters that has attracted the interest of Mead (stationery) and Berkshire (BTS). ‘They’re fun, they’re collectible, they’re a great alter ego for the consumer, and they’re readily identifiable through their graphic component,’ says Joester, who was in discussions with licensees for apparel, footwear, watches, backpacks and fashion accessories at press time. But the largest opportunity for the brand lies in the paper and stationery category, with greeting cards as a major focus.

Joester is also open to promo partnerships for Wanna B, an area traditionally dominated by entertainment properties. ‘We haven’t seen promotional partnerships for some of these properties because historically, promo partners are looking for that high-level awareness that the entertainment component brings,’ says Joester. She believes that as it’s becoming more difficult to identify which entertainment properties will prove successful, doors previously closed to non-entertainment properties are swinging open.

Jacqueline Blum, president of licensing, sales and marketing for mag publisher emap usa, concurs. At press time, Blum was in talks with two companies on 2002 promotions for extreme sports property Gravity Games. She says that both have previously pursued entertainment properties only, and are now looking for brand opportunities.

Pegging Gravity Games and Teen magazine as emap’s headliner properties for Licensing Show, Blum will be looking for additional apparel categories for Gravity Games’ licensing program for boys and young men (Freeze is already on-board for T-shirts). Just-inked Gravity Games licensees include MBL (footwear) and Pyramid (bags). Teen’s licensing program, directed at girls 12 and up, focuses on accessories, fashion and style. Categories currently open to licensing include backpacks, BTS, room décor, crafts/activity kits and footwear. Blum’s team is also seeking retail and promotional partnerships for the brand.

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