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Movie Licensing

Disney Opens 15 Week Merchandise Window for Star Wars

By Marcy Magiera

When The Licensing Letter spoke to entertainment executives for our Annual Licensing Business Survey back in the spring, several sources predicted that movie-based licensed merchandise this fall would begin to appear in stores earlier than ever, with end-of-year movies loading merchandise into stores as soon as September. The expected leader of that trend: Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which competitors also predicted would mount the biggest licensing campaign in history.

Fast forward to fall. Disney has, in fact, thrown the movie merchandising window wide open to an arguably unprecedented 15 weeks, as opposed to the more common six weeks. The first toys and other products for The Force Awakens will be released on Sept. 4, amid marketing and retail activity suggestive of an unmatched licensing program. Key licensees include Hasbro, The LEGO Group, Mattel, JAKKS Pacific, and Rubie’s.

Macquarie Securities analyst Tim Nollen predicted in late August that sales of licensed products for The Force Awakens, which hits theaters Dec. 18, could reach $5 billion worldwide in their first year. Noting the difficulty in revenue forecasting because of the unique nature of the Star Wars campaign, Nollen wrote that he used Disney’s merchandising effort for Cars 2 as a comparison and took into account the strength of the Star Wars franchise, which he estimated has $20 billion worth of lifetime retail sales. According to TLL’s most recent ranking of $100 million-plus entertainment properties, Star Wars was fourth on the list, with $2.2 billion in 2013 global retail sales (Nov. 3, 2014).

“It’s as big as anything has been for us,” said Tom Russo, CEO of Vandor Products, which has been making Star Wars tote bags, beverage containers and lunch boxes for over six years. “The magnitude and scale of this is like nothing else,” he said of The Force Awakens licensing program.

The magnitude and length of the licensing program for The Force Awakens is likely designed to make the most of pent-up demand for Star Wars. While Disney/Lucasfilm has kept interest in the property high with TV series, videogames and the like, the last Star Wars feature film, Episode III—Revenge of the Sith was released in theaters a decade ago. From now on, however, the studio will roll with one feature film a year through at least 2019, including two more episodes of the core story and two spin-offs. Given the large fan base and evergreen nature of the Star Wars franchise, the consistent flow of content might very well be expected to translate to a similarly steady stream of licensed merchandise and revenue for the studio and licensees.

Upcoming Star Wars Movies

Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens: 12/18/15
Star Wars: Rogue One: 12/16/16
Star Wars: Episode VIII: 5/26/17
Star Wars: Boba Fett: TBA 2018
Star Wars: Episode IX: TBA 2019

Disney introduced the newest crop of Star Wars toys with an unusual 18-hour “unboxing” live marathon on YouTube, which started at 5:30 pm EDT on Sept. 2 and continued into the morning of Sept. 3. Popular YouTubers in Disney’s Maker Studios network unboxed Star Wars toys in 15 cities in 12 countries around the globe, beginning with the siblings of Bratayley, who unboxed Hasbro’s Blade Builders Jedi Master Lightsabers in Sydney. The marathon included the unboxing of a Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon, at 1300 pieces the largest new Lego toy, and Sphero’s BB8 app-enabled droid by Evan of EvanTube HD in New York on ABC morning show “Good Morning America” (Disney owns ABC).

The YouTube event led into retail sales beginning at midnight on Sept. 4, dubbed “Force Friday” by the studio. In a strategy usually reserved for the biggest movie and videogame releases, and perhaps a new iPhone, stores including Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, and Walmart opened at midnight to sell toys to the most faithful fans of the Star Wars franchise.

Retail highlights include:

  • Disney Stores in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco opened at midnight and hosted special activities and giveaways, as did locations at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
  • Target opened 207 stores at midnight. It also invited fans to share Star Wars memories online at microsite sharetheforce.target.com and launched the event Sept. Share the Force Saturday in stores.
  • Toys ‘R’ Us opened all stores at midnight, hosting special activities and giveaways.
  • Walmart opened select stores at midnight. The retailer is selling exclusive Star Wars toys, including Topps’ Galactic Connexions, a trading disc game featuring the Star Wars characters, and a Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars Kanan Jarrus figure.
  • Petco released five new Star Wars pet toys, apparel, and accessories online at midnight. The merchandise will be in stores Nov. 8.

“It’s leading to tremendous pent-up demand,” Vandor CEO Russo said of Disney-created anticipation for Force Friday. As a licensee, he is expecting the publicity to result in “good movement off the shelf right out of the gate, leading to multiple replenishment opportunities before the holidays and even before the movie opens.”

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