The old advertising tagline for Las Vegas holds that “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” However, as far as the global licensing business is concerned, what happened in Vegas at Licensing Expo 2015 promises to reverberate throughout retail over the months and years to come.
The LIMA-sponsored Licensing Expo 2015 drew 16,150 licensing professionals to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, a 3% increase from last year’s event, according to show producers Advanstar. That includes a 6.6% uptick in international attendance – a third of Expo attendees came from outside the U.S. The countries with the greatest number of attendees were Canada, Japan, Mexico and the U.K., with significant increases from Australia (+31%), Brazil (+30%) and China (+12%).
The show featured 460 exhibitors in 232,000 square feet, 6.5% more than a year earlier. As always, the Expo floor was dominated by the large entertainment and toy companies such as Warner Bros., Mattel, Hasbro, Dreamworks, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Saban, Sony, Paramount and many others. (Disney, as always, took several large private ballrooms off the Expo floor to showcase its properties. And its forthcoming Star Wars movie, due to open at the end of this year, may have been the biggest topic of conversation, with competitors, licensees and retailers all trying to figure out how to either leverage or compete with what promises to be a huge Force on retail shelves in the 4th quarter of 2015 and beyond.
Major corporate brands, sports and art brands were represented via an array of booths. There was also a 15 per cent increase in the number of retailers attending the Expo, and one of many themes running through the venue was the extreme competition among brand owners and manufacturers competing for existing shelf space while also fending off cutbacks in it, and developing strategies to move licensed brands into unconventional distribution channels and marketing venues.
Going for the high end The new strategies are taking many forms. Some are taking the high road. For example, Hasbro licensed its My Little Pony brand to U.K.-based fashion designer Fyodor Golan for a collection of high-end womenswear, including quilted jackets and evening gowns, while also striking a deal with Germany’s Philipp Plein for Tranformers-branded shirts that will be sold at the company’s luxury stores that typically carry apparel priced at $300 and up. For its part, Crayola partnered with upscale U.S. department store Bloomingdale’s earlier this year for an apparel collection based on crayon colors that featured the apparel of designers Rebecca Minkoff, Nanette Lepore and others. And Cartoon Network is laying the ground work for a new “Power Puff Girls” series in 2016 by working with designers on an apparel collection targeting young adults that will be released late this year in appealing to their nostalgia for the original series that debuted in 1998, Cartoon Network’s Peter Yoder said. A second apparel collection for younger children will arrive after the new Power Puff series debuts in March, as Cartoon Network seeks to reach a new audience, Yoder says. “I think at a time when you have the best brands being consolidated under a very few number of retailers, if you are going to be in there competing, you have to be really creative and prepared to operate in a variety of business models,” Crayola’s Warren Schorr says. “There hasn’t been a year that I haven’t heard about decreasing space at retail and pricing pressure. But it has gotten to the point where you have to decide you are going to do something different or be a victim of the consolidation.”
Location-based licensing Some licensors are taking to the malls and theme parks as well to raise the profile of their brands. Internationally, Nickelodeon has been opening a few of its stores (through partnerships and licenses), while DreamWorks plans expand on Dream Place, a 2,000-square-foot Bavarian-style Cottage decked out in Christmas ornaments that was installed in eight U.S. malls during the holiday season last year and will reach more locations this year, DreamWorks’ Jim Fielding says. And Cartoon Network, while not harboring plans for its own stores, is preparing for the opening in early 2016 of The Cartoon Network Zone at the IMG Worlds of Adventure Park in Dubai, that will be replete with a Ben 10 5D cinema and branded restaurants and shops. “I think we have always looked at alternative channels of distribution, but it is a crowded marketplace and [figuring out] how to stand out really pushes your creativity and innovation,” Fielding says.
Classics Being Refreshed Meanwhile, tried and true brands that had receded into the background were given a new digital finish at the recent Licensing Expo in a bid to attract both new audiences and long-time fans. DHX Media’s Teletubbies, Cartoon Networks’ Powerpuff Girls, Saban Brands’ Popples, American Greetings’ Care Bears and Hasbro’s Jem and the Holograms are among the brands that are being refreshed with an eye toward appealing to young children as well as young adults who, it is hoped, feel the tug of nostalgia for the properties. In seeking to reinvigorate the brands, licensors are relying on social media, mobile games, computer generated graphics and video-on-demand, all of which were in their early days when the original Teletubbies and Power Puff Girls series ended 2001 and 2005, respectively. Since Licensing Expo, DHX has landed an agreement giving the French children’s TV network Gulli non-exclusive rights to release new Teletubbies episodes on its GulliMax online platform. Spin Master also signed on as the master toy licensee for both Teletubbies and Powerpuff Girls.