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Licensing Show Upbeat and Energetic

Traveling to Licensing Show, Karen Raugust checks out the animated properties of all types showcased at annual convention.

DIC hopes that its rebranding of the Trollz property will bring in top licensing dollars. © DIC Entertainment.

DIC hopes that its rebranding of the Trollz property will bring in top licensing dollars. © DIC Entertainment.

Animation maintained a high profile at Licensing International 2004, the New York trade show where property owners pitch their wares to manufacturers, retailers and promotional partners. Held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center June 8-10, the show attracted 20,600 attendees and 520 exhibitors (up from 425 in 2003) and showcased 5,700 individual properties.

The anime craze is here to stay, judging from a walk down the aisles. Even more Asian licenses from Japan, Korea and China were on display this year than in the past. Some of the properties exhibited are already on the air in the U.S., mostly on Cartoon Network or the Fox Box programming block, while others are about to launch and still others are established in Europe or Asia but just being introduced to North America. Properties ranged from cute animals for young kids (such as Koreas Mashimaro) to fashion-driven tween girls series (4Kids Winx Club) to action-adventure properties for male teens and tweens (Warner Bros. Megas XLR).

Some examples of note included Warners Hi Hi Puffy Ani Yumi, which will debut in late November 2004. Based on a popular Japanese music group, the half-hour comedy will feature three 7-minute animated segments with two 30-second, live-action bookends. Fashion and publishing are among the licensed products planned. TokyoPop highlighted its Rave Master; the series airs on Cartoon Network and has spawned a DVD, Cine-Manga titles published by TokyoPop, and a master toy line from Hasbro.

Jetix Consumer Products, the licensing arm of Fox Kids Europe, promoted Pucca, a Korean fashion and lifestyle property inspired by Chinese opera. Korean animation studio Vooz has created Flash interstitials for the Web and is developing an animated series in conjunction with Fox Kids Europe. Jetix also showed Shin chan, a classic Japanese property for boys with a library of 300 half-hour TV episodes. It has gained popularity in Spain and is set for a consumer products program across Europe.

RubbaDubbers is finding success in the profitable video market. © HIT Entertainment.

RubbaDubbers is finding success in the profitable video market. © HIT Entertainment.

ShoPro displayed a number of properties, some new to the U.S. licensing community. Cartoon Network has purchased 104 episodes of InuYasha, for tween and teen boys, and several licensees have signed to produce merchandise. Zatchbell is a new series for older children involving demons, while Edeko Boko Friends is ShoPros first preschool initiative. (It also licenses Hamtaro, for early school-age viewers.) Other properties at the ShoPro booth included Mirmo and Croket.

FUNimation showed Case Closed, Yu Yu Hakusho, Tenchi Muyo, Spiral and DragonBall Z; Geneon had Lupin III and Gungrave; the Pokemon Co., the company credited with starting the anime craze in the U.S., had a large booth; and Tezuka Osamu World highlighted the classic properties of the man known as the Walt Disney of Japan.

Studios Sell Direct

Several animation studios exhibited their proprietary properties at the show, mainly showcasing television series available for licensing. PorchLight Entertainment announced Playhut as its licensing and broadcast representative for Jay Jay the Jet Plane in the Chinese market. Nelvana highlighted several properties, including Miss Spiders Sunny Patch Friends, which premieres fall 2004 on Nickelodeon and has Fisher-Price on board as the master toy licensee. Alliance Atlantis promoted Dragon Booster, which debuts on ABC Familys Jetix block in the U.S. in October. Konami has videogame rights, while Funimation will distribute home videos.

HIT Entertainment highlighted several of its ongoing properties, including Bob the Builder, for which Hot Animation is creating 75 episodes of a new environmentally themed series called Project Build-It. (No broadcaster has been announced.) Playhut promoted its proprietary license Little Signz, as well as several Asian properties under the Chinamation banner. Cookie Jar Entertainment showed the properties gained in its acquisition of Cinar, including Caillou. Scholastic Entertainment focused on promoting Maya & Miguel, which goes on the air this fall on PBS. Licensed products will follow starting in 2005; so far, 14 licensees are signed. And DIC Entertainment highlighted Trollz, a tween girl fashion and entertainment brand based on the classic Danish troll dolls.

Several animation licensors were grouped in an area called the Content Zone. Animation Content displayed the classic series from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Davey & Goliath, along with other clay-animated properties, while Grace Animation highlighted its Avenging Apes of Africa. Other exhibitors in the Content Zone included Raven Entertainment, Jade Animation and videogame company Capcom.

Networks and Agents Feature Animation

Television networks, particularly on cable, often take control of licensing for the series they air, and several were at the show pitching their properties. Nickelodeon launched licensing efforts for five shows appearing on its networks, as well as promoting its ongoing licenses such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants. The new introductions included Avatar, Danny Phantom, Lazytown, The Backyardigans and The Barnyard. Discovery Consumer Products highlighted two Discovery Kids series, Tutenstein and Kenny the Shark, the latter based on the online icon that has been answering kids questions during Discoverys Shark Week.

Cartoon Network and its sister company, Warner Bros. Consumer Products, were exhibiting several ongoing and future properties from the channel, including The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, an action-adventure series for girls that will debut in February 2005. Its about an 11-year-old girl and features themes of magic and monsters. Disney Consumer Products spotlighted several programs from the Disney Channel, including JoJos Circus, an animated series airing during the Playhouse Disney block.

ToddWorld hopes to get the same licensing dollars that other pre-school show receive. © Mike Young Productions.

ToddWorld hopes to get the same licensing dollars that other pre-school show receive. © Mike Young Productions.

Some studios have their properties promoted by licensing agents at the show. Agency Big Tent Entertainment had two booths, one for Spellbound Entertainments Koala Brothers, for which products will start to come on the market in 2005, and one for Dick Brunas Miffy, a book-based property with an animated series airing on Noggin. L&G+ Licensing, the licensing rep for author/illustrator Todd Parr, was showcasing ToddWorld, an animated series produced by Mike Young Productions that debuts on TLCs Ready, Set, Learn! block in the fall.

Another Mike Young production is U.K.-based Entaras Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks, a 3D CGI series launched on PBS Kids in the fall and newly represented for U.S. licensing by United Media. Meanwhile, MGM Consumer Products represents Bing and Bongs Tiny Planets, which comes from U.K.-based Peppers Ghost Productions and airs on Noggin.

The Sharpe Co. recently signed on as the worldwide master licensing agent for Bardel Entertainments Silverwing, the studios first proprietary series. Sharpe also represents Naughty Naughty Pets, an art property from Scary Stories that is being developed for animation by DECODE Entertainment. The Joy Tashjian Licensing Group announced that Playmates Toys will be the master toy licensee for Breakthrough Animations Atomic Betty, with toys first appearing on store shelves in January 2005.

Several international networks and agents were also present at the show, many showcasing animation. Examples include Mexicos Televisa, Spains Biplano, TV France, Exim of Latin America and U.K.-based Granada Ventures.

Focus on Films

For the first time in several years, films arguably had a higher profile at the show than television series. Several films were introduced to the licensing community, many of them FX-heavy live-action features with 2005 release dates. Universal Studios presented King Kong, while Sony Pictures promoted UltraViolet, Stealth and Zathura. The last is based on a book by Chris van Allsburg, author of Jumanji, and features creatures by Stan Winston. Warner Bros. highlighted the next film in its Batman franchise, among other films, unveiling the new Batmobile on the first day of the show. Many of these live-action films plan limited licensing programs, with products such as videogames, collectible figures and publishing at the core.

If Corpse Bride becomes a cult hit like Tim Burtons A Nightmare Before Christmas then the licensing deals could be huge. © Warner Bros.

If Corpse Bride becomes a cult hit like Tim Burtons A Nightmare Before Christmas then the licensing deals could be huge. © Warner Bros.

All-animated films typically have more merchandising potential than live-action films, of course, given the wider range of artwork and the younger target market, among other factors. DreamWorks SharkTale, set for release later this year, has a full roster of licensees in all categories and promotional partners including Burger King, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Great Clips, Hewlett-Packard and Krispy Kreme. SharkTale represents the donut chains first film tie-in.

Other animated films being pitched at the show included Tim Burtons The Corpse Bride, a stop-motion-animated feature from Warner Bros.; DreamWorks clay-animated Wallace & Gromit movie; Sonys 3D-animated Open Season, the first in a series of planned animated family films from the studio; and Disneys Cars (from Pixar) and Chicken Little (from Disney Feature Animation). Traditionally animated films were few and far between, but examples included Poohs Heffalump Movie from Disney, which will introduce a new character into the Hundred Acre Wood, and Universals Curious George, based on the classic book character.

DVDs Drive Licensing

DVDs, especially direct-to-video and direct-to-DVD productions, have, over the last few years, become an increasingly important driver of new licensing programs and a main method of extending existing properties. This trend was in evidence at the show. HIT Ent., for example, is releasing new DVD productions for nearly all of its properties, including Bob the Builder, Angelina the Ballerina and Rubadubbers. Promotions and some products, such as book titles, support each release. DICs Trollz will be introduced in the U.S. with a Website and its entertainment support will come in the form of a direct-to-video production rather than TV. (The property will air on television in other territories.)

Hasbro is one of many toy companies others include Mattel with Barbie and MGA with Bratz to create direct-to-video or DVD titles to extend its brands beyond playthings into entertainment. Hasbro announced a worldwide distribution deal at the show with Paramount Home Entertainment for all of the toy companys direct-to-video titles, tied to brands including GI Joe, Transformers, Tonka, Duel Masters, Secret Central, Weebles and Candy Land.

Classic Media is using DVD collections to rejuvenate and extend many of its franchises, which range from Rocky and Bullwinkle to Casper. (Classic also owns Big Ideas VeggieTales, itself a successful direct-to-video franchise.) It is introducing several holiday-themed DVDs featuring its Rankin-Bass properties including Peter Cottontail, Santa ClausiIs Coming to Town (which saw licensed merchandise at Walgreens last year and will expand into broader distribution this year) and The Little Drummer Boy.

The Pink Panther brings a retro flavor to popular products. © Paramount.

The Pink Panther brings a retro flavor to popular products. © Paramount.

Retro Rules

Retro properties in general continue to permeate the licensing show, as they have for the last several years. Animated examples include King Features Mr. Bill, available for promotional tie-ins, MGMs Pink Panther, which is turning 40 this year, and Evergreen Concepts Alvin & the Chipmunks. SloaneVision Unlimited is launching a licensing effort for the Slinky toy, which turns 60 next year. It will be supported by an animated film produced by H2V Entertainment in conjunction with DoubleTake Spring Partners and POOF-Slinky, the toy maker that owns rights to the property. The film will introduce new Slinky characters.

Overall, this years licensing show was well-attended and energetic. This is good news for the licensing business, which has endured several years of flat or declining sales. Last year, The Licensing Letter estimates retail sales of entertainment/character merchandise, which includes animation-related products, fell 4% to $13.6 billion. Perhaps the high traffic and serious interest reported at the show by exhibitors of animation properties is a sign that the licensing business is coming out of its doldrums.

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).