Do you know him as Neo from The Matrix? The eponymous John Wick from the famed action trilogy of the same name? Maybe as Johnny Utah, the undercover cop/surfer, all-around-cool-guy from Point Break? Or, perhaps, it’s not from a movie role at all.
If you’re like one of the thousands of kids who met Reeves at E3 this year, your answer might actually be that you know the actor as the “‘Fortnite’ Guy.” The Johnny Mnemonic star told Polygon that while walking the halls of this year’s massive video game convention, gamers approached him in droves to ask for a picture with who they thought was the guy who inspired the latest “Fortnite” character skin, Reaper. The battle royale game’s skin bore a striking resemblance to Reeves, so much so, in fact, that the creators of “Fortnite” partnered with the actor to create a John Wick-styled character skin.
Reeves’ anecdote about being the “‘Fortnite’ Guy” speaks to the game’s massive influence in pop culture. Nearly everyone is a gamer in some form, whether that’s playing “Pokémon Go” on a mobile phone or “Call of Duty” on a PS4. This expansive medium of entertainment has proven lucrative for licensing, and companies are now getting creative with the ways they bring their brand into the gaming sector.
Character skins, like the ones in “Fortnite,” have proven valuable for getting brands in front of a new audience. These cross-promotional licensing deals are a unique way to ingratiate a character into the video game space without spending the capital on creating a game that lacks community buy-in. Famed IP such as Reeves’ John Wick and Chief Hopper from “Stranger Things” have already jumped into the consciousness of gamers with in-game collaborations.
Aside from the Keanu Reeves mashup, “Fortnite” developer Epic Games has also done some clever licensing work with other non-gaming properties, such as “Stranger Things.” The Netflix original series just launched its third season, and to capitalize on the debut, the streaming giant partnered with Epic Games on limited-edition “Fortnite” content.
The timing of show-inspired character skins and locations makes sense, as the series just launched its latest string of episodes. However, such a move would also align perfectly with the modern ecosystem of gaming, where studios launch a free-to-play game that relies on continual new additions that can be purchased as add-ons (i.e., skins and levels).
Licensing in-game content is just now playing a major role in today’s gaming landscape, but as more companies copy the business model, it’s bound to become a more common tactic. It can take a game that has been on the market for months, or even years, and provide a steady-stream of new content that keeps gamers coming back. Not to mention, it leverages the cultural zeitgeist to make something old new again.
Downloadable content is just one aspect of the new model of game development. The second major aspect of a successful game franchise is competitive gaming opportunities. Esports competitions are a major part of a property’s success, as the World Economic Forum reports that the space could rake in revenue of more than $1 billion annually in the next two years.
One of the first to take advantage of the success of competitive gaming was Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros.” franchise. The grandfather of esports fighting games started out in tournaments dating back to 2002 and carried on to the present day with the most recent release in the series, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” Nintendo’s franchise was also one of the first to license third-party properties as in-game characters.
In 2008, “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” debuted with new characters from Sony properties including Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake of “Metal Gear Solid.” That licensing deal with Sony marked the beginning of the third-party licensing craze in gaming that since led to the “Fortnite” deals and others by the likes of Brawlhalla. For both gaming companies, the deal was perfectly synergistic, as esports professionals go on to use third-party characters in competitions around the world.
Gaming’s Changing Ecosystem Has Transformed Licensing
Gaming is the most popular form of entertainment in the world. It’s also at the forefront of revolutionizing how entertainment works in terms of retail and licensing. From free-to-play to esports tournaments, gaming companies have turned their properties evergreen.
This paradigm shift provides ample opportunities for licensing in-game and bringing characters in front of a whole slew of new consumers. These can be synergistic deals for many character and entertainment brands looking for ways to market their properties in front of a massive audience. And if you don’t believe that’s the case, just remember, a bunch of kids at E3 thought Keanu Reeves was a “Fortnite” character.
The Jordan Brand has partnered with soccer club Paris Saint-Germain for a fashion collaboration inspired by the athletic team.
The collection focuses on the theme of community by channeling the vibrancy of the city of Paris and the club’s fans. The Jordan Brand is expressed through graphics inspired by the Air Jordan VI and the iconic infrared color scheme.
In addition to apparel, the Jordan Brand x Paris Saint-Germain line features four footwear releases including Jordan VI, Jordan I low and versions of the new Jordan Mars 270 and Jordan Havoc React.
“Jordan Brand and Paris Saint-Germain share a distinct position in sport and style, so to partner with the club is a natural fit,” says Michael Jordan, brand owner.
Licensing Expo 2019 is now in everyone’s rearview mirrors, and it’s time to take stock of what happened in Vegas, the effects of which will reverberate well into the future of this ever-changing licensing business.
Here are a few of the developments we noted:
Hemp and Cannabis Step Out — The growing interest in cannabis- and hemp-related products – mostly taking a health and wellness approach — was apparent, not just in the small “marketplace” assembled by PROHBTD, but also in a couple of other booths. Authentic Brands, which has several CBD-related agreements for its celebrity brands, as well as pacts with CBD products developer Green Growth Properties and CBD oil supplier Tilray, distributed CBD-based lip balm to showgoers. Kathy Ireland also showed some health and wellness products.
Entertainment companies also are in the mix. For example, Lionsgate is known to have been discussing ventures involving the brand of its Weeds series, among others.
Two other related notes: PROHBTD assembled a well-attended Licensing U session on cannabis and licensing (which included Allison Ames, CEO of Beanstalk, which now represents two of the company’s own brands), and more than one showgoer talked of their intention to research the subject by visiting retailer Planet 13. It’s legal there….
The eSports Conundrum – The licensing community is still trying to get its arms around the best way to leverage the exploding eSports community via licensed product. For the time being, it appears from our conversations at Licensing Expo, the category is best left to eCommerce, rather than brick-and-mortar retail, particularly given the target youthful audience and the fact the entire “sport” lives online.
The most visible effort to date (showcased at Licensing Expo) has been Activision Blizzard’s program for overwatch League, which closely mirrors the centralized structure of a traditional U.S. sports league, and signed a big deal late last year with Fanatics.
Potential licensees who are viewing the space are trying to figure out whether it makes more sense to attach themselves to teams or to well-known players. Agency Brand Central showcased its representation of gaming management firm Loaded and its roster of “gaming influencers,” who include Fortnite star Ninja, who has a handful of licensing deals already.
Big congratulations at the Awards celebration also to the eight up-and-comers spotlighted as Rising Stars in the licensing business, as well as to newly inducted Hall of Famers Pam Clifford of Warner Bros. Consumer Products & Experiences and Michael Stone of Beanstalk.
Licensing U Comes to Licensing Expo – For the first time, the entire lineup of 25 Licensing U seminars and presentations was staged on the Expo floor in a specially constructed 300-seat Licensing U
Theater. More than 50 executives from around the world touched on the ABCs (Amazon, Basics, Brexit, Cannabis, Collaborations) and so much more. The Licensing U Theater also hosted….
A Fascinating STORY – In a packed keynote presentation, Macy’s Brand Experience Officer Rachel Shechtman offered an intriguing look at how she brought the philosophy of her single-store STORY retail location in Manhattan (which was reformulated and remerchandised several times a year) into Macy’s. The challenge for all physical retailers, she said, is to think in terms of “experiences per square foot,” rather than sales per square foot, giving consumers a reason to visit the store rather than rely on their keyboards to shop.
She also touted STORY’s ability to act as a test tube for Macy’s, suppliers and brand owners. “Testing and learning is important, because when you have 600 plus stores it takes a while, and it’s expensive, and if it doesn’t work it can be really expensive,” Shechtman said. “This gives Macy’s an opportunity to try small businesses and new concepts, and see how they work as a sister to the [Macy’s larger] system and taking those learning and make some decisions in four months, not eighteen months.”
Tariffs in the Air — With the Trump administration threatening or actually imposing tariffs on goods from China, Mexico and elsewhere, the added costs and their impact on brand owners, manufacturers and retailers were a hot topic of conversation.
This has left licensees weighing a range of options from switching to suppliers in non-tariffed countries to seeking concessions from licensors on minimum guarantees and royalty rates in a bid to offset rising costs.
For the time being, licensees we spoke to say they’ll likely absorb the added costs, but if the tariffs extend into the fall retail price increases are close to inevitable. For their part, licensors appeared willing to work with licensees on reducing costs tied to tariffs, but what form that would take was unclear given the constantly moving deadline for imposing the tariffs.
Don’t Just Buy the Brand, Live the Brand – Location-based licensing – activity centers, hotels, theme parks, cafes, etc. — was at the top of many licensors’ priorities as they sought expand their business beyond merchandise sales and attract consumers increasingly accustomed to not only buying brands, but experiencing them as well. Entertainment brands have been the biggest players, but corporate brands are increasing their activity, too.
Meredith Corp., which gained the Southern Living magazine brand in buying Time Inc., plans to expand on the current roster of 21 boutique hotels, while also increasing the number of developments affiliated with the Coastal Living label. The Coca-Cola Co., which has four stores in the U.S., is planning to add more locations in international markets, while Sanrio, is opening a Hello Kitty Café at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and nearing agreements for locations in Orlando, New Jersey and New York.
Meanwhile, Hasbro reached an agreement with Kingsmen which will open a Nerf-themed family entertainment center in Singapore later this year with a U.S. location due in 2020, and Mattel licensee IP2Entertainment plans to open a 25,000-sq.-ft. family entertainment in Toronto next year featuring Barbie, Hot Wheels and Mega Construx.
Old Becomes New Again — Licensors mined their IP vaults for nostalgia brands, some of which are being licensed for the first time.
Hasbro licensed Wicked Cool Toys to make Micro Machines, which peaked in popularity in the 1980s under Galoob Toys and is entering licensing for the first time. Hasbro plans to roll out new programs for Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and Pound Puppies as it delves into its 1,500 brands. Mattel likewise is readying plans for six films based on its IP starting in 2021 with Masters of the Universe, which is making a return to the big screen after a 32-year absence with plan for extensive licensing.
Crayola is refreshing Silly Putty, which it acquired in 1977, with licensed products to follow in 2020 across a range of categories including apparel as the brand marks its 70th anniversary.
This fits in with…
Safety in Evergreens – Several licensees were scouting the show specifically for well-established evergreen properties with proven track records and fan bases, rather than taking a chance on the potential new hot thing.
Of course, the definition of “evergreen” may be in the eye of the beholder. How many generations of fans need a property have to be considered multigenerational? Two? Three? For example, we were struck by the number of Licensing Award winners that involved Harry Potter. Does the number of millennials (now parents) who grew up with the books (first one was published in 1997) and films (2001) make the property an evergreen for the ages?
“Fortnite” developer Epic Games has announced a new collaboration with Nike’s Jordan brand, offering gamers across the world new branded content via the Hang Time bundle.
While the full scope of the brand extension between “Fortnite” and Jordan has yet to emerge, the two newly designed characters Grind and Clutch (also teased by Michael Jordan himself on Twitter) both sport classic Jordan sneakers.
Also included in the dedicated bundle is the “Downtown Drop LTM” game-mode, inviting players to “launch off massive jumps, grind down city streets and collect coins to win.”
The “Fortnite” x Jumpman collaboration offers consumers and gaming audiences new skins, sprays and style variants.
“Jordan Brand continually tests and iterates rewarding new experiences for our consumers,” says Jordan brand representatives. “We are excited to work with Epic Games to create an experience for our community that is both innovative and authentic. This collaboration allows us to connect across virtual and physical worlds and unlock access to purchase some of our most-coveted shoes, the Air Jordan 1.”
Calego International, owner, and operator of iFLY and a developer and distributor of luggage, bags, and accessories, has partnered with Epic Games to create a range of “Fortnite” backpacks, messenger bags, stationery accessories and more across Europe and the U.K.
The partnership was brokered by IMG, Fortnite’s exclusive worldwide agency for consumer product licensing.
The “Fortnite”-branded collection from Calego will feature a range of designs including “Fortnite” character profiles, emote silhouettes and interpretations of the game’s visual elements. The collaboration will launch in June.
“’Fortnite’ is a global gaming phenomenon that has cultivated a massive, loyal fan-base and earned mainstream cultural relevance,” says Stephen Rapps, president, Calego. “We’re thrilled to partner with Epic Games in building a robust line of stylish and functional gear that ‘Fortnite’ fans will love “With this latest partnership, Calego deepens its portfolio of brands that resonate with youthful consumers and best-in-class retailers worldwide.”
“Style, function, and quality were so important to us when choosing a partner for this range of gear,” says Mark Rein, co-founder, Epic Games. “Our players deserve and demand the best and Calego is delivering.”
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.
NYTF was awash in the Fortnite license
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.
Toy company licenses toy property: Hasbro’s LOL Surprise Monopoly
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 has licensed K-Pop Group BTS
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.
If you’re not into EDM music or gaming, this piece of news is probably not for you. However for the rest of the world, especially fans of global sensation Marshmellow and Fortnite, the weekend demonstrated what the future of gaming could look like.
Masked dance music DJ, friend of Ninja, and host of his own cooking channel Marshmello played a live concert in Epic Game’s Fortnite this weekend. For the duration of the 10-minute show at Pleasant Park, which was broadcast across thousands of servers, weapons were disabled and respawns turned on so players could concentrate on deploying dance emotes instead of murder.
For those who missed the concert, you can watch it on youtube here >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBsCzN-jfvA so far the video has racked up over 9 million views globally. One Indian fan says, its the first ever concert to be hosted inside any gaming universe” and that makes it EPIC! (no pun intended)
Marshmellow is slated to perform in Hyderabad on 15 Feb and Gurgaon on 16 Feb.
Nuremberg Toy Fair, the largest toy fair in the world, celebrated its 70th year in style Jan. 30 through Feb. 3.
Busy and buzzy, Spielwarenmesse, as the fair is known globally, reflected the continued strength of licenses for toys, as well as toy intellectual property being licensed in other product categories and entertainment.
Evident throughout Spielwarenmesse were the major toyetic films headed to the big screen this year, such as LEGO’s expansive toy lines surrounding The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which hits theaters Feb. 8.
Many toy exhibitors held licenses for Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 4, in theaters this June, and toy brand Playmobil was heavily promoting Playmobil: The Movie, scheduled for release in August. LEGO’s licensed toy lines continue to feature Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, “Minecraft” and Disney’s classic princesses, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse characters.
Some of the hottest licenses at this year’s fair involve classic properties. “Peppa Pig,” celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, once again proved to be a top global toy license, as well as the Pokémon and Harry Potter brands. “Paw Patrol” from Spin Master and Nickelodeon held its position as a top preschool license, and Avengers: Endgame, the next installment of The Avengers movie franchise due out in April, will help Hasbro’s toy line stay strong.
Jazwares’ licensed toy lines, which largely focus on video games, continued unabated with “Roblox,” “Minecraft” and “Fortnite,” a property that also has a strong showing with Funko’s collectible figures. Feisty Pets, a new property that won the “One to Watch” contest at Licensing Expo 2018, is the latest license for Jazwares, most likely thanks to the strength of “Feisty Pets” content on YouTube.
Both LEGO and Hasbro’s Nerf highlighted Blizzard Entertainment’s “Overwatch” video game franchise with significant toy introductions.
In all, Spielwarenmesse 2019 revealed that classic licensed properties continue to be strong sellers in the toy sector, while gaming and internet-based properties are gaining significant traction in the category.