After two years of market constriction, the industry barreled into Licensing Show 2003 on a high fuelled by last year’s US$225-million increase in royalty revenues. And even though the floor was more crowded (a 7.5% increase in show attendance will do that), the trend-spotting skies were clearer than they’ve been in a while.
Although some TV and merch pundits have speculated that anime is on its last legs, the genre certainly appeared robust at the show. Five years after its U.S. launch, the Pokémon franchise is chugging along to the tune of US$1 billion in worldwide 2002 revenue. And according to NPD Group data, 4Kids property Yu-Gi-Oh! is a red-hot license in toys and video games, ranking number-one on NPD’s list of top-selling licenses from January to April 2003 and laying claim to eight of the top-10 licensed toys in April.
Pokémon’s longevity and Yu-Gi-Oh!’s meteoric rise to the top have convinced licensors to commit to the genre, and many came to the show with anime properties in hand. City of Industry, Caifornia-based Playhut Entertainment, a fledgling production and distribution company backed by play environment manufacturer Playhut, brought more than 25 anime imports to pique U.S. interests. Primed for first roll-out is Bird Island, a sci-fi action series for the nine-plus set about a teen with supernatural powers who fights baddies while searching for the truth about his human/alien heritage.
In partnership with General Mills, DIC Entertainment launched its newly acquired anime property Knights of the Zodiac (known internationally as Saint Seiya) with a starting roster of licensees that includes Bandai (master toy for North America), JEM (apparel), Disguise (costumes) and ADV (home video). The series, which is slated to air on Cartoon Network in August, is billed as a futuristic action-adventure saga that pits good against evil as the Knights of Athena battle the Knights of Aries for control of the Golden Armor of Sagittarius and the world.
Hamtaro licensor ShoPro Entertainment’s MegaMan: NT Warrior, which debuted on Kids’ WB! in May as the number-two show with boys six to 11, seems pegged for good things. Based on the long-running video game from Capcom, the series follows the adventures of fifth-grader Lan, whose alter ego is a virus-fighting virtual superhero named MegaMan.
One of the most talked-about properties at the show was Sony’s long-in-development Astro Boy revamp. The brand has earned more than US$3 billion in Japan alone, which bodes well for its worldwide merch potential. And Kids’ WB! has ordered 25 episodes of the series out of the gate instead of the usual 13, which the net’s senior VP John Hardman says is extremely rare. With a soon-to-be-announced master toy partner on-board and Sega Worldwide set to debut video games beginning late this year, Astro Boy could be 2004′s big winner.
Hispanic culture seemed to have a bigger presence at this year’s show, with Scholastic Entertainment working on The Misadventures of Maya and Miguel for PBS’s fall 2004 schedule. Developed in response to an open-call for pitches under the theme ‘All America’s Kids’ that PBS put out last year, the 65 x half-hour series is about a brother and sister duo and the community in which they live. A licensing program is expected to launch as early as spring 2005, and Scholastic Entertainment president Deborah Forte feels the series’ most merchandisable elements are music and fashion.
Warner Bros. Consumer Products is putting together a spring merch program for Mexican wrestling series Mucha Lucha that will involve apparel, toys, books, party goods and video games. The second season of the show will air this fall, and additional plans for the property include a mini-DVD retail promo (fall 2003), a feature-length video and a feature film.
The down-aging of preschool and kids properties is a cyclical trend, and the infant-version wheel was certainly spinning at Licensing Show. Scholastic’s Clifford will recall his city-dwelling puppy days in a new 25-episode series debuting this fall on PBS, and a toddler line extension will hit shelves next spring. Existing Clifford licensees Toy Island and Children’s Apparel Network are already on-board, with an infant products line currently being considered.
After climbing to tween/teen and adult heights over the past few years, MGM property The Pink Panther will test the infant product waters in 2004 with a new baby line focused on the zero to four set.