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Toy Fair Highlights Entertainment Tie-ins

20 Feb, 2003 By: Anne Sherber

Though the 100th American International Toy Fair was noticeably smaller in scope than previous fairs, the alliance between entertainment properties and consumer products continues to grow, with videos featuring Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie and a Lego line in the offing and severnal video lines spawning toys.

Virtually all of the show's standout products were based on entertainment franchises, notably anamatronic characters of Elmo, Barney and Dora the Explorer.

Hasbro took the video-toy tie-in to a new level.Spurred by the success of its own HitClips line of audio players, the company introduced VideoNow, a portable personal video player. The player (approximately $50) will play proprietary video discs ($7.99 each) with 30 minutes of programming. Hasbro has already signed licensing deals with the creators of “Spongebob SquarePants,” “Jimmy Neutron,” and “Fairly Odd Parents” and expects 24 titles to be available this fall.

Although the U.S. toy industry experienced an almost 3 percent decline in the past year, studios are still determined to carve out a piece of the $20 billion Americans spend on playthings. Toys based on upcoming films and videos were all over showrooms.

Mattel, the master toy license holder for several upcoming Disney properties, demonstrated toys associated with Finding Nemo, due in theaters May 30 and on video in the fourth quarter; with the platinum DVD release of The Lion King, also scheduled for fall; and with Brother Bear, a Disney film scheduled for theatrical release this holiday season.

DIC Entertainment, in partnership with American Greetings, has resurrected Strawberry Shortcake, and will release, through Fox Home Entertainment, four home video specials, said Carol Lee, senior VP of home entertainment. The first two titles, Meet Strawberry Shortcake and Spring for Strawberry Shortcake are due March 11. The other two titles, A Merry Berry Christmas and Strawberry Shortcake's Get Well Adventure are due in the fall.

Although the target audience for the property is girls ages 3 to 8, the company is appealing directly to mothers who remember the property from the 1980s. Bandai is the master toy licensee for the product. Lee said having a successful toy line associated with the Strawberry Shortcake videos is “hugely important,” noting mass merchants are experiencing strong sales of video-related consumer products. The video packaging will be embedded with scent crystals so that, like all of the toys in the line, it will emit the strawberry scent that is closely linked to the franchise, Lee said.

Barbie's first two video outings have been so successful that Mattel will release a third Barbie video in the fourth quarter of 2003. Like Barbie in the Nutcracker, Barbie of Swan Lake will feature ballet sequences choreographed by New York City Ballet's ballet master, Peter Martins. Kelsey Grammer will voice the evil Rothbart. The video streets Sept. 20, but Mattel declined to comment on the distributor. Artisan Home Entertainmentdistributed the previous two titles.

In another toy-to-video project, Lego Co. has introduced a new line of construction and action figures called Bionicle, also the subject of an animated direct-to-video release in September. The program is the first project from Lego Media. A Miramax feature film is scheduled for 2004.

Video lines are also spawning toys.

The best selling line of infant videos, “Baby Einstein,” has introduced consumer products based on their popular brand for the first time. Infant/preschool and plush toys based on line come out in May.

Also launching a toy line for the first time are the Wiggles, the popular Australian singing quartet with a Disney Channel show and a video series. The group has struck a deal with master toy licensee Spin Master Toys through its American distributor Hit Entertainment. Hit will release four new videos from the group this year to coincide with the release of the toys, including a feature-length program released theatrically in Australia and the group's first animated program. Sue Beddingfield, Hit's SVP of marketing, noted the Wiggles have been a video-only property for four years and that consumer research conducted by the company indicates that the demand for other consumer products is high.

Also new from Hit is “Rubadubbers,” an animated series about bath toys that come to life. The programs will run on Nick Jr. anddebut on video in spring 2004. Unlike the Wiggles, toys associated with the property will become available well before the property is released on video.

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