Until last year, the retail shelves witnessed three yellow creatures (minions) bobbing to and fro, the frenzy for Frozen, Star Wars emerged as a global phenomenon, and Indian licensing and merchandising industry going gaga about the international entertainment brands, primarily the movies. Cut to present, and the Indian licensing and merchandising industry is headed to disruption with Baahubali 2, which is often touted as the first tentpole franchise of India film industry.
While Hollywood merchandise sells like hotcakes thus raking moolah across the globe, India’s film merchandise business has never taken in the same manner. Though the Indian industry was gradually catching up with the trends; merchandise was seen as a mere marketing tool by the producers with only a handful of deals – majorly promotional – being signed up by the studios. Given the amount of consumption of Bollywood in India, where almost 1,000 films are produced annually (about double Hollywood's output), licensing has been ancillary thing to the studios, with prime focus on increasing visibility of the movie.
Merchandise of LucasFilms’ Star Wars, owned by Disney, has raked in an estimated over $40 billion in retail sales so far. Universal Pictures’ Minions and Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter franchisees have made close to $35 billion and $25 billion, respectively. On contrary, the L&M contribution of Bollywood movies – most notably ‘Krissh,’ ‘Dhoom’ and ‘Ra.One’ – has been less than a percentage point of overall revenue. And the factors such as the lack of franchises, a subdued fan following and availably of cheap imitation products acted as speed breakers for Indian industry. Cut to present where the makers of Baahubali have rewritten the rules of India’s film merchandise business.
“The Baahubali brand has been very well established in India now. It is the first truly trans-media brand, where each of the piece is a different business in its own way and not just a marketing proposition for us,” said Shobu Yarlagadda, CEO of Arka MediaWorks. Banking on its enviable and enormous fan following and the impressive response to the release of ‘Baahubali 2,’ the makers have flooded the market like never before: with apparels, figurines, fan merchandise, accessories, VR glasses, animated series, personalized debit cards and more. With close to 20 licensing deals in place, both product and promotional, with the likes of Camlin, Oppo, Amrapali Jewellers, Macmerize, ICICI bank, Amazon Prime, Graphic India, Simba toys, the makers have left no stone unturned to make Baahubali the ‘it’ property of Indian L&M industry.
What worked for Baahubali is that this the first homegrown brand to transcend across different media, right from comics to animation and video games to television live action series. “Most producers do look at merchandise as a marketing tool. But given the amount of revenue Baahubali has earned at the box office, Arka Mediaworks do not need the support of merchandise to market the brand because the film has a huge marketing budget of their own,” said Bhavik Vora, founder of Black White Orange Brands, the licensing agents for Baahubali.
The big bet on licensing While industry estimates suggest that the market for Bollywood-related merchandise is at less than Rs 20 crore, Baahubali is looking at selling merchandise valued at over Rs 25 crore. Status Quo – the T-shirt licensee for Baahubali 2, is targeting 4-5 crore of retail sales, shared Bobby Arora, MD of Status Quo. “It is noteworthy that for a prolific film making nation like India, there has not been any franchise yet that has managed to outlive its single film existence while making its presence felt at retail shelves,” added Arora.
While brand longevity has been an issue for Indian movies industry, experts believe that Baahubali has the potential to break that jinx. Shobu Yarlagadda suggests, “We expect the brand to have longevity with multiple avenues – animated show (on Amazon Prime), comics, mobile game (by Moonfrog), Hindi live action TV series and fiction books.” Film-inspired merchandise typically has a life of about 10-12 weeks, starting a couple of weeks before its release. Producers look at L&M more as a marketing gimmick rather than serious business. “The problem with Bollywood is that they are not making cult properties. They are making movie from monetary point of view but not from long term perspective like Star Wars,” said Akshay Butani, MD and Co-founder of Bombay Merch. Given the fact that Bollywood is consumed so much in India, brand owners are looking at brand licensing as a serious business and the success of L&M program of Baahubali is a testimony to that.