Licensing Biz, Nostalgia is the Future
June 18, 2008
Smurfs. Ghostbusters. Princess Bride. Alvin and the
Chipmunks. Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. Thor and
Captain America. Snow White, Where's Waldo and Happy
Days. They all had front-and-center exposure at last
week's Licensing International Expo.
Wait, what year is this?
While a sexy new feature film project like The Last
Airbender from M. Night Shyamalan and fast-growing
virtual worlds may get the industry's heart racing, it's
the nostalgia properties that are proving to be the
lifeblood of a somewhat anemic business.
Retail sales in the industry fell slightly in '07,
dropping to $107.8 billion from $108 billion the prior
year, per the Licensing Industry Merchandisers'
Association in New York. Entertainment character
licensing was the only category that didn't decrease,
though it rose only 1.1% to $2.71 billion, making up 45%
of the licensing total of $5.99 billion.
There are no statistical breakouts of classic vs. new
properties, but licensing veterans say that revived
oldsters seem to be driving the industry at a time when
many thought the retro wave had come and gone. After
all, everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to My
Little Pony made successful comebacks in the last decade
or so. Isn't there a limit to how many '80s properties
the market will bear? (Evidence: Trolls tried but fell
Apparently the trend is far from over and, in fact,
appears to be on the upswing.
There's a live-action/animated hybrid feature in the
works based on the Smurfs, which has now landed at Sony
Pictures Animation and Columbia Pictures, and a
videogame and special DVD release of the 25-year-old
Ghostbusters. (There's talk of a remake, but the studio
hasn't confirmed that).
Princesses that date back to Snow White are part of
what's driving Disney's 12% jump to a whopping $30
billion-plus projected global consumer product retail
sales this fiscal year, which was the talk of the show.
Superheroes, most of them decades old, are on fire, and
the first movie based on the 40-plus-year-old G.I. Joe
hits next year. Classic TV shows like Happy Days and The
Love Boat will get new products, via a deal between CBS
Consumer Products and Hallmark, and Where's Waldo is
making a social networking-based comeback, with product,
"Retailers and licensees will still get behind the hot
property of the day, but they're being more reactive and
chasing those later rather than signing up long in
advance," said Tamra Knepfer, svp-consumer products at
American Greetings Properties, home to Care Bears and
Strawberry Shortcake, which just signed a major toy deal
with Hasbro. "It's a business response to wanting the
tried-and-true that carries less risk."
Most exhumed properties look a bit different. There are
tweaks and updates, ranging from new designs and colors
to contemporary settings and scripts. But property
owners usually take pains to retain the core attributes,
and hence protect the nostalgic appeal for boomer
parents. Retailers, more risk averse than usual in the
current limping economy, are more inclined to give
valuable and limited shelf space to known entities than
to unproven properties.
"They don't have to worry about TV ratings or movie box
office," Knepfer said, "where those life cycles can be
short they're here today and gone tomorrow."
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