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Hollywood Building Long-Term Licensing Brands

14 Jun, 2002 By: Bruce Apar

Hollywood's licensing divisions are intent these days on building long-term, lifestyle brands based on franchise properties both old and new, ranging from It's A Wonderful Life to The Lord of the Rings. That strategy stands to benefit catalog video sales as well as hot new releases, as licensed merchandise, typically pulled off shelves by retailers four to six weeks after the movie's theatrical debut, may extend to the video's street date several months later. In some cases, new merchandise will be introduced to ride the coattails of the video release.

Film properties were center stage last week at the annual License International show at Manhattan's Jacob Javits Center, where attendance was reported at 18,000, up 16 percent from 2001.

The Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association (LIMA) cited a study conducted by Harvard and Yale that showed entertainment properties in 2001 accounted for $42.2 billion in retail sales and $5.6 billion in royalty revenue to licensors, by far the largest single category in the $96 billion domestic licensing business.

This was the first year Disney has exhibited, joining MGM, New Line, Sony Pictures, Universal, Viacom and Warner Brothers. Fox, Miramax and Lucasfilm set up shop off the show floor to meet with licensees and retailers.

Russ Brown, executive VP, consumer products, Marvel Comics, told Video Store Magazine the Spider-Man licensing program started in spring 2001 and ends with the DVD and VHS release in November 2002, when he said there will be new tie-ins.

“Retailers are clamoring for position for the home video release,” he said.

Sources reported that Sony Pictures, which handles licensing categories distinct from partner Marvel, is working with apparel companies and Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target and other merchants to introduce new designs for the Spider-Man video release during the fourth quarter. For Men in Black II, due in theaters Fourth of July weekend, the company was expected to close a deal by the end of last week with a new licensing product targeted to the fourth-quarter video release.

In the case of Warner Bros.' Powerpuff Girls, the Cartoon Network animated darlings also arriving on the big screen Fourth of July weekend, toy lines will be refreshed for the holidays and for spring 2003 planograms, when the video is expected. The company was also highlighting Scooby-Doo in preparation of last week's theatrical opener and, of course, Harry Potter-branded opportunities and Looney Tunes characters.

For its September 2002 DVD release of Stargate SG-1's Season 2 compilation, MGM is including inserts promoting exclusive merchandise. With an eye toward a February 2003 repromotion of its “Soul Cinema Collection” on video, including Cooley High and Cotton Comes to Harlem, MGM later this year launches the Soul Cinema apparel line, from urban outfitter Willie Esco. The “Rocky” film series will be repromoted in summer 2003 in individual volumes and a five-film gift pack, backed by an extensive array of “Rocky” merchandise.

20th Century Fox will have “extensions on the toy side” during the 2002 holiday season for animated hit Ice Age, according to Peter Byrne, executive VP, licensing and merchandising.

In addition to Viacom's new program to license out holiday perennial It's A Wonderful Life, and MGM's classics push, the notable surge in cult-film licensing activity includes Universal's The Fast and The Furious, plus Viacom's South Park, Top Gun and Star Trek, with the sci-fi series' 10th theatrical episode, Nemesis, in theaters this December and a new fall 2002 TV series “Enterprise.”

Universal Studios Consumer Products Group senior VP Tim Rothwell said the studio has built an entire automotive aftermarket line, due this fall, around The Fast and The Furious, a surprise box office phenomenon, with John Singleton set to direct the sequel for summer 2003 release. For The Scorpion King, The Mummy sequel starring The Rock, Rothwell noted for the fourth-quarter video release there will be new promotional partners for collectible cards, action figures and CD-ROM cards.

On direct-to-video release The Land Before Time IV, Universal has an exclusive merchandise line of toddler items available through Walgreen's as part of a co-branded deal.

There is some new licensed merchandise being introduced this summer in a second wave of merchandising for New Line's The Fellowship of the Ring. The availability coincides with the August and November collector's edition video releases and builds momentum for the fall theatrical release of the next film in the trilogy, The Two Towers. Although there is not a special program pegged to the video release, the studio takes advantage of the timing to match the merchandise look to the motif of the video marketing program.

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