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Franchises and the 360 Experience Dominate Vegas

Over the last week, 16,000 attendees braved triple-digit temperatures at Licensing Expo 2016 in Las Vegas. Over 150 new exhibitors entered the fray—totaling 460+ licensors and agents representing over 35 countries.

See this coming Wednesday’s Deal Sheet for a complete breakdown of new properties showcased and deals announced.

The top trends that we’ll see in licensing over the next few years? Superheroes, franchises (with a few notable exceptions for original properties) and the increasing globalization of preschool properties.

Entertainment/Character Leads, but Others Shine

As always, entertainment and character brands dominated the Expo floor, with corporate trademarks and brands a close second. But remember that the property type’s worldwide market share of retail sales of licensed merchandise was just 17.6% in 2015 according to TLL’s Annual Licensing Business Survey. Fashion brands actually led worldwide (24.1%), followed closely by corporate trademarks and brands (21.4%). Although the NFLPA had a strong presence with its Sports Zone, sports brands overall were poorly represented.

This year, the Disney effect was slightly more subdued, and no one A-list brand could be said to overshadow the rest. Most companies were eager to showcase the breadth of their portfolios in a bid to hit multiple segments. And in the shadow of a fading Star Wars program (to be clear: by no means will Star Wars disappear thanks to an aggressive film release schedule over the next several years), this means that other brands have greater opportunity to grab retailer’s attention.

The floor favorite for the “next top property,” was Trolls, and DreamWorks screened an extended feature with a live appearance by Executive Producer Justin Timberlake. Also showcased were animated TV shows Trollhunters (directed by Guillermo del Torro) and Voltron (which DreamWorks recently consolidated).

Other top production companies—including Disney, Warner Bros., NBCUniversal, Sony, 20th Century Fox—featured extensions to existing franchises. Every international company focused on its international strategy with some consolidating their licensing teams and others establishing an emphasis on licensing company-wide. Gone are the years of staggered releases, with most major films set to release consumer products on the market practically simultaneously worldwide.

Superheroes are here to stay, with the usual suspects (Marvel, DC Comics, etc.) showing no sign of consumer fatigue and new girl’s properties DC Super Hero Girls and Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir soaring. Comic book publishers noted that they are doing more in-bound licensing than not, although that is typical of their business.

Digital-first Brands

YouTube did not attract the buzz it has last year—the YouTube pavilion itself was relatively bare and unwelcoming. Grumpy Cat had her own booth, attracting crowds with personal appearances every day of the show. Those with YouTube-based celebrities or productions tended to emphasize other brands in their portfolios. Considering the high growth in this sub-sector, the paltry showing was surprising.

Mobile game apps came out strong, with Angry Birds back to assert its dominance (with a new film) as well as newer brands like Cut the Rope.

Virtual, Alternate Reality the Forefront of Experiential Licensing

Surge is leveraging is partnership with ABG to create “virtual humans,” of three estates—Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. The company creates realistic models that can used for experiential hologram performances, in video games, advertisements and other formats.

And then there are the bit-sized experiences. Thanks to Snapchat, consumers are already familiar with the technology that allows them to superimpose images onto their photos in real time. Zappar is one company that utilizes custom codes (think QR codes that can be customized for each brand) that mobile users can scan to play VR games (with Google Cardboard glasses) or interact with branded content in AR.

360 Degree Experience

More than ever before, consumers are demanding access to brands on multiple platforms. This is nothing new: companies around the floor have been aware of the need to develop what are now being called “360 programs,” where linear and digital entertainment, live experiences like shows and theme parks, social media, advertising and consumer merchandise are all essential parts of a brand strategy.

One example of the changing landscape of consumer products: not quite licensee or retailer, Loot Crate was one of hundreds of new exhibitors at the show. The company strikes deals with multiple brands to create curated, themed boxes of merchandise (some already on the market, some developed by Loot Crate) that is shipped directly to consumers. Key to the subscription service is a social media community curated by the company.

International Brands

This year’s Expo had the most country-specific pavilions yet, featuring China, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, South Korea and Malaysia. Overall, 700 international brands from 33 countries made their way to Vegas. The pavilions attracted crowds thanks to special events, but otherwise attracted slight interest.

International companies shone with preschool properties such as Masha and the Bear (Animaccord) and Peppa Pig (eOne), but there was little to no new activity from other sectors.


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