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WORKING WEEKEND: Getting the Royalty Treatment

14 Jun, 2002 By: Bruce Apar

The circus wasn't in town this week in New York City, but the licensing show sure was. Formally and ponderously titled “Licensing 2002 International – The Global Marketplace for Leveraging Brand Equity,” this is as fun and diversified a trade expo as I've occasioned, and I've been to my fair share over the decades.

There's art & design, corporate branding, entertainment, fashion, food & beverage, home d?cor, not-for-profit, interactive, promotional premiums, publishing and sports. Those are the categories listed in the show guide.

Entertainment, not surprisingly, is the largest single category, and the major studios were either highly visible on the floor (first-time exhibitor Disney and regulars MGM, New Line, Sony, Universal, Viacom, Warner) or conspicuous by their absence (DreamWorks, Fox), choosing to meet and greet off site.

For retailers of video entertainment who are so inclined, there are myriad opportunities to tie in to properties the rights holders prop up as so-called lifestyle brands. The trend these days is for the property owners, such as major studios and content creators (like Spiderman's home of Marvel Comics), to extend the life of the brand, lessening dependence on box office success.

At the show opening Diane Stone, general manager of the Global Licensing Group at Advanstar Inc. (parent company of the show, License! magazine and Video Store Magazine), noted this show goes against the trend of trade events that are involuntarily downsizing. The License show attendance of 18,000 (reportedly from 70 countries) is a 16 percent bump from 2001 and conference registration was up 60 percent. There are 5,000 properties represented by 400 exhibitors.

Stone, whose formidable show business drive and savvy helped the East Coast Video Show grow into an industry destination when she managed that event in the ‘90s, called her Licensing show “The ultimate coming attraction.” The knot of retailers and licensees at Warner (Harry Potter) Bros., New (Lord of the Rings) Line and Sony (Spiderman) Pictures attested to that boast.

She also noted how icons of the ‘80s were making a comeback at the show, including Muppet clone ALF, the Care Bears, He-Man & Masters of the Universe, and Strawberry Shortcake. Stone attributed the retro trend in part to people “looking for warm and fuzzy and the familiar since 9/11.”

But even more striking to this culture vulture, and of specific relevance to merchants of home entertainment properties, is the number of classic and not-so-classic films getting the licensing royalty treatment.

With a sequel due summer 2003 and 7 million video copies sold of the original film, Universal is turning The Fast and the Furious into a supercharged line of automotive aftermarket products, anchored by an eponymous racing series in league with a drag racing association.

Viacom, licensing captain of the Star Trek franchise, is peddling licenses for Audrey Hepburn classics, including the 50th anniversary of Roman Holiday and for It's A Wonderful Life.

With sequels this summer of Stuart Little and Men in Black from Sony; Austin Powers from New Line; Spy Kids from Miramax – and theatrical versions of heavily licensed TV properties Powerpuff Girls and Scooby Doo from Warner, there's potential aplenty for retailers to stock related merchandise and showcase catalog product.

Merchandise for the first and second Lord of the Rings installments will converge this fall, with the August video release of Fellowship of the Ring and December release of The Two Towers. And with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets due in theaters Nov. 15, the video of The Sorceror's Stone will get a second wind. Ditto for the video release of Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

In a different approach, MGM has gone to its vaults to license franchises such as Rocky, Army of Darkness and Soul Cinema Collection – including Cotton Comes to Harlem, Cooley High and other films – that later this year gets its own line of urban apparel.

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