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Licensed Entertainment/Character Sales Jump 3.7% to $13.5 Billion in U.S. & Canada

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Retail sales of licensed entertainment- and character-based merchandise were up 3.7% in 2019 within the U.S. and Canada, according to The Licensing Letter’s Annual Licensing Business Survey. Licensed retail sales totaled $13.5 billion, up $483 million from 2018.

Sales rebounded from a -1.3% dip in the previous year, which translated to $172 million in lost dollar value for the property type in 2018. The largest declines last year were in toys/games, which was down by -5.0%, or $192 million, for a total of $3.6 billion in sales. This year, toy and game sales were up 4.5%, or $164 million, climbing to $3.8 billion. Entertainment- and character-based licensed toys and games have not yet returned to the previous historic high recorded in 2017, however, when sales topped $3.83 billion (versus $3.80 billion in 2019).

Extended look: Click here to view entertainment/character sales back to 2008 in TLL’s Licensing Data Bank Online.

Toys and games have an outsized influence on the property type, constituting 27.9% of all licensed retail sales in the U.S. and Canada—and from 2013 to 2016, an average of 43.4% share of all year-over-year sales growth. That picture shifted in 2017 and 2018, when the product category dragged down average sales growth, due in large part to the closure of Toys’R’Us and shifting retail patterns. In 2019, toys and games made up 28.1% share of sales and 33.9% share of dollar sale growth. The category is expected to continue to recover into 2020, as families continued to invest in toys and games through lockdowns, travel restrictions, and longer holiday events.

Retail Sales of Licensed Entertainment & Character Merchandise, by Product Category, U.S. & Canada, 2016–2017
Note: Numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.
(Figures in Millions)
Product Category Retail Sales, 2019 Retail Sales, 2018 Change, 2018–2019 Share, 2019
Accessories $1,366 $1,329 2.8% 10.1%
Apparel $1,372 $1,333 2.9% 10.1%
Consumer Electronics $574 $558 2.9% 4.2%
Domestics $414 $402 3.0% 3.1%
Food/Beverages $521 $505 3.2% 3.9%
Footwear $318 $306 3.8% 2.3%
Furniture/Home Furnishings $372 $361 3.0% 2.7%
Gifts/Novelties $294 $277 6.0% 2.2%
Health & Beauty Aids $740 $714 3.7% 5.5%
Housewares $252 $243 3.7% 1.9%
Infant Products $398 $387 2.9% 2.9%
Publishing $903 $870 3.9% 6.7%
Sporting Goods $208 $201 3.5% 1.5%
Stationery/Paper $523 $502 4.2% 3.9%
Toys/Games $3,804 $3,640 4.5% 28.1%
Video Games/Software $960 $923 4.0% 7.1%
Other $507 $493 2.8% 3.7%
Total $13,526 $13,043 3.7% 100.0%

Apparel and accessories contributed a combined $76 million in licensed entertainment/character with 10.2% share of sales each. Like toys and games, apparel and accessories have a slightly outsized influence on entertainment/character sales with 15.7% share of all of the property type’s dollar sales growth in 2019.

Apparel was up 2.9%, or $39 million, to reach $1.4 billion in licensed sales in 2019. After four straight years of double-digit growth, apparel growth had flattened out to just 1.0% in 2018, the lowest TLL has recorded since a -3.6% dip in 2012. Strong gains were observed in casual fashion and athleisure for all age ranges, with the fastest growth in the relatively smaller category of adult apparel.

Accessories sales were up 2.8% in 2019, up by $37 million to reach $1.37 billion. Headwear, backpacks, bags, and travel accessories sales proved to be particularly strong last year. TLL categorizes facial cloth masks and coverings as accessories, and such sales are expected to boost the category substantially in 2020.

Home-related licensed goods were up a combined 3.2%, or $32 million, to surpass over $1.0 billion in retail sales. In 2018, licensed sales were flat with -0.6% change in sales from the previous year. The combined product categories make up 7.7% share of licensed entertainment/character sales in the U.S. and Canada, the third-largest major category behind toys/games and apparel/accessories. Domestics, or soft home goods, were up 3.0% to reach $414 million; housewares, or hard home goods, were up 3.7% to reach $252 million; and furniture and home furnishings sales were up 3.0% to reach $372 million. While the bulk of growth has been centered in children’s accessories, some of the fastest-growing categories over the last year include kitchen accessories and appliances. Note that this category does not include gardening and home renovation supplies, as TLL breaks out in our larger U.S.- and Canada-focused analysis.

Licensed publishing products were up 3.9% in 2019, or $34 million, to reach $903 million in retail sales. With 6.7% share of all licensed entertainment/character sales, publishing rebounded from flat 0.2% sales growth in 2018. Children’s books and comic books remain the dominant sub-categories leading in share of sales as well as growth of sales. As with toys and games, publishing is expected to continue to rebound in 2020 particularly in children’s and adult novels, activity and coloring books, and educational materials.

Health and beauty aids (HBA) were up 3.7%, or $26 million, to reach $740 million in licensed retail sales. The product category made up 5.5% share of entertainment- and character-based salesian 2019. On the health side of the equation, children’s toothbrushes and oral care products, nutritional supplements, and adhesive bandages and other first aid care continue to dominate the category’s share of sales. Fast-growing categories include nutritional powders, dissolvables, and gels that promise less fuss and tantrums than a pill or a gummy. Beauty aids is a fast-growing segment in the product category, with makeup for young adults the largest new sub-category emerging over the last three years.

Licensed consumer electronics sales jumped 2.9% in 2019 after a 1.9% boost in 2018, one of the few categories where licensed sales remained consistently strong over the two-year span. With sales up by $16 million, the product category totaled $574 million in licensed sales in the U.S. and Canada, or 4.2% share of all entertainment/character sales. Sales of licensed electronic goods ranging from tablets to earphones to karaoke machines are expected to continue to remain strong over the next year, despite strong competition in the space from other property types like corporate trademarks/brands.

Stationery and paper products were up 4.2% in 2019, or $21 million, to reach $523 million in licensed retail sales. Notebooks, planners, and journals had particularly strong sales performance over the last year, with traditional sub-categories such as calendars declining in share of sales. Licensed sales have been particularly poor for the product category over the last decade since TLL began tracking this data, with an average year-over-year growth rate of -2.7% from 2008 through 2018. Since 2017 however, licensed stationery and paper products has seen somewhat of a revival with category sales up an average 2.7% year-over-year over the last three years.

Licensed food and beverage sales were up 3.2%, or $16 million, to reach $521 million in retail sales. The category makes up 3.9% share of licensed entertainment/character sales in the U.S. and Canada. As with consumer electronics, margins are low and competition is high with corporate trademarks and other property types, making the category difficult to break into. The largest share of sales is in candy and confectioneries, although there is positive growth in sub-categories such as ready-made meals, pre-packaged frozen and canned foods, and fresh fruits. On the beverages side, better-for-you juices, elixirs, and other healthy alternatives are outpacing the traditionally dominant favorite, sodas and colas, in growth.

Sales of infant products were up 2.9% after a -1.5% decline in 2018, rebounding by $11 million to reach a total of $398 million in licensed retail sales. Overall infant product sales, not just for entertainment/character brands, have been flat or declining steadily over the last decade. Licensed entertainment- and character-based infant product sales increased just 2.1% over the last two years, with an average 0.3% year-over-year growth rate during the same period.

Footwear sales were up 3.8%, or $12 million, to reach $318 million in total sales. As with apparel, casual options are leading sub-categories for sales growth with sneakers and sandals proving strong sellers. This trend is expected to balloon in 2020 as occasions for formal or semi-formal footwear have dwindled—driving up entertainment/character-based sales at the expense of fashion-based property types.

Gifts and novelties sales were up 6.0%, of $17 million, to reach $294 million in total sales for 2019 and rebounding from a -3.2% dip in 2018 and a nasty -10.0% decline in 2017. Gift sales were strong last year after years of slow recovery from the 2008 financial crash. And novelties continued to pick up with continued strong performance in blind boxes, figurines, and collectibles.

Sporting goods were up 3.5%, or $7 million, for a total of $208 million in licensed retail sales. Team sports and protective equipment had strong performance in 2019. In 2020, that trend is expected to flip with a focus on activities that can be accomplished solo, with strong sales in skateboarding gear and accessories in particular.

Finally, other product categories saw sales climb a combined 2.8% for a total of $507 million in licensed retail sales.


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