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Members of the Fastest Growing Industry Meet Up in the Big Apple: The Return of the Licensing Show!

Deborah Reber relates the latest animated merchandising trends straight from New York's Licensing Show.

Nickelodeon's booth attracted crowds with displays of Blue's Clues and its new cartoon, CatDog. Photo courtesy of Freeman Public Relations.

Licensing, the Fastest Growing Industry

Neither smarmy humidity and taxi cab strikes, nor the tourist-ridden streets of midtown could keep the members of the licensing industry from descending on New York City for three short days last month. This year, nearly 400 exhibitors took out real estate in Gotham's mammoth Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to promote their properties and licensing/merchandising programs for the upcoming year. The 18th annual Licensing International, held from June 9-11, is the only global event of its kind.

The licensing industry is growing at an incredible rate, now producing $25.6 million worth of sales every hour, 12 hours a day, 365 days a year! No wonder nearly 15,000 people flocked to the Licensing Show to get in on some of the action. Charles Riotto, the executive director of the event's sponsoring organization LIMA, explains the appeal: "The Licensing Show presents more than 4,000 properties from around the world, so there is no better place to find the perfect match between licenser, manufacturer, and retailer. A hot property has the potential to cross all categories, but what makes it magic is when the right partnership puts it all together. That's what this show is all about." According to LIMA, this year's show marked an overall increase in attendance and exhibitor participation over last year.

Entertainment is the most lucrative of all the licensing categories (others include sports, and arts and design), cashing in at over $20 billion a year in retail sales. Animation and children's properties make up a large part of this category, with classic properties like "Looney Tunes" and Sesame Street recently joined by newcomers like South Park, Blue's Clues and Rugrats.

Warner Bros. Consumer Products is the Licensing Show's largest exhibitor. Photo courtesy of Freeman Public Relations.

On the Animation Front

While this was not a huge year for licensing news in the animation industry (that is, at least news that was broken during the event), a number of animation studios were in attendance, including Cinar Films, Cochran Animation, DIC Entertainment, Funimation Productions, The Jim Henson Company, Nelvana, and Saban. Also sporting their typically large display booths were the Cartoon Network, Warner Bros., CTW, Nickelodeon and Scholastic.

Nickelodeon was present in full-force hyping the Fall 1998 release of their first animated feature The Rugrats Movie. A new character, Baby 'Dil' will be introduced in the film, which is produced by the award-winning animation studio Klasky Csupo, and is a Paramount Pictures presentation in association with Nickelodeon Movies. Nickelodeon's Emmy-nominated pre-school show, Blue's Clues, is teaming up with Sears in a groundbreaking partnership to create a line of Blue's Clues apparel, which will include clothes that theme-in with the interactive nature of the show. Beginning January 1999, all 833 of Sears full-line stores will feature Blue's Clues boutiques.

Saban Entertainment announced the launching of a unique relationship between Fox Kids Network/Fox Family Channel and Discovery Zone (DZ) activity centers for children and families. Properties from the Fox stations will be featured at 203 Discovery Zone centers throughout North America, and among other tie-ins, will bring Fox animated favorites like Life With Louie, Bobby's World, and Ninja Turtles into the DZ's sports-themed environment.

The Jim Henson Company and Mattel made news with the announcement of their partnering to create licensed products for Henson's Emmy-nominated TV series Bear in the Big Blue House. Mattel will be creating plush and molded toys for infants and preschoolers, along with games and puzzles based on the series. Look for these products available in stores by the end of 1998.

Seminars & Awards

As part of the Licensing Show's commitment to being more than a trade show, nearly a dozen seminars were also held over the course of the week, covering such topics as licensing basics, women's sports, how to get media coverage, the Internet, and how to "grab" kids' attention.

The licensing industry's most prestigious awards were handed out at the Show's opening gala event, held at the nearby Marriot Marquis Hotel. Animated properties took home several major awards. Warner Bros. Consumer Products International's Looney Tunes once again took the award for International License of the Year. Licensing Agency of the Year went to Nickelodeon, with their most popular property Rugrats taking home the License of the Year award. Other winners included: Hard Goods Licensee of the Year - Hasbro (for Star Wars Action Figures and Accessories), Soft Goods Licensee of the Year - Happy Kids (for Rugrats Children's Apparel and Separates), Licensed Brand Extension of the Year - Binney & Smith's Crayola Paints by Benjamin Moore, Promotion of the Year - MGM for James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies, and International Licensing Agency of the Year - Copel/Lesani.

The annual Licensing Show is sponsored by LIMA (International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association), a New York based non-profit organization promoting the industry. Next year's event will be held in New York City, June 8-10, 1999.

Deborah Reber manages Ancillary Projects for Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues and is a freelance writer based in New York.