STUDIOS TAKE SUPPORTING ROLE FOR MOVIE LICENSEES;GLUT FOR '97 HAS MOVIEMAKERS REFINING TACTICS TO GIVE PRODUCTS MORE IMPACT

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A deluge of licensed products is set to flow out of Hollywood next year, but studios are seeking to help licensees move product through clogged retail channels with more refined marketing support.

The properties that will spawn such merchandise will be on display this week in New York during Licensing '96, the annual International Licensing & Merchandising Conference.

Universal Studios' "Jurassic Park" sequel, "The Lost World," and Warner Bros.' "Batman & Robin," both slated for summer '97 releases, are the show's headlining mass-appeal properties.

ALTERNATIVE APPEAL

The hot alternatives are a handful of strong properties targeting girls that could steal the show-from 20th Century Fox Film Corp.'s first film from its animation division, "Anastasia," to two shows from Paramount Television slated for ABC's fall Friday night lineup: "Clueless" and "Sabrina the Witch."

Sony Corp.'s licensing division Sony Signatures, hungry for marketable franchises, will showcase summertime '97 sci-fi flicks from sister unit Columbia Pictures, "Starship Troopers" and "Men in Black." The latter will be turned into an animated series in fall '97 from Sony's new animation division, arriving along with "Super Ghostbusters," which also will be promoted at Licensing '96.

NEW TACTICS

With 1997 shaping up as the most cluttersome year yet in entertainment licensing, some are fearful their most marketable of unproven properties will get squashed by dinosaurs and super-heroes.

"It's going to be a bloodbath next year," said one studio licensing executive.

So 20th Century Fox Merchandising & Licensing is coming to Licensing '96 with a new strategy.

"Because of the clutter, we're limiting our marketing efforts to five properties," said Pat Wyatt, division president. "We want to be known as a licenser that knows how to smartly and strategically position key properties."

Among the five properties Fox will promote are "The Simpsons," being repositioned to target teens and Generation Xers weaned on the show, and Fox Sports, a brand based on the network's "Same game, new attitude" positioning for its sports broadcasts.

Other studios aren't as concerned. "Clutter is nothing new. It comes in waves and cycles, and we've come to accept it," said Andrea Hein, president of Viacom Consumer Properties.

For Viacom and others, a major key to launching '97 film properties, like Paramount Pictures' "One Golden Afternoon"-based on a true story of two British girls whose photos of alleged fairies perplexed the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle-will be the studio's ability to market the films to solid box office starts.

But the studios' consumer product divisions are also getting more involved in-and more sophisticated at-marketing their properties.

LICENSER MORE INVOLVED

Noted Ms. Hein: "In the past, most studios took the point of view that [marketing] was the licensee's job. Now, the relationship between licensee and licenser, retailer and licenser, is considered a partnership. The licenser is more involved."

Branding is the major emphasis at Warner Bros. Consumer Products, which will introduce identities for its fledgling WB Sports business and, more critically, its rejuvenated $3.5 billion Looney Tunes franchise.

"Last year, we counted 50 different sets of marks for Looney Tunes in our studio stores alone," said George Jones, president of worldwide licensing. "One single brand will make Looney Tunes more impactful and more universally recognized."

The branding effort will be used on product beginning this fall, and should be fully deployed by next spring.

TOP PRIORITY

Forging long-term partnerships is of the highest priority, especially with retailers, said Jim Klein, president of Universal Consumer Products. "The key to winning at retail in this competitive arena is getting your products better presented," he said.

Mr. Klein wants to create customized point-of-purchase programs for different retailers for mass-market properties like next summer's "Lost World" and "Dante's Peak," a volcano disaster flick.

But Universal also is looking at giving certain retailers exclusives on certain merchandise, especially niche properties and budding franchises that need nurturing, like "Babe."

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