Observations From the Licensing International Expo: Day One

Latest Trend: New Entertainment Properties Based on Existing Products Rather Than the Other Way Around

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LAS VEGAS (AdAge.com) -- Celebrating its 30th year, the Licensing International Expo officially kicked off today at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

This year at the expo, there is a slew of new entertainment properties based on existing consumer products, a tactic that follows the work of the 'Transformers franchise' last year.
This year at the expo, there is a slew of new entertainment properties based on existing consumer products, a tactic that follows the work of the 'Transformers franchise' last year.
Now in its second year in its new Las Vegas home, the show is definitely not experiencing a sophomore slump. Amidst the backdrop of a recovering retail marketplace, the tone and tenor is extremely positive. According to the show's organizers, Advanstar Global Licensing Group, the conference is bigger than last year, featuring 500 exhibitors representing 7,000 brands.

So what's on everyone's minds here at the show?

First of all, it's clear that entertainment licensing is driving the industry right now. But with so many entertainment properties and franchises to choose from, where do licensees with limited resources and retailers with limited shelf space place their bets? We might be in Las Vegas, but when it comes to business, licensees and retailers are not big gamblers.

Picking a winner has become a major concern to the entertainment licensors themselves. With slumping ticket sales for movies and dwindling ad sales for TV shows, entertainment licensors have come to realize that the revenue from licensed merchandise has the potential to become their biggest money makers, especially after the entertainment property is no longer on the air or in theaters.

Walking around the show this morning, I was struck by a new trend that highlights exactly how licensors, licensees and retailers are addressing this very issue.

Call it the "Transformers Effect," but at this year's show, there are a whole slew of new entertainment properties based on existing consumer products. The idea here is that, if a licensor builds a media property around a product that consumers already like to buy, then it is more likely that consumers will not only go and see the movie or watch the television show, but they will also buy more merchandise. This trend is not the same thing as branded entertainment, where the goal is to place a brand or product into a media property for the purpose of generating greater awareness. Make no mistake about it: The end goal here is to create brand extensions for the products by transforming them into media properties.

Here are some interesting examples I found:

  • Universal, which has a deal with Hasbro, has films at various stages of development based on Battleship, Monopoly, Candy Land, Stretch Armstrong, Magic: The Gathering and the Ouija board.
  • Paramount (the creators of the "Transformers" movie franchise) has optioned Mattel's Magic 8-Ball as the basis for a potential live-action adventure film.
  • Hasbro's Risk has a deal for a film with Sony, to be co-produced by Will Smith.
  • Skechers is another brand that is building an entertainment franchise in order to create more licensing opportunities. The footwear brand recently launched Skechers Entertainment to create children's programming across a variety of platforms. Its first animated TV series, "Zevo-3," is scheduled to premiere this fall in the U.S. on Nicktoons, and the marketer is here at this year's show looking for additional licensing opportunities.

    Mattel is also embracing this strategy for its Monster High toy collection, hoping that it can develop an integrated entertainment franchise around it featuring movies, books, apparel and other licensed products. The move is a departure from Mattel's usual playbook, which is to develop products based on existing entertainment franchises.

    Nowhere is this more apparent than in the recently announced joint venture between Hasbro and Discovery Communications. Together, both organizations are creating a TV network and website dedicated to children's and family entertainment. The new channel, The Hub, is scheduled to begin airing on October 10th with 25% of its content from Hasbro, including a show based on the popular toy Big Wheel.

    More developing trends from the show floor tomorrow.

    ~ ~ ~
    Michael Stone is the president-CEO of Beanstalk, an Omnicom Group-owned global brand licensing consultancy.

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