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6 Trends in Global Entertainment/Character Licensing

By Glenn S. Demby, Esq.

Worldwide retail sales of licensed merchandise based on entertainment/character properties totaled $28.7 billion in 2015, according to TLL‘s Annual Licensing Business Survey. For the second year in a row, entertainment/character was the fastest growing property type—outdoing 2014’s 4.8% increase with even more impressive growth of 6.3%. Here’s a look at some of the notable trends affecting global licensing of entertainment/character properties.

1. Growth of TV-Based Adult Products

Although kids’ products remain the industry staple, there’s been more licensing of entertainment/character properties for products targeting adults including everything from Ommegang brewery’s popular Game of Thrones beer lines to 50 Shades of Gray-inspired lingerie. Key sources for these products are adult TV series like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Outlander, and Doctor Who. “Specialty toy companies and retailers like Hot Topic and Spencer’s are thrilled to be able to offer fan products that aren’t tied to Disney,” notes one licensee.

2. Continued Challenges of Licensing Film Properties

As usual, Survey respondents, especially licensees, bemoaned the risks of licensing movie properties for consumer products. In addition to the short life span, they cite the uncertainty surrounding a film’s ultimate success. “You can spend two years developing product only to see it all go down in flames in the space of a week,” noted one exasperated licensee.

3. Sequels, Reboots, and Adaptations

The unpredictability and risks inherent to film properties has enriched the value of films tied to proven franchises. So it’s hardly surprising that almost all of 2015’s best performing film properties were reboots, sequels and adaptations like The Force Awakens, Minions, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. Look for the trend to continue. Among the films in TLL‘s Planned Feature Films with Licensing Potential list for 2016–2020, 56 were sequels and 18 reboots, a whopping 60% of all films listed.

4. The Fashion Connection

Ties between the fashion industry and entertainment/character properties continue to grow, encompassing everything from new apparel-friendly and on-trend style guides to fast-fashion deals, designer collaborations, co-branding arrangements and capsule collections based on TV and film properties. In addition to mutual brand exposure, these arrangements have been successful in driving revenues, especially at the lower tiers of distribution, according to licensing executives.

5. Digital Platforms

Licensors and licensees are getting better at using digital platforms like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon to extend media exposure for licensed properties including the launch of new licensing programs. “Netflix has moved the needle on shows that have gone from broadcast to Netflix,” according to one agent. And while Survey respondents were split on how well digital platforms serve to launch new properties, it’s worth noting that Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” were both distributed as Netflix originals.

6. Retro Revivals

Interest continues to grow in nostalgic and retro/vintage properties, which are seen as less risky. In many cases, properties are reimagined and reconceived for modern consumers while still shrouded in the trade dress and aura for which they were known and loved. Pokémon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Powerpuff Girls, Moomins, Betty Boop, Popeye, and Teletubbies are just a few notable examples from recent years.


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