At a time when the global toy industry is rapidly rebooting classic properties for today’s digital natives, there’s at least one company looking outside the shrinking pool of 1980s and 1990s hits to create new products.
Toyco Jazwares is instead combing the burgeoning realm of digital-born properties. Scoring the global toy license to Minecraft in 2013, the Sunrise, Florida-based company now knows what a big digitally driven hit looks like. And for its next move in the space, Jazwares has honed in on the growing ranks of YouTube and social media stars to launch a new line of plush, figures and role-play items.
Tube Heroes launched earlier this summer with a Toys ‘R’ Us exclusive in the US and will head to global mass retail in August. With Jazwares making toys and overseeing an extended licensing program, key partners already on board for the international launch are Bioworld (apparel) and Accessory Innovations (accessories).
Tube Heroes unites a range of today’s top online entertainers and personalities under a single umbrella. Combined, its star-studded lineup boasts more than 83 million subscribers and 19 billion views (and counting) across a variety of social platforms. There are more than 40 digital celebs represented in the initial range, including the likes of popular YouTube gamers Sky, CaptainSparklez and TDM, whose channels boast more than 11 million, 8.6 million and 6.8 million subscribers, respectively.
Bill Graham, VP of business development at Jazwares, says in recent years both consumers and retailers have come to see these online personalities as stars of the new frontier in entertainment. And it’s time they got their due. “These are not people who are isolated from the retail and entertainment world anymore,” he contends. “They’re very well-known within some of the most important demographics in our retail space.”
Graham adds that retailer response and engagement has been extraordinary. “Fans are excited. The talent themselves are very excited,” he says. “It’s kind of a cool, crowning moment for a person when they receive a toy based on their persona for the first time.”
The Tube Heroes line reflects the unique features of each chosen star. And because they are in fact heroes, each character comes with its own mythical backstory. For example, the ExplodingTNT core figure comes with a shield and nunchaku to set off his accompanying dynamite. Described as a man of few words, his powers revolve around all things that go boom. TNT (2.2 million subscribers) is also one of the most powerful heroes of all time because he can’t die—he simply regenerates instantaneously, any time he explodes.
Assembling the initial Tube Heroes lineup was an organic process carried out over the past few years, Graham says, as Jazwares followed the rise of digital stars’ visibility in the entertainment industry. Obviously the number of views and followers each individual had weighed on the selection process, but Jazwares placed more value on the quality of views, viewership trends and qualitative fan appeal. To secure the licensing agreements with the 40-plus members of the first line, Jazwares worked directly with the talent or their representatives.
While the toys officially target kids ages eight and up, with such a varied cast of characters creating content for both young and mature audiences, Jazwares is already seeing a broad spectrum of consumers. “The interesting thing about the brand is really how wide an audience it could ultimately appeal to,”
Going forward with the brand and its large-scale CP program, Jazwares is preparing to announce several new partnerships ahead of the global rollout, namely in categories like bedding, sleepwear, publishing and trading cards. As the brand grows and builds momentum, Jazwares will look to bring more YouTube and online stars into the fold and expand into more entertainment genres, product categories, and into both the girls and boys aisles at retail.
“But at the same time we want to be measured, making sure we’re adding on in the right ways and keeping a very tight and focused program,” says Graham.