A raft of animated films, television series and interactive properties, from major studios and independent animators alike, were on display at Licensing International this year.
At this year's Licensing International convention, held June 19-21, 2007, at New York's Javits Center, a number of independent animators were making their properties -- including fine art as well as potential entertainment vehicles -- available for licensing.
C.e.l.m.a.t.e.s. is a licensing agency launched by Daniel Cohen, a former manager at Orlando-based Disney Feature Animation, which ceased most of its operations in 2004, to represent artists from the studio, along with other artists and animators. Properties on display included Jacque Pierro's Hey Poodle!, which was available for potential publishing and animation deals. Cohen reports that the property generated a lot of interest at the show.
Art licensing agency Bergen-Wild highlighted images by Terryl Whitlatch, principle creature designer for Star Wars Episodes I, II and II and Jumanji 1 and 2, including a children's property for the Hispanic market. The agent also represented special effects wizard and filmmaker Ray Harryhausen and his Ray Harryhausen Presents banner, which consists of illustrations and animation based on Greek and Arab themes. Bergen-Wild also was looking for a furniture manufacturer to produce a line designed by Harryhausen.
Exhibiting for the first time were Matt Haley, an artist on Superman Returns, Andy Crosby, creator of the Eureka TV series, and Thom Zahler, creator of Love & Capes. Properties from this creative partnership included G.I. Spy, Meet the Greys and Son of Asgard.
It has become typical to integrate new media -- social networking, iTunes, online communities and the like -- into any youth-focused licensing program. Digital distribution helps get a property into the hands of young consumers who are not using traditional media as much as in the past, and it helps create a deeper connection between consumer and property.
Disney supported its Disney Fairies brand, which is on track to reach $800 million in retail sales of merchandise this year, even before the release of its first DVD movie in fall 2008, with a website that, sans marketing support, generated 25 million page views. Girls can customize their own fairies on the site, and they have created 1.5 million unique fairies to date. The studio plans to launch a similar site for Cars in the future.
In his annual Licensing Show press conference, Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products, said he sees more potential for online-distributed custom and personalized merchandise, which DCP already offers through a few licensees. "You can customize fairies. What if you could customize merchandise based on those, or put those in books?" he asked.
DIC Ent. creates online communities for all of its properties, including its new Dino Squad animated action-adventure series, which will air on CBS Saturday mornings. The studio recently launched Kewlopolis, a community that connects all of its property-specific sites and has its own social networking and user-generated components. Demonstrating how much the world has changed, Andy Heyward, DIC's chairman/ceo, said at a luncheon for licensees and press, "We see the TV show almost as an infomercial for the online."
Digital venues can help rejuvenate classic properties, providing a foundation for a potential relaunch. The Entertainment Rights Group's Classic Media division reintroduced Gumby licensing at the show, as well as offering a glimpse of new animation by Joe Clokey, creator Art Clokey's son. When Classic posted Gumby episodes on various digital platforms, they went to number one on AOL and garnered 78,000 views on YouTube in the first week.
An increasing number of properties are being billed as "multi-platform," ready for any entertainment venue, whether new or traditional. Domo, a stop-motion animated property from Japan, is one of those. Launched in Japan in 1998 as the on-air mascot of broadcaster NHK, Domo appears on more than 600 licensed products, mostly in Asia. The property has a user-generated venue, Smashfest, which boasts more than 1 million downloads. The property, for teens, tweens and adults, launches on Nicktoons in the U.S. in 2007 and has nine licensees, including Play-Along for toys.
Meanwhile, licensors are mining their content libraries for potential digital revenue opportunities. Sesame Workshop announced it would release songs from Sesame Street for distribution on iTunes. This content supplements the company's iTunes video offerings, which include 15 Electric Company episodes and six free Sesame Street educational videos.
Members of the licensing community have long talked about addressing various social issues, especially those affecting children, in their respective licensing programs. This year at the show, it was evident that they're taking concrete steps to do so. The driving force -- retailers and consumers are starting to demand it.
Several properties are going green, either positioning themselves as having ecologically sound attributes, signing licensees with good-for-the-environment products, or encouraging existing licensees to reformulate products (to incorporate natural or organic ingredients, for example) or reconfigure packaging to be more earth-friendly. This trend crossed many types of properties, from the book-based Peter Rabbit to the animated classic Gumby to the marine artist Wyland and beyond.
"I think that's the next wave we have to do on the packaging side," says Mooney. Noting that retailers, especially from Germany and other international territories, are likely to drive the trend, he adds, "We would like the company to be seen as a leader in this field as well."
This emphasis on the environment follows on the heels of a trend among licensors to address the children's obesity issue by putting their brands and characters on more healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits and organic products, and by reducing the number of unhealthy products or reformulating them so they're healthier. Disney and Nickelodeon are just two of the companies that have been moving in this direction.
Comics and Interactive Games
Comicbook and interactive game properties have had an increasing presence in the licensing business, and that trend continued at this year's show. On the comics side, for example, licensors ranging from the biggest publishers to the smallest independents were represented.
Long-time exhibitor Marvel showed its key franchises, Spider-Man and Iron Man among them, while DC Comics was represented at the Warner Bros. booth, where the fourth Batman feature film was a key focus. Manga publisher and anime distributor VIZ Media brought a dozen properties, led by Naruto, Bleach, Death Note and Blue Dragon. It announced Bandai America as the primary toy licensee for Blue Dragon, an anime series based on an Xbox 360 role-playing game.
Virgin Comics offered several of its celebrity-created titles for licensing, including Voodoo Child, from Weston and Nicolas Cage, John Woo's 7 Brothers, and Guy Ritchie's Game Keeper. Teshkeel Comics made its property The 99 available for licensing as well.
Voltaire, an indie creator of print and online comics, books, animation, apparel and toys, showed several properties for the Goth and alternative markets, including DEADY. His merchandise has appeared in Hot Topic, Six Flags and other venues, and Sirius Ent. has published several of his comics. Voltaire also has produced commercials and IDs for MTV and the SCI FI Channel, including the stop-motion Chi-Chian for the latter, which was subsequently made into a 14-episode animated web series.
On the interactive side, EA's The Sims franchise, which has sold 85 million games and accumulated $1.2 billion in retail sales, was represented by brand-licensing specialist BrandSense Partners for apparel and accessories. Potential licensees have opportunities to participate in exclusive downloads, promotional inserts in game packaging, website ad exposure and online sponsorships.
Fox Licensing, which does not take a booth but conducts business from an off-site location, announced it would handle future licensing for Microsoft's Halo, which already has a roster of 30 licensees including Del Rey for books, Marvel for comics, and Joyride for action figures.
First-time exhibitor Starz Media represented Gamecock Studios, which Starz's evp worldwide marketing Amorette Jones described as "a Miramax for games." The company works with artists and funds their game projects with budgets of $10 million or more. Starz is looking at Gamecock's roster, which includes Insecticide for tween girls and Mushroom Men for tween/teen males, to see which brands have merchandising potential.
Pokémon USA has seen its recently released Diamond & Pearl product extension, which introduced 100 new characters, rejuvenate its licensing program. The Diamond & Pearl animation, interactive game and card game all were introduced nearly simultaneously, a first for the U.S. market, according to Holly Rawlinson, vp of licensing and entertainment. "The result has been this surge of interest in the property at the show," she reports. "There's so much hunger for this product, it's just blowing out." An exclusive shop at Toys 'R' Us has been extended from one month to the entire summer due to its success; Jakks is the master toy licensee. Apparel for juniors and young men also is doing well, and the company plans to authorize more merchandise for that audience.
Animation Deals Galore
Licensors and agents used the show to highlight newly announced animated TV series. Some were based on existing properties and already available for licensing, and others were being previewed to drum up interest for a later licensing effort.
Reel FX Home Ent. was at the NASCAR booth promoting its NASCAR Jr. DVD series, launching in spring 2009, for which it holds the master license for products and entertainment. The licensing effort will target preschoolers.
Chorion Silver Lining recently announced that two of its book-based properties would make their way to television. Olivia will star in a CG-animated preschool series from Irish animation studio Brown Bag Films, airing on Nick Jr. in the U.S. And Mr. Men and Little Miss will debut on Cartoon Network as a 52x11 2D series, with production by Renegade Animation. Twenty licensees are on board for that property, while Olivia has an extensive book-based program.
Super WHY!, a literacy-focused animated series scheduled for PBS Kids this fall, is the first property from Out of the Blue Enterprises, a company founded by Angela Santomero, a creator of Blue's Clues, and Samantha Freeman Alpert, a former Nickelodeon exec.
American Greetings Properties announced a co-production deal with DQ Ent. for a 52x11 series based on its property Maryoku Yummy. The series, set for a fall 2008 launch, is for kids 2-5; several core licensees have been signed. Meanwhile, Taffy En. announced that it secured licensing rights to Geronimo Stilton, a new animated series from Atlantyca Ent. (the underlying rights holder), 9 Story Ent. and MoonScoop Prods.
Animation was front and center at the booths of the leading studios, animation houses and licensing agents. Disney devoted its stand entirely to Disney Channel properties. These included its live-action tween shows, such as Hannah Montana, which represent Disney Consumer Products' fastest-growing business, on track to generate $400 million in retail sales of merchandise this year. The booth also highlighted the Channel's Playhouse Disney block for preschoolers, which consists of Little Einsteins, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and My Friends Tigger & Pooh.
MGM Consumer Products debuted Storm Hawks, which premiered on Cartoon Network in the U.S. in June and whose licensees include Spin Master for toys. MGM also introduced Pink Panther & Pals, a new animated series for kids 4-8 that is set for a fall 2008 launch in the U.S. and already has a number of licensees in Asia.
Universal Studios' properties were shown for the first time at the booth of its new agent, The Beanstalk Group. Animated fare included the holiday 2008 tentpole film, The Tale of Despereaux, as well as Land Before Time and Curious George.
Warner Bros. was focusing on its major 2008 movie releases, Speed Racer and The Dark Knight, and previewing Where the Wild Things Are. It also has been relaunching characters from some of its classic animation, such as Tweety, which was a main focus at the show last year, and Pebbles. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures had its booth decorated in a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs theme, promoting its 2009 CG-animated movie.
At Paramount, which was back as a separate licensing entity after having been part of Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products for the past few years, the big news was its acquisition of licensing rights for the Smurfs in North America. As the last major 1980s children's hit to be relaunched for 21st Century kids (and nostalgic young adults), this has been a long-awaited announcement. Paramount also highlighted its two key movie properties, the performance-capture film Beowulf, for which Diamond Select and IDW are the two newest licensees, for toys and comics, respectively, and The Spiderwick Chronicles, for which iToys and 518 Apparel were added as new licensees.
DreamWorks Animation was focusing on Kung Fu Panda, a Jack Black-starring movie for spring 2008. It announced Mattel as the master toy licensee, marking the first time DreamWorks has worked with that company; HarperCollins and Activision also are on board. Although a first-time film and not yet a franchise, Kung Fu Panda has generated strong interest from licensees and retailers. "It's such an intuitive property," says Kerry Phelan, who heads up consumer products for the studio. "You get it."
DreamWorks also was promoting Madagascar 2, as well as a boutique program for Bee Movie, which will include specialty toys and apparel as well as a honey promotion. At the same time, it was positioning Shrek, for which the licensing program has been building with each film, as an ongoing franchise. In addition to the DVD release this fall, Shrek will star in a holiday special later this year, and a Broadway musical is in the works. Several breakout themes are being licensed, including the Shrek Babies for infant products, Shrek the Halls for holiday-themed merchandise, and the Shrek the Third princesses for girls' items.
A franchise-driven mindset continues to be important in film licensing, where sell-in of merchandise to retailers is never very high when it comes to original, non-sequel movies. "Success, for a buyer of a first-run movie, is to be out of stock," Mooney comments.
At the Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products booth, there was a focus on two new Nickelodeon licensing efforts, The Wonder Pets! for preschoolers (with Fisher-Price, Ty, Random House and Simon & Schuster among the initial licensees), and NeoPets, based on the online community, with HarperCollins announced as the first licensee. For Comedy Central, NVCP was highlighting a new licensing initiative for Li'l Bush, just in time for election season, and the expansion of South Park into new categories, such as publishing, greeting cards, packaged goods, extreme sports and resorts and destinations.
Cartoon Network was debuting a property, The Secret Saturdays, and announced several new licensees for existing programs. They included Franklin Sports for bikes, skateboards and safety gear for Ben 10, D3Publisher of America for a Nintendo DS game tied to Ed, Edd 'n Eddy, and Franco Manufacturing for bedding and towels featuring Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.
Smaller Studio Presence
Smaller independents and agents also emphasized animation this year. The Entertainment Rights Group, in its first show as a combined entity, presented animation from all its divisions. Classic Media was promoting its new George of the Jungle series, with Crave Ent. and Ignition Ent. announced as licensees for console videogames. It also touted Underdog, with new toys, videogames, apparel and pet accessories coming out this summer, timed to the Disney Underdog movie and the first-time DVD release of classic episodes.
In addition, Classic announced promotional partners for its new CD-animated film, Casper's Scare School, including Red Robin Restaurants and Baskin Robbin Sugar Free Hard Candies; a Casper series is in production with Moonscoop. ER's Big Idea division highlighted Pirates Who Don't Do Anything -- A VeggieTales Movie, while Entertainment Rights showed British properties, such as Postman Pat.
Starz Media promoted Wow! Wow! Wubbzy (licensed by Bolder Media, which co-produces the show along with Starz and shared its booth); Eon Kid, a new Korean property (represented by Al Ovadia & Associates for licensing); The Haunted World of El Super Beasto, a fall 2007, adult-targeted animated feature from Rob Zombie; and Hellboy Animated.
Jones reports that the company is delving into its home entertainment library to see what rights it holds; one of the first properties to come from this process is Evil Dead, for which Starz controls licensing and merchandising (L&M). "We're looking at these things as an overall branding exercise," Jones says. "L&M is a big part of that."
HIT Ent., which did not have a booth this year but held meetings on-site, previewed two new animated properties from Chapman Ent. and Keith Chapman, creator of Bob the Builder. They included Fifi and the Flowertots, which is already on air internationally, and Roary the Racing Car, which is expected to hit U.S. airwaves in 2008 or 2009. HIT holds North American rights.
Among the many other exhibitors presenting animation properties: Big Tent Ent. (Miffy); Scholastic Media (WordGirl for ages 4-7 and Dragon for preschoolers); The Sharpe Co. (Franny's Feet and Naughty, Naughty Pets); Alliance Atlantis (Lunar Jim); Porchlight (Animalia, Jay Jay); 4Kids (Dinosaur King); Lisa Marks & Associates (Fat Albert, Edgar & Ellen); Hasbro (Transformers animation, to debut in 2008 following this summer's feature film); LucasArts (Clone Wars); and Joy Tashjian Marketing Group (Ricky Sprocket: Showbiz Boy, from Bejuba! Ent. and Studio B Prods.).
The number of international exhibitors at Licensing International has been on the rise for some time, and this year was no exception. Some were positioning their properties for the U.S. and other international markets, while others were focusing on properties for their home territories.
U.K.-based Granada Ventures recently hired Paula Miller as vp of licensing for Granada America, with part of her charge to look for properties that would be applicable to the North American and global markets. The first is Bella Sara, a collectible card game for girls, acquired from Hidden City Games in Scandinavia. The initial focus will be on toys, publishing and videogames, with an expected 2008 launch; other merchandise will follow. Granada also is positioning its preschool brand, Pocoyo, for launch in the U.S.; a TV debut is expected in 2008.
Fourteen French TV and videogame companies exhibited in a pavilion run by TV France International. They included Alphanim, Marathon Animation, Mediatoon, Millimages, Planet Nemo Animation and Taffy Ent., which also had a separate booth. Spanish companies had a pavilion as well, featuring companies, such as BRB Internacional and Jumping Frog.
Other European companies on display included Jetix Europe (showing Yin Yang Yo! and Captain Flamingo, among others), Rainbow (Winx Club, Pixie), BBC Worldwide (which saw a 64% increase in sales last year from properties, such as Planet Earth and Charlie and Lola, both represented by agents in North America) and Target Ent. (Fifi and the Flowertots, Fluffy Gardens), to name a few.
Asian companies also were well-represented. Toei Animation highlighted Digimon at its first show since launching an in-house U.S. licensing division. Also exhibited was Eyeshield 21, a Japanese sports anime property that is a joint venture of NAS, TV Tokyo and Shueisha and will debut on Toonami Jetstream and the NFL Rush website this fall. Other Japanese companies, including Tezuka Production, were gathered in a Japanese pavilion; Taiwan and Korea had pavilions as well, with the latter including Vooz, owner of the global property Pucca, and Ocon Animation.
Finally, a number of companies from Latin America were present, especially from Mexico. They included the girls' social expressions property Fulanitos; the TV network Televisa, showing El Chavo and other properties; and Biwis, an Internet-based property with a CG-animated movie from Voodoo Ent. planned for 2009. Brazil's MSP International showed a range of characters created by Mauricio de Sousa.
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).