"Frozen" just won't let go. The Disney movie phenomenon is just nine months old, yet it's the highest-grossing animated film of all time with more than $1.2 billion in ticket sales, a best-selling album and a hot-selling DVD -- and it's still going strong. "Frozen" is expected to sell $1 billion in licensed merchandise this year.
"In 2014, 'Frozen' is more popular than when it opened in 2013 and momentum has picked up, not slowed down," said Jim Silver, CEO and editor-in-chief of TTPM, a site where consumers can research and locate playthings. He said toys alone will account for $500 million in sales this year, with "Frozen" apparel and other licensed merchandise adding a similar amount to hit the billion-dollar merchandise mark.
So how is Disney keeping momentum going on an aging property in an industry where many theatrical releases fizzle within weeks? By keeping it current with fresh content.
Catchy music and a well-conceived story, pent-up demand for merchandise and popularity that accelerated with DVD and digital downloads in the spring are some of the reasons we're still talking about "Frozen." While analysts agree Disney was caught off guard by the popularity of the movie when it hit theaters in November, the entertainment giant is no longer playing catch up.
"When the movie first came out we did some research at retail channels and were struck by how few consumer products there were in general. I don't think Disney expected the property to be so wildly successful. Now they're trying to give it as many legs as they can," said Wynne Tyree, president of Smarty Pants, a market research and consulting firm.
Those "legs" aren't coming from overt TV advertising or corporate social-media blasts pushing "Frozen," but from content. Disney has been orchestrating and enabling a steady stream of "Frozen" content since the beginning of the year.
A sing-a-long subtitled version of the movie hit theaters in January. A karaoke app ($7.99) was launched in May, while additional content, such as quizzes on Anna's and Elsa's fashion style or stylized photos from a "Frozen"-inspired wedding, runs daily on its official blogs and social media.
In May during the last few seconds of Disney-owned ABC's "Once Upon a Time" season finale, the company revealed that Elsa would join the cast in Storybrooke, and accompanied by sister Anna and boyfriend Kristoff, when the show returns in September. In sweltering July, a YouTube video and Disney Channel music video with 26 of its popular tween and teen stars singing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" was broadcast. A Disney on Ice take on "Frozen" was announced in May and arenas are reportedly selling out for a fall debut of the year-long tour. And an in-the-works Broadway show portends even more content.
And that's just Disney's doing. Licensees such as Mattel, which holds the fashion-doll license, and JAKKS Pacific, which has toddler dolls and dress-up clothing, are making sure "Frozen" products and marketing are front and center for back-to-school and Halloween, which will set the stage for the all-important holiday season. Both companies reported shortages of "Frozen" merchandise in recent quarterly reports, while noting that the "Frozen" products they did have to offer lifted sales.
"There's going to be a stress level about 'Frozen' this holiday season," said Ginny Rothschild, VP-U.S. bed and bath at Walmart, at an editor's event earlier this year. "We're going to have it. We've got it in so many different categories."
Other official licensees with forthcoming merchandise include KIDdesigns' microphone and talking boom-box, Fast Forward backpacks, and according to Disney, "Frozen" food, including 16 new "Frozen"-themed food and health products including fresh apples and grapes, juice, yogurt, bandages and an oral-care line. There will also be 50 print and electronic books.
Disney declined to comment on its strategy. In a second-quarter results conference call announcing a 27% profit increase thanks in large part to "Frozen," Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger called the franchise one of Disney's top five properties and said it expects to "take full advantage of that over the next ... at least five years."
"This is one of those cases where the content won. It was not so much about marketing, it's just really a story that resonates, particularly with young girls," said Marty Brochstein, senior VP at the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. "A lot of big licensing successes have begun at least somewhat under the radar. … It's difficult to convince retailers and licensees to buy in early, especially with original content."
Toy trend analyst Reyne Rice expects Disney to deftly manage the coming flood of products. "They're very good at managing merchandise, gauging what's happening online and in stores and watching what's trending," she said.