Vintage franchises stage a comeback at Licensing 2003

A slew of retro properties and a few new franchises were the main attractions last month at Licensing 2003 in New York City. The annual gathering of the licensing industry drew a record crowd of 20,000 to the Jacob Javits Convention Center June 9 to 12, an increase of 7.5 percent from 2002 that reflected a surge in licensed merchandise sales.

“The numbers for 2002 are in, and the numbers are impressive,” said Charles Riotto, president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association. “Manufacturers paid $5.83 billion in royalties last year for a 4 percent increase [from 2001].” He said licensed entertainment characters, such as Spider-Man, led the way and accounted for 44 percent of the business.

Riotto said a down economy and slow sales have seemed to help the licensing business as companies try to leverage their name to create new cash streams, More than 175 exhibitors were first-timers at the show, including Toyota and Campbell Soup.

The retro theme was strong this year with 20-year-old properties, such as the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, drawing lots of attention. Care Bears surprised retailers last year with strong sales and paved the way for other manufacturers to revive vintage franchises. American Greetings is one vendor that has scored big with these popular retro licenses; the company, through its Learning Horizons subsidiary, debuted a line of educational reward stickers–much like the gold stars teachers used in the past–and self-adhering notepads for both licensed properties.

A wide range of retro products was on display at the show, and many of them will be popping up soon in the general merchandise sections of drug stores. Mattel licensee Rose Art Industries is rolling out a line of Barbie fashion pens, stationery sets and theme Fun Dough sets this summer, and Western Quality Gloves is coming out with a new line of Barbie gardening tools, sun hats and gripper gloves.

Dozens of new products based on “The Cat in the Hat” also were on display, including cameras from Baby Boom, sunglasses with two-way radios from Columbia Telecommunications and a full line of key chains, ceramic banks and picture frames from Applause. In fact, while licensing industry executives met in New York, drug store retailers were getting a glimpse of some new items at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Marketplace show tying into the Dr. Seuss classic. (For more details, see the Marketplace wrap-up section starting on page 12.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is another franchise making a comeback this summer. New products due to arrive at retail include watches from MZB and a line of slumber bags and pencils from Rose Art.

And the wisecracking, rotund cat Garfield will return in the gardening arena with Western Glove creating a new line of Garfield tools and accessories.

The booth for toy giant Hasbro was a blast from the past with displays of new merchandise for the early 1980s icon My Little Pony and the 1960s character G.I. Joe.

MGM Studios made the 40th anniversary of “The Pink Panther” its theme for the show. The company plans to roll out a new wave of Pink Panther merchandise later this year targeting both older fans and kids.

Twentieth Century Fox made the biggest splash with a new property when it previewed early footage of “Robots” on June 9. The animated film from the creators of “Ice Age” is due out in March 2005, and licensees such as Burger King and Mattel already are on board.

Walt Disney Co. rolled out its new “Kim Possible” franchise that targets girls ages 6 to 11. The character will hit the airwaves with an animated show on the Disney Channel this year, along with a full range of merchandise launching at Wal-Mart stores this month.

DreamWorks SKG touted its 2004 animated film “Sharkslayer,” which will feature the voices of Robert DeNiro and Will Smith, and Warner Bros. had actress Jenna Elfman at its booth June 10 to promote the November release of the studio’s “Looney Tunes: Back in” Action. Sony Pictures Consumer Products blended the old with the new, touting its new version of “Astro Boy.” The remake of the 1960s precursor to such shows as Speed Racer will debut on WB Kids this fall.

DIC Entertainment made a heavy promotional push for the new anime program “Knights of the Zodiac,” a popular program in Japan. The Cartoon Network will begin airing the show Aug. 30, and licensed merchandise based on the show’s characters will follow at retail. Big Tent Entertainment was busy marketing its new franchise “The Koala Brothers.” The animated show set in the Australian Outback targets a preschool audience and will begin airing on the Disney Channel in early 2004.

In addition, government officials were on hand to broker deals with brand owners. The U.S. government signed an agreement with 4Kids Entertainment to use popular Yu-Gi-Oh anime characters in its National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign ads that will run this summer. New York City officials inked a deal with Big rent Entertainment to make its Miffy character the official “Family Tourism Ambassador” for New York City.

Rich Collins, chief executive officer for Big Tent, said the mood at Licensing 2003 was upbeat and was a change from 2002. “People here last year were stifled and nervous, but this year everyone seems to be making deals,” said. “Hopefully, that’s a good omen.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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