Executives from the toy, licensing, retail and affiliated businesses are catching their breath and taking stock of everything they saw, heard and discussed over a brisk – both the pace of business and the temperature — four days in New York. There are trends to absorb – licenses from the videogame business were particularly prominent, including from big-name gamers as celebrities in their own right, and a new cadre of collectibles lines. The mood seemed mostly positive, despite a spate of less-than-stellar financial announcements from major toy manufacturers during the runup to Toy Fair. From a licensing perspective, there is also a spate of big movies slated for the coming year that many are hoping will generate big sales.
And make no mistake; licensing continues to play a central role in the business. It’s worth noting that more than half of the TOTY Award winners honored the night before Toy Fair opened carried licenses such as LOL Surprise, Harry Potter, Jurassic World and others.
The show was awash in toys and other merchandise carrying the license of Epic Games’ “Fortnite.” But products connected to other titles of the battle royale genre also were in evidence, and companies were monitoring the latest entrant in the category — Electronic Arts’ “Apex Legend” – for licensing opportunities. As we mentioned, next gen celebrities such as pro gamer Richard Tyler Blevins — better known by his Ninja handle in playing Fortnite – are venturing into licensing; he’s got his own master toy licensee (Wicked Cool Toys) and a separate pact with Zuru for its X-Shot blasters.
Here’s a review of some of what we saw over four days in New York.
Gamers/YouTube Stars Gain Licensing Agreements
Pro gamer Richard Tyler Blevins, better known by his “Ninja” handle, was among the more prominent YouTube stars signing licensing deals with Wicked Cool Toys (collectibles, vinyl figures, headwear) and Zuru (version of its X-Shot blaster). He was joined by Michael Grzesiek, best known as Shroud for his play of Playerunknown’s Battleground, who is collaborating with videogames apparel supplier Jinx. And Preston Blaine Arsement, who plays Fortnite as PrestonPlayz, is launching a YouTube channel dedicated to all things slime, and has signed an agreement with Wicked Cool for the substance.
Ryan Toysreview secured an agreement with Bonkers Toys last year that brought his branded toys into Walmart; the boy reviewer has added nearly 40 deals, including agreements with Just Play and Jada Toys announced for Toy Fair. Bonkers also signed a YouTube-centric license for a toy line based on the Carter family (led by “Skylander Dad” Vincent Carter) that plays videogames together.
Hasbro Readying Location-Based Entertainment Program
Hasbro is showcased its breadth of products and brands at a showroom in the New York Times Center, but an increasingly important role in its outbound licensing business is being taken by location-based entertainment (LBE), with about 200 projects in some stage of development extending over 10 years, says Hasbro’s Casey Collins.
While LBE currently accounts for about 20% of Hasbro’s licensed consumer products revenue, that’s targeted to increase to 35% over the next few years, he says.
For example, licensee M101 Holdings is opening the first 225-room Monopoly Mansion Hotel in Q2 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, capping discussions that began at the 2016 Licensing Expo. A 20,000-sq.-ft. Monopoly Dreams indoor/outdoor family entertainment center (FEC) will open this fall in the Galleria Peak mall in Hong Kong featuring interactive augmented reality (AR) and hologram games based on Monopoly cards such as Chance and Community Chest. And a Transformers World is slated to be part of Universal Studios Beijing – itself scheduled to open in 2021 – in 2024. The LBE projects are be led by a Burbank, CA-based Hasbro group headed up by Matthew Proulx, who began working on them five years ago, says Collins. Also on tap are Play Doh FECs — the first five of which will open in China this year — and Nerf FECs.
Collins said the while there are only a limited number of quality theme park opportunities, “We are spending a lot of time in the FEC space because you have these high-end beautiful malls that are dying for traffic, entertainment and family brands and they are spending a lot of money to keep people there,” says Collins.
While the FECs and other installations serve as brand statements in their own right, they also present an incremental opportunity to sell core and licensed products. An experiential Nerf branded FEC, for example, gives visitors the chance to use the blasters, but also to see and engage with core and licensed accessories – and to buy them.
Hasbro is readying its first outbound licensing program for Power Rangers; it takes over the toy business (which had been with Bandai for more than two decades) on March 1. The company is trying to bring younger children (3-6 year olds) into the brand in its toy line, which also incorporates a Transformers-esque look. It has licensees for backpacks (Bioworld) and apparel (Hybrid Apparel, Mad Engine) for the “Power Rangers: Beast Morphers” that launches on Nickelodeon in the U.S. on March 2.
“We will bring them in at preschool and then age them to Transformers, Star Wars and Marvel,” says Collins.
Hasbro will extend the Power Rangers licensing to back-to-school and apparel products this fall with the program further expanding to include collectibles, gifts, novelties and other products in 2020. The bulk of Power Rangers contracts Hasbro inherited in buying the property expired in late 2018 and the company is negotiating new deals, says Collins.
“We are taking a long-term approach because we own it now and we are going to be behind it for many years to come,” says Collins. Sanban’s last concerted licensing program for Power Rangers occurred with the release of a Lionsgate film in 2017 that took in $100 million at the box office.
Mattel Takes Content-Driven Approach
Mattel is embarking on a strategy driven by a sharply increased amount of major content built on its brands, not just Barbie and Hot Wheels, but also such lesser featured properties as Fireman Sam, Enchantimals and Angelina Ballerina. “We are going to have more of a cohesive launch (for toys) and I think it is a new way of looking at things,” the company spokeswoman said. “With our expansion as an IP-driven entertainment company, we are not always thinking toy first now,” and also considering licensing out IP. Mattel has traditionally done this with its well-known brands such Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher Price, but not as much for lesser-known properties. The change follows the creation of a Global Franchise Management Group and Mattel Film and TV divisions last year after the hiring of CEO Ynon Kreiz. Meanwhile, Mattel is readying a May launch for 11.5-inch fashion dolls based on the seven-member South Korean boy band BTS featuring their patterned suits.
A “travel” theme for Mattel’s Barbie efforts this year includes a set of National Geographic-licensed dolls, portraying her in roles such as marine biologist, photo journalist, wildlife photographer and astrophysicist.
It also will add “Game of Thrones” kits to its Mega Brands construction sets, extending a line targeted at a higher age range that also includes properties such “Call of Duty” and “Halo.”
Funko Segmenting and Extending Its Licensed Businesses
Funko, seeking to bring its premium Loungefly bags and backpacks to mass retailers, is expanding distribution of products that drop the brand name, but feature licensed IP, says Funko’s Dolly Ahluwalia. The company tested the concept with backpacks carrying Harry Potter and Stranger Things licenses at Target last year in which the price was reduced to compete with Bioworld and others, Ahluwalia said. “Loungefly is a very much a specialty (retail) brand, so we want to make sure these bags and backpacks are [recognized as being] for mass. We don’t want to say to the market ‘now you can buy them for half the price’ because that would kill our specialty business,” says Ahluwalia. Among the retailers targeted for the new strategy, in addition to Target, are GameStop and FYE.
Meanwhile, Funko says Target sold about 200,000 units during the recent holiday season of t-shirts (packaged in boxes similar to those that used to carry VHS tapes) featuring film properties from the 1970s and 1980s, including Animal House, Rocky, Bloodsport and Robocop. “In apparel, everyone is fighting for an $8 or $10 price and you have to do something that makes things a little more special,” says Ahulwalia. Funko, having landed its first licensing deal with Major League Baseball a year ago, is extending it to co-branded Pez dispensers. It also will test a new concept for its Pop! vinyl figures with the introduction this fall of Pop! Towns($30), featuring characters packaged with their homes such as SpongeBob SquarePants’ Squidward and his pineapple house.
The company will expand distribution this summer of its own Wetmore Forest-branded plush and Pop! vinyl figures to Barnes & Noble, after testing them last year online at Walmart.com and at its corporate store in Everett, WA.
Fortnite and Other Collectibles
No fewer than four companies introduced collectibles of various stripes for Fortnite. Other companies mixed grocery and household brands in with existing collectible lines, some making a play with nostalgic labels.
Moose Toys is bringing its Shopkins-like strategy to Fortnite with the introduction of 100 figures, the first 20 of which will ship in the spring along with playsets. The Fortnite product is Moose’s first venture into a videogame license, taking it outside its typical 6-11-year-old target. Moose is licensed for three-inch and under collectibles.
Zuru also showed a Fortnite collectibles line, while McFarlane Toys built out its action figures with 39-inch hobby horse-like products based on Fortnite characters Bitemark and Rainbow Smash. Jazwares also is fielding a collecton of six- and 12-inch figures based outfits from the game. Funko also has Fortnite mini-figures.
Elsewhere in collectibles category, Moose and Zuru added licensed household and grocery brands to their mix. Moose unveiled Shopkins Mini Brands with Shopkins characters coming in packages featuring any of more than 20 labels such as Swiss Miss, Hebrew National, Welch’s, Pringles, Cheez It and Peter Pan. For its part, Zuru has a wave of about 200 brands for its 5 Surprise mystery capsules that were first introduced in Australia and the UK and are being brought to the U.S. for the first time.
Meanwhile, other toy manufacturers are increasingly developing their own IP with an eye toward outbound licensing and as a hedge against the cyclical natural of films and TV shows. For example, Basic Fun showed Cutetitos – collectible “animals” that roll up into a burrito – while Just Play showed Hairdorables and Funko had Wetmore Forest. “There are holes in the market where film releases haven’t been that strong or not as toyetic that we can fill” with internally developed IP, says Basic Fun’s Ashley Mady. “The content market is changing so much that it is hard to get focus on one brand and make it a megahit and in the girls space, the licenses haven’t been that strong and it is easier to get in.” Hairdorables are featured in a YouTube series on WildBrain’s network, and Just Play is introducing a Hairdorables product co-branded with YouTube star JoJo Siwa.
Spin Master Readies Bakugan Licensing
As Spin Master relaunches Bakugan after an eight-year absence, it is readying a licensing program for year-end starting with apparel and publishing, says Spin Master’s Chad Donvito. The licensing, which is being handled in most markets by Cartoon Network, follows the launch of “Bakugan Battle Brawlers” on the cable channe in the U.S.l on Dec. 23.
Meanwhile, the company will ship its new DC action figures and other products for mass retailers in 2020, while McFarlane, whose agreement starts the same year, will field figures targeting specialty dealers. Spin Master will feature more “evergreen” products, starting with Batman, in addition to figures and other items keyed to film releases, says Susie Lecker, EVP Global Licensing.
The company will sharpen the focus of Hatchimals licensing this year on international markets, which have lagged the U.S. in terms of product introductions, says Juli Boylan, Head of Global Licensing and Promotions. Spin Master has about 100 Hatchimals licensees, including 60-65 in the U.S. The international markets have been about a year behind the U.S. in licensed products.
The company also is combining two if its building set brands into a single marketing and product effort, with plans to sell “Erector by Meccano” building sets in the U.S. Spin Master acquired Meccano, which has a strong following in Europe and Canada, in 2013. Meccano bought the Erector brand from A.C. Gilbert Co. in 2000. “People in the U.S. didn’t know the Meccano brand, but had nostalgia for Erector, so we decided to bring it back as dual brand sets,” says Chad Donvito. The existing Meccano line has a variety of licenses, including Ducati, John Deere and Ferrari.
Finally, Spin Master is centralizing its games and Gund plush business at Cardinal Industries’ Long Island City, NY headquarters effective late March, a spokeswoman said. Gund, which Spin Master acquired last year, had been based in New Jersey, while the games group (Hedbanz and other internally developed products) was in Los Angeles.
McFarlane Toys Launching Direct-To-Consumer Program
McFarlane Toys is reviving some its heritage brands as part of a direct-to-consumer ecommerce business that will launch later this year, says CEO Todd McFarlane. The service will start with Movie Maniacs (a McFarlane toy line from the late 1990s that features film characters such The Crow’s Eric Draven and Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface) and Tortured Souls (a toy line created by horror author Clive Barker). McFarlane, which will fill orders from its Arizona office, will use the platform to test sales of new products and have items that may only be available as limited editions, says McFarlane. McFarlane also has started a distribution business, bringing to the U.S. market products from Canadian toy supplier Import Dragons (Major League Baseball and National Hockey League figures, both of which previously had McFarlane as a licensee).
Sybo Games Appoints Agents
Sybo Games has appointed 11 agents, including Retail Monster in the U.S. and UK, as it launches licensing for its “Subway Surfers” mobile game. In addition to Retail Monster, Sybo is working with Sagoo (France), BN Licensing (Benelux), Nordic Licensing (Nordic region), Premium Licensing (Italy), Mega Licensing (Russia), Animation International (Turkey) and Dream Theater (India) and Lotus Licensing (Brazil/Latin America). In the the Asia-Pacific region, Sybo is working with a local publisher, iDreamSky (China), before hiring an agent. Sybo, which also has released 11 four-minute Subway Surfers episodes on its Sybo TV YouTube channel, expects to sign a master toy licensee by mid-year with product arriving in 2020, says Head of Licensing Naz Amarchi-Cuevas. Sybo also expects to have an apparel licensee this year, with t-shirts available by year-end. Subway Surfers has 20 million daily and 100 million active monthly users, who play an average of 3-4 times a day for 5-6 minutes, says Amarchi-Cuevas.
Tastemakers’ Boosting Production of Arcade1Up Machines
Tastemakers is increasing production of its Arcade1Up retro mini arcade machines after selling through the bulk of just under 500,000 units that were manufactured last year, says President Scott Bachrach. The increased capacity also comes as the company readies countertop ($179), wall mount ($225) and table ($400-$500) versions of the arcade machine, the latter launching in the fall with 8-10 titles. The new machines, which launched with through mass merchants and GameStop, also were sold on homedepot.com, and will be carried in select Home Depot stores this year, says Bachrach. As Tastemakers expands distribution, it will carve out exclusives by reserving specific games for specific retailers.
Cultivating New Audiences?
A pair of companies that have been more identified with juvenile collectibles and plush showed lines based on videogame properties in an apparent effort to broaden their target demographics. Moose Toys showcased Fortnite collectibles, while Just Play is readying a line of plush and collectible figures based on Ubisoft titles, including “Assassin’s Creed”, “Far Cry”, “Tom Clancy Splinter” and other games.
Playmates Launches Licensed Gliders
Playmates Toys is launching glider planes and collectibles that combine its own IP with licensed brands. Super G gliders and Pop Tops collectibles are being introduced with Spider-Man, Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles licenses.
Playmates also is the master toy licensee (playsets, figures, vehicles and plush) for Guru Studios’ 26-episode, 11-minute “Pikwik” pre-school series for all countries outside China. The series airs on Disney Jr. in the U.S. starting in 2020. The company also is readying for 2020 vehicles and figures based on Zag Entertainment’s “Zag Heroez: Power Players” series that launches on Cartoon Networks in September. Meanwhile, Playmates is shifting distribution of its Kuroba! collectibles to international distributors this year after initial sales through Walmart fell short of forecast in 2018, a company spokeswoman said. The line is based on Bento Box Entertainment’s Sutikki Division’s 26-episode YouTube series that launched last summer. Playmates is the master toy licensee for the IP.
Alpha Group says it has registered about $250 million in global retail sales for its “Super Wings”-licensed airplanes and vehicles since launching the line in 2016, but revenue in the U.S. has trailed other regions owing to tighter shelf space for pre-school properties here, says Alpha’s Kimberly Morris. Super Wings toys have been a strong seller in Alpha’s home market of China. Super Wings, a co-production of South Korea’s FunnyFlux Entertainment and China’s Qianqi Animation, has 104 episodes and airs on Universal Kids in the U.S. Alpha Group also is readying products for “Rev & Roll”, which it is co-producing with DHX media and expects to launch this fall. The first 26, 11-minute episodes will be available in July.
Alpha Group, Kimberly Morris, Senior Dir. Marketing, 424-321-6018, email@example.com
Basic Fun, Ashley Mady, Head of Brand Development, 561-997-8901, Ashley.firstname.lastname@example.org
Hasbro, Casey Collins, SVP General Mgr. Global Consumer Products, 401-280-2311, email@example.com
Jazwares, Sam Ferguson, VP Global Licensing, +44 203 598 0270, firstname.lastname@example.org
Just Play, Jimmy Chang, Senior Marketing Dir., 267=989-3036, email@example.com
Mattel, Janet Hsu, Chief Franchise Development Officer, 310-252-2000, firstname.lastname@example.org
McFarlane Toys, Todd McFarlane, CEO, 480-491-7070, email@example.com
Moose Toys, Alexandra Ries, VP Marketing and Strategy, 310-341-4642, firstname.lastname@example.org
Playmates Toys, Karl Aronian, SVP Marketing, 855-807-9515
Spin Master, Adam Beder, VP Licensing, 416-364-6002 x2256, email@example.com
Sybo Games, Naz Amarchi-Cueva, Head of Licensing, +49 162 881 8000, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tastemakers, Scott Bachrach, Pres., 212-967-5091, email@example.com
Zuru, James Nunziati, VP Sales and Marketing North America, 310-344-0310, firstname.lastname@example.org