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Looking Back: A History of the $100M+ Entertainment/Character Brand List

By Karina Masolova,

As we update our annual list of entertainment/character properties that generate over $100 million in licensed retail sales in the U.S./Canada, let’s take a moment to look back through the history of the list and its major trends. Namely:

  1. The $100 million club is getting bigger, and
  2. The immense staying power of brands generating over $750 million.

See last year’s coverage for more details on the 2015 list.

Although most of the properties on the list are categorically children’s brands, the list includes older-skewing properties like the Simpsons, Doctor Who, and WWE, as well as all-ages properties like Batman, Popeye, and Garfield.

Note that you can download every chart in this story as an image file. Contact Jen to purchase the raw data.

The $100 Million Club is Getting Bigger

First, the total number of properties that have made the list continues to grow through the years, from just 28 in 2011 to 44 in 2015—and we expect to add more to the 2016 list.

While the number of properties generating over $300 million in retail sales within the U.S./Canada have remained stable over time, the greatest growth is for properties earning “just” over $100 million and under $199 million in licensed retail sales.

This $100–199 million category is one of the most dynamic on our list, featuring one-shot wonders like Duck Dynasty as well as mainstays like Pokémon and Transformers.

The overall growth of the total market for licensed entertainment/character retail sales means that evergreen properties, which have been performing relatively well over the years, might see enough sustained growth to propel themselves over the $100 million threshold. It also means that newer break-out properties have the chance to engage a much bigger market share than their predecessors in years past (e.g., Frozen).

The Cream of the Crop

While a similar phenomena also exists with bigger properties earning over $750 million in any given year within the U.S./Canada, this group nevertheless has some of the longest staying-power amongst brands on the $100 million list.

While Frozen joined this select group as soon as it appeared, other brands like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spent years working their way up. And although Disney Cars saw declining retail sales over the years (although it never fell off the $100 million list), we expect sales to rebound with the reboot of the franchise.

Growth trends for properties like Star Wars, as well as Disney Princess and Hello Kitty, are also interesting—for different reasons. Growth of girl-focused brands in general have remained flat or steadily declined since we began tracking this data in 2011, while boy-oriented and “gender nuetral” properties have performed well in comparison.

On the $100 million list, girl-skewed properties tend to out-number those for boys (think Shopkins, My Little Pony, Sofia the First, Monster High), and this competition tends to equalize their share of the market and dampen growth. (In comparison, the broader worldwide preschool list has more boy’s brands than girl’s.)

But “boy’s brands” are increasingly marketing themselves to both genders, and are grabbing some of those dollars. Minecraft and Marvel are two examples of brands that would have (or indeed were) been firmly situated in the “boy’s” toy aisles in years past, but currently target all kids.

Please note that the flunctuations observed from 2011–2012 are usually a function of re-stated figures (e.g., Mickey & Friends). Also note that the scale of the chart is exaggerated for viewability and highly unscientific.


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