12 Sept 2019
Lunar Landing Semi-Centenary Helps US Licensed Product Sales Rocket
As well as 50-years of moon mission memorabilia, the recent Las Vegas Licensing Expo also saw new Star Wars merchandise out in Force, Snoopy riding high and the long-awaited Frozen 2 set to trigger a character toy meltdown…
A rare chance to sit on the Iron Throne – a perch envied and contested through eight seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones – was just one of the unique engagement experiences on offer at the recent Las Vegas Licensing Expo, an annual event that sees brands and agencies come together to develop new merchandise lines and plot their annexation of any territory as yet unconquered. This year, alongside such stalwarts as Disney, Warner Bros and Mattel, the show also welcomed such notable newcomers as Encyclopedia Britannica / Merriam-Webster, Sony Music and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
Indeed, the expansion of the event was just one more testimony to the continuing growth of the licensing sector. According to Licensing International's Annual Global Licensing Survey for 2018, overall revenue in the sector increased by 3.2% year-on-year to reach a total of US$280.3 billion, with brand owners' royalty revenues increasing by nearly 4%. On the showfloor, one consequence of the resultant upbeat sentiment was an expansion to a number of the exhibitor zones, with Digital Content and Gaming growing by 27.7 % and Art and Design by 25%.
Children's licensed products – always a major presence at the show – remain one of the primary drivers of the industry, with annual spend across this category continuing to grow apace. This was highlighted in a recent report by NPD, the New York-headquartered market research group, which showed that more than $21.6 billion was spent on licensed products for children up to the age of 14 during the fourth quarter of 2018, well up on the $17.7 billion spent during the corresponding period in the previous year. In total, some 30% of all products purchased by / for children during the period in question featured a licensed character, personality or a sports league logo. Out of the 17 sectors represented, toys, games, puzzles and clothing had the highest dollar share.
As integral a part of the show as the registration stands or ceiling struts, Disney continues to break new ground in terms of both partnerships and platforms. Following the incorporation of National Geographic and 21st Century Fox into the wider Disney family, would-be licensees now have an even larger selection of properties to bid for. With the launch of the Disney + streaming service scheduled for 12 November – which has content solely drawn from the House of Mouse and its Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic affiliates – it's fair to say that interest was well and truly piqued all round.
This is likely to see all-things Disney dominating shelf-space for much of the year to come, with several of its properties tipped to be particularly high-profile. Its live-action take on Aladdin, for instance, has already given rise to a robust selection of fashion dolls, action figures, cosplay costumes and even home decor, while Toy Story 4 has inspired sundry toy and playset spin-offs courtesy of Mattel and Lego. The long-awaited arrival of the live-action Lion King, meanwhile, has been celebrated via sundry clothing and sleepwear spin-offa, as well as a fine selection of toys from both Hasbro and Just Play. Still to come – and likely to eclipse all that has gone before – Frozen 2 is scheduled to pack multiplexes from the end of November onwards, an event that will be supported by a veritable cavalcade of licensed character goodies, with everything from Elsa eiderdowns to winter wonderland wands set to be rolled out.
As if that wouldn't suffice, several of the company's properties are celebrating one anniversary or another this year, occasions that seemingly wouldn't be complete without a collector's edition or two or a special collaboration. More specifically, the 30th anniversary of The Little Mermaid is being marked by bespoke fashion collaborations with Roxy Girl, the Californian swimwear / sportswear brand, and Chaser, the Los Angeles-based kids' clothing brand. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse's 90th anniversary celebrations are continuing undaunted into a second year, with fashion forward-minded fans of the brand's most redoubtable rodent not likely to be disappointed in any quest to don Mickey-motifed moccasins or even a mouse housecoat.
Possibly set to even out-merchandise Mickey, however, is the year-end arrival of The Rise of Skywalker, the final instalment of the third Star Wars trilogy. Thankfully, fans won't have to wait quite that long to preen away in their Jabba the Hat or to tuck into their Chewbacca Chewin' Baccy as the first tranche of the movie's merch goes on sale just after midnight on 4 October.
From space adventures set "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." to those set a little closer to hand but still half a century distant, this year's 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing proved the launch pad for a veritable constellation of moon-exploration memorabilia. With everything from cartoon cosmonauts to NASA-endorsed nail-files and nascent space nations co-opted for the occasion, star turns were not hard to come by.
For the more serious minded, the International Space Archives, a UK-based digital library of space exploration-related images, recently signed a deal with Licensing Management International – the company that handles the UK rights for Zorro, Tarzan and Game of Thrones among others. This is set to see its out-of-this-world photography adorning phone cases, luggage and numerous clothing ranges. One of the first fruits of the collaboration has been a NASA-themed bathroom giftset – comprising an Intergalactic Nail Chroming Set, a Galaxy Bath Bomb and a Stardust Glitter Kit – which is now available in the UK via Boots.
For its own part, NASA has recently renewed its relationship with the world of Snoopy, the lovable beagle from the long-running Peanuts comic strip. This will see the character, as well as its ensemble support cast, deployed to help the younger generation engage with the national space programme, while also acting as a mascot for its programme of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational initiatives.
It's original tie-up with the lovable pooch and his friends dates back to 1969 when the agency introduced the Silver Snoopy Award for Safety, a special citation granted by the astronauts themselves to any NASA employee deemed to have made space exploration just a little less perilous. In a further long-standing connection, Snoopy and Charlie Brown (the dog's supposed owner) were the nicknames of Apollo 10's lunar module and command module respectively.
While it was perhaps easy to understand the importance of an imaginary dog to the space programme – as well as the knock-on licensing opportunities it represented – rather more difficult to get a handle on was the potential of whole imaginary cosmic country, albeit one that already has three satellites in orbit. Asgardia – as it is known – is, however, far from a typical licensed property.
Founded by an Azerbaijani billionaire in 2016 and now boasting some 200,000 registered 'citizens', Asgardia bills itself at the first "space nation" and claims territorial rights to the space occupied by its three orbiting craft. While the nation itself is currently seeking recognition from the United Nation, it's Minister of Trade and Commerce – Stephane Caiveau – was in Las Vegas seeking a licensing company to assist in the development of a range of related merchandise.
Explaining the nation's aspirations, Caiveau said: "We think that, within 10 years, it will be easier to extract gold from an asteroid than to mine it here on Earth. The future is changing and we intend to be a big part of it…"
Failing that, they would probably settle for having their logo on a few novelty coasters and a mid-priced range of hydration accessories.
The 2019 Licensing Expo took place from 4-6 June at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas