Best of the Year – Licensees

We're continuing the unveiling of KidScreen's Best of the Year Awards nominees this week with our five Best Licensees nominees. Don't forget to rock the vote and cast your ballot at
November 21, 2008

D3Publisher of America

Video games are a great way to bring kids into the heart of a property, and D3Publisher of America has done a superb job maximizing its licensed slate this year. The company is selective about its licenses and has taken advantage of the immersive opportunities the category has to offer, from its Shaun the Sheep DS title incorporating mini-games that bring Shaun’s quirky character to life, to Ben 10: Alien Force giving players the opportunity to change into Ben’s myriad aliens. D3 continues to make headway into the kids space, having released a couple of Naruto titles this fall, while prepping for its January release of a title based on Universal’s animated feature Coraline in January. It will also be releasing an Astro Boy game to coincide with the new animated movie in Q4 2009.


Bandai has come a long way since it launched Tamagotchi back in 1997, the egg-shaped virtual pet that sold 40 million units worldwide. Boys action properties are where this licensee excels, and the toyco has been a strong longstanding partner for Disney’s Power Rangers, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. The latest PR iteration, Jungle Fury, launched this past fall, complete with an extensive range of action figures and role-play items. And the 2008 line for Ben 10: Alien Force yielded some way-cool toys, including the Alien Creation Chamber and Ultimate Omnitrix, really making the fans feel like they’re part of Ben’s world. That was enough to grab the attention of Adness Entertainment, which signed Bandai as global master toy licensee for its hot new boy-skewing TV show and property, Kamen Rider Dragon Knight.


Certainly the in-house portfolio of the world’s second-largest toyco is nothing to sniff at, and Hasbro’s strong performance heading into the last quarter of 2008 has largely been driven by the likes of Transformers, My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop. However, licenses have had a significant role to play in Hasbro’s 2008 success. The five-year master toy deal struck with Marvel in 2006 continues to bear fruit – even as Spider-Man came down from the highs of its last movie-driven year – thanks to reluctant hero Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. With US$600 million at worldwide box office and counting, the surprise hit film Iron Man has propelled Hasbro’s line of related playthings to bestseller status. And with new films in the pipeline each year through 2012, including Iron Man, you can expect more Marvel action from Hasbro. Speaking of action, the company also had a hit on its hands with the latest iteration of Star Wars toys based on the Clone Wars. To accompany the debut of the series on Cartoon Network, Hasbro and other licensees managed to claim Toys ‘R’ Us in the name of the Force through in-store exclusive boutiques that opened at the retailer’s outlets across the country last summer. Finally, on the international front, Hasbro UK’s In the Night Garden line moved from strength to strength, with items based on the series moving up the bestseller charts and onto ‘hot holiday toy’ lists across the region.

NCircle Entertainment

Founded in 2007 on the notion that there was a viable business in licensing episodic TV properties that might be overlooked by the big studios for the home entertainment market, NCircle’s model is bearing fruit. The Bonita Springs, Florida-based licensing division of Alliance Entertainment Corporation, which manufactures in-store fixtures for home entertainment products and is a leading CD and DVD wholesaler, has distribution at more than 5,000 stores across the US. And for that reason, it’s been steadily getting placement for the slew of titles it has licensed over the past year, including WordWorld, Will & Dewitt, Pocoyo and Skunk Fu! The company has also been pursuing unique retail opportunities and promotions for its licenses, notably the Perfect for the Car grocery channel program launched this summer in which NCircle priced titles at US$6.99 each and packaged them in POS displays promoting their suitability for entertaining kids during long car rides. This month, the company is offering a 2.5-hour Front Row Fun DVD featuring segments from its licensed titles, distributed as a gift with purchase at US Toys ‘R’ Us stores.

Spin Master

This Toronto-based company has been busy this year in its effort to maintain the title of fastest-growing toyco in North America. One might think feeding the frenzy surrounding its own property, Bakugan, and its related Bakugan Battle Brawlers toys would be enough to occupy Spin Master’s time. But solid in-bound licensing programs have put it on the Licensee of the Year list. The innovative approach taken to create the Yo Gabba Gabba! line is a prime example. The toyco had the preschool series’ creative team involved from the get-go to produce a music-based toy line that truly reflected the bright, energetic and non-traditional qualities of the show. The resulting playthings have gained recognition as one of the top new preschool lines to hit mass-market retailers this year. Spin Master has also had success with bringing boys back into toy vehicle aisles with the collectible skateboard line, Tech Deck. Its success has largely been driven by a licensing strategy of obtaining the rights to reproduce mini versions of boards and accessories from leading skateboard manufacturers to maintain the line’s authenticity.

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