Licensed toy brands tie up with movies, TV

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Next year's Christmas lists could sound like a cast of movie and TV characters.

Trademark-branded products translate into big business in the toy industry, accounting for nearly half of all toy sales, according to the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association.

Sales of licensed toy brands boomed last year, generating more than $12 billion. And while the likes of Pokemon and Rugrats are still in the limelight, LIMA President Charles Riotto believes the field is open for even more growth, especially from TV, movie and publishing-based properties.

Animated TV programs such as Warner Bros. Consumer Products' "Powerpuff Girls" and Nickelodeon's "The Wild Strawberrys" and "SpongeBob Square Pants" will each debut toy lines this year.

"Scooby-Doo" which began airing in 1969, and was brought back two years ago by the Cartoon Network, is also expected to be a licensing draw.

"We thought of it as an unmined gem," said George Jones, president of worldwide licensing and Warner Bros. studio stores for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. "We really stepped back and looked at the opportunity to build Scooby-Doo as a brand."

Mr. Riotto said the Scooby-Doo relaunch has "really connected with kids" and parents also remember the show. "The familiarity factor is definitely an advantage for parents at retail sales," he said.

In the publishing arena, industry watchers are eyeing popular book character Harry Potter. Warner Bros. Consumer Products has worldwide licensing rights for Harry Potter books and films, while Mattel snared the master toy licensing contract last week.

In movies, films such as Disney's "Dinosaurs," Universal's "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas" and Sony Pictures' "Charlie's Angels" are expected to have large-scale toy tie-ins.

Industry observers hint one franchise to watch is "Charlie's Angels," since its "girl power" theme could strike a chord with young girls.

In fact, Toy Book Publisher Jim Silver believes it could be a sleeper hit of the year, pointing to the popularity of female singers such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and the Spice Girls with young girls. "There's certainly been a high interest level in toy companies looking for girl-oriented properties," agreed WB's Mr. Jones. The industry "is hungry for that."

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