International and North American animation studios maintain a high profile at the annual show.
The 25th annual Licensing International trade show, held June 21-23, 2005, at New Yorks Jacob Javits Convention Center, attracted about 23,000 attendees, an increase of 15% over 2004. The crowd perused more than 5,700 properties from 500-plus exhibitors many of them animation studios or licensing agents representing animated properties.
Several animated TV series being introduced to the licensing community at the show will be part of Cartoon Networks new Tickle U preschool block. This is the case for Classic Media and Cookie Jar Entertainments Gerald McBoing Boing, based on the classic Dr. Seuss story; BBCs Little Robots and another British property, Peppa Pig, both represented by The Joester-Loria Group; and three Warner Bros. properties, Krypto the Superdog, a Superman spinoff for which Fisher-Price will create a toy line, Firehouse Tales, and the book-based Harry & His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs. The humor-focused Tickle U block will debut August 22 and air from 9-11:00 am on weekdays.
Licensing 2005 attracted a strong international contingent, both in the number of exhibitors and the number of attendees, continuing a several-year-long trend. Especially numerous were Asian companies hoping to help fill the seemingly insatiable global demand for anime-style programming. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) valued the U.S. market for anime at $4.36 billion in 2002 (the most recent year available) and expects exports of Japanese content to increase 500% over the decade.
Among the many Japanese properties on display were d-rights BDaman, which debuted on ABC Family and Toon Disney in April and is represented for licensing by toy maker Hasbro; Viz Medias Naruto, which premieres on Cartoon Network this fall and has Bandai America on board for videogames and trading card games and an exclusive with Hot Topic stores for apparel and accessories; Geneons Chopsocky Chooks, which will debut on Cartoon Network in 2006-2007; Milky Cartoons Pecola and several other properties represented by Sun R&P, a company that has long agented U.S. properties in Japan but now is bringing Japanese properties to North America as well; Toei Animations One Piece (represented by 4Kids Entertainment), airing on 4Kids TV and Cartoon Networks Toonami block and with Mattel on board as master toy licensee; and Toeis Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo, repped by Joy Tashjian Marketing Group, which will debut on Toonami in fall 2005 and has generated $1.3 billion in merchandise sales in Japan.
Other Asian countries are also selling their content to North American marketers. One prominent example is South Korea, which had a larger pavilion at the show this year than in the past. Companies ranging from Ocon to Kims Licensing had a presence, with the latter representing properties including Nori Nori Norikun, Monk, Mashimaro and Pucca.
As the U.S. Hispanic market approaches 15% of the U.S. population and becomes a more powerful economic force, with $650 billion in buying power, licensors from Mexico (and their agents) were offering properties appealing to Latino consumers. Al Ovadia & Assoc. showed Huevocartoon, a Flash-animated Internet property that attracts up to 9 million unique visitors per month, 30% of whom are in the U.S. Telemundos mun2 bilingual music and entertainment channel will launch the property in fall/winter 2005. And United Media represents El Chavo for Televisa (also an exhibitor). The series has been on television for 35 years in Mexico and is broadcast in the U.S. on Galavision. Potential licensed products include baked goods, back-to-school products, bedding and publishing.
European animation also was well represented, with Belgiums Marsu Productions (Marsupilami), TV France/Marathon, Rainbow SRL (Winx Club), Granada Ventures (Zinkia Entertainments Pocoyo), Jetix Europe (A.T.O.M. Alpha Teens on Machines) and the BBC (Charlie and Lola) among the many European companies exhibiting.
In addition, several U.S. licensing agents represented European properties, both for the North American market and the world. They included Ovadia & Assoc., representing BRB Internacionals Bernard and Khudayana; Earthworks Entertainment, which handles half U.S.-origin and half European properties, the latter including Millimages Corneil & Bernie and Telescreens The Plonsters; and FUNimation Entertainment is selling Chorions Make Way for Noddy, which will debut on PBS Kids in spring 2006.
Not only are North American broadcasters looking for fresh shows from around the world, but content providers from all regions are looking to exploit their properties on a global basis in broadcast, video, merchandising, online and in other venues. The days of doing a U.S.-only project are over, says Doug Murphy, evp of business development at Canadian studio Nelvana, a division of Corus Entertainment. Nelvanas offices around the world all must sign off on a given property before the company greenlights it.
North American Presence
In addition to the many international companies making a mark at the show, North American studios were in abundance as well. In the television sector, PorchLight highlighted The Secret World of Benjamin Bear, among other properties, while BKN showed Kong of Atlantis and Legend of the Dragon. Alliance Atlantis offered Dragon Booster and Lunar Jim. Sony was promoting Big Big World, a preschool series done in a technique called Shadowmation, which will premiere on PBS in 2006, and Warner Bros. offered Xiaolin Showdown, airing on Kids WB!, with licensees including Wizards of the Coast, Toy Play and Techno Source.
Mike Young Productions Taffy Entertainment showcased Pet Alien, which was produced with Moonscoop, Telegael and Crest Communications. The show has aired on Cartoon Network, in the channels first worldwide deal, since January. Its style is a CG version of Tex Avery-esque squash-and-stretch animation. More than 15 licensees are on board, including Fisher-Price, Childrens Apparel Network and SG Footwear, to market merchandise for a core market of boys 6-11.
Agents representing animation included Brand Sense, which offered Soap On the Range, created by Quarter Star Productions, animated by Phil Roman Entertainment and endorsed by a Brand Sense client, the Professional Bull Riders (PBR); The Sharpe Co., featuring Cuppa Coffees Bruno & the Banana Bunch and Biker Mice From Mars, a property from several years ago hoping for a relaunch; Big Tent Entertainment with Dragon, a stop-motion-animated series based on the books by Dav Pilkey; United Media with Entaras Jakers!; and Joy Tashjian with Breakthrough Animations Atomic Betty, with Hallmark among its newest licensees.
The major Hollywood studios touted their 2006 and 2007 releases, for which licensing plans are in development and initial licensees are just being signed. (Most licensees are in place for this years releases.) DreamWorks showcased several films, including Bee Movie, Over the Hedge, Flushed Away and the Wallace & Gromit film; Warner promoted Happy Feet and The Ant Bully; and Sony highlighted Surfs Up and Monster House, among others. Agent Global Icons is the licensing representative for Foodfight!, produced by Threshold Animation and set for release in fall 2006 by Lions Gate Family Entertainment.
Growing Importance of DVD
DVDs, both direct-to-video productions and those for secondary-market distribution, are increasingly important drivers of licensing activity and merchandise sales. Nelvana announced a heightened direct-to-video program for library properties, original titles and acquired content. Babar, Miss Spider and Little Bear are among the franchises with direct-to-video releases planned, while Puff the Magic Dragon is a new property being introduced on video.
DVDs offer strong marketing opportunities. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will promote its DVD release of Taffys Pet Alien in 125 malls with banners, tabletop displays and plasma screen presentations. In 2006, Hasbro will create exposure for its second My Little Pony video, A Very Minty Christmas, as well as its first Candyland title, by screening them at Regal Cinemas theaters.
Holly Hobbie & Friends, licensed by Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products, is one of many properties for which DVDs are a key part of the relaunch strategy. The 1970s retro property will debut to children (a classic program for teens and young adults was introduced last year) in a spring 2006 direct-to-video series before expanding into toys through a licensing deal with Mattel. Simon & Schuster and Meredith Books also are on the Holly Hobbie licensee roster.
Play-Along is relaunching toys based on SkyDancers and DragonFlyz, and DVDs of the original TV series are part of the products promotional and entertainment support, according to John Gentile, president of licensor Abrams Gentile Entertainment. He points out that DVDs give the toys added value, help develop a world to enhance toy play and help marketers identify which characters kids like the most. DVDs really spike sales, he says. Theyre not an afterthought any more. A third franchise, VanPires, featuring flying vehicles, is in the works.
DVD also has become an important hook for extending the life of licensed movie merchandise. Theatrical film licensing programs increasingly tend to be limited in scope and products at the time of release have a short shelf life. When the DVD comes out, licensors have the opportunity to build on the theatrical foundation. Viewers tend to watch DVDs many times, which spurs long-term demand for merchandise. Our Platinum DVDs have an enormous effect on consumer products, said Andy Mooney, Disney Consumer Products chairman, at a presentation during the show. In some ways, the DVD business is more important than the theatrical business.
Digital and interactive technologies played a prominent role at the show, both in terms of creating new categories to license and as increasingly prolific sources of licenseable properties. In addition to videogame licenses Capcom, Broderbund/The Learning Co. and Sega had booths, and Quattro Consulting represented the videogame property Death Jr. several exhibitors were licensing Internet and mobile content as well.
Stelor Productions promoted its kids educational website, Googles.com, which has 600,000 registered users aged 3-12, while Big Tent highlighted Habbo, a teen-targeted site based in Finland that attracts four million unique users per month. And agency 360ep highlighted properties from AOLs kids channel, KOL, including the webisodic series Princess Natasha, SKWOD and Kung Fu Academy, and the online game FireChild.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of licensors are looking at new technologies as potential licensed categories, as promotional tools or as additional venues for entertainment support. Earthworks Entertainment, for example, is considering the idea of launching its action property Z-Force through an alternative distribution strategy involving Internet-delivered entertainment and TV-broadcast micro moviemercials to drive viewers to the web, followed by direct-to-DVD productions and ultimately television. The idea is to build a groundswell, says Peter Keefe, Earthworks president & CEO. We want kids to make it their own, he adds, citing Princess Natasha as an example of a web-origin property where that happened.
HIT Entertainment has sold its preschool properties, including Bob the Builder, Angelina Ballerina and Thomas the Tank Engine, to companies such as Hasbro for the Videonow Jr. and the ION Gaming System, Vtech for the Vsmile, and Jakks for Plug It In & Play TV Games, all of which build exposure for the TV series. (The company is focusing on signing licensing deals covering its entire portfolio in many categories, including with Hallmark for social expressions.) HITs programs also are launching on a 24-hour cable network available on Comcast and DirecTV, as well as on the PBS Sprout video-on-demand channel.
Mobile content is another new frontier. Its kind of a white canvas, says Murphy of Nelvana, which announced a mobile content initiative involving repurposed library content, clips from new shows and original content. The studio oversees a program in Canada where it invites creators to submit content for mobile distribution, with a goal of creating 50 mobile-only short segments.
In the context of recent publicity about childhood obesity in the U.S., several licensors announced health-focused properties and products. Big Red Frog introduced Escape from Obeez City, a CG DVD containing a game-within-a-movie, which the company calls a groovie. Viewers generate a score by answering a question at the end of each scene; the film progresses depending on the responses.
Meanwhile, healthy licensed products authorized in recent deals include Arthur vitamin strips and organic macaroni and cheese, licensed by United Media, and Sesame Street applesauces from Musselmans. The latter, which contains 25% less sugar than other applesauces, supports Sesame Workshops Healthy Habits for Life initiative. Even McDonalds is getting into the act; it recently retained animation company DIC to seek licensees for McKids-branded products focusing on active play, including bikes and outdoor play equipment.
As the lifespan of many properties seems to grow ever shorter, licensors are looking for ways to create evergreen franchises. One strategy is to position a property as seasonal, so it comes back year after year. Classic Media, for example, has several seasonal brands, such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Peter Cottontail, as does Earthworks with The Little Reindeer and Nine Dog Christmas. New Line announced a consumer products program that groups its many horror-themed properties under the House of Horror banner, with products to be introduced prior to Halloween. Scholastic is reintroducing Goosebumps on Fox Video, with four classic episodes set for a Halloween release. And Warner Bros. is positioning Tim Burtons The Corpse Bride, after an initial push tied to this summers film release, as a seasonal property for both Valentines Day and Halloween.
While there were fewer of the 1980s retro properties that have dominated conversation at recent licensing shows, many of those that have launched in recent years are still going strong and are looking for ways to remain fresh. One example is American Greetings Care Bears. Lions Gate will distribute Nelvanas second full-length direct-to-video feature this year. But it also is marketing a Grumpy Bear specialty merchandise line for tweens and teens, based on the most popular Care Bear among that age group, as well as an exclusive Goth Bear program for Hot Topic stores.
As TV license fees stay low and shelf space for licensed goods remains limited, several studios are diversifying their businesses. As noted earlier, DIC agreed to represent the McKids brand. Warner Bros. Consumer Products has gotten into the international football (soccer) licensing business, representing the sports global governing body, FIFA, Italian team AC Milan and the Mexican National Team.
Even within the entertainment category, studios are looking to expand into new demographics and new business areas. In addition to its new mobile and direct-to-video initiatives, Nelvana, long known for its preschool properties, is broadening its presence in the older kids market, with licenses including Jane and the Dragon, Grossology and Di-Gata Warriors. Its all about diversifying our revenue base, Murphy says.
Walking the aisles at Licensing International always provides a glimpse of up-and-coming product categories for animated and other genres of properties. Over the past few years, for example, pet foods and supplies have been a growing area of interest, and this remains true, especially for properties that feature animals as characters. One recently announced deal: Scholastic signed Bil-Jac Foods to market Clifford specialty pet foods.
Even when it seems as if licensing already extends into all walks of life, licensors discover brand-new categories. One noted this year: bereavement and funerary products tied to properties with religious themes or those with very avid fans. United Media signed two such deals for Precious Moments, including with Messenger for funeral stationery products and with Eternal Image (represented by exhibitor Building Q) for caskets and urns.
Karen Raugust is a Minneapolis-based freelance business writer specializing in animation, publishing, licensing and art. She is the author of The Licensing Business Handbook (EPM Communications).