The Force is with re­tail­ers

Sales of li­censed items reached $107 bil­lion last year, and could be more in 2015.

Los Angeles Times - - COMPANY TOWN - By Ryan Faugh­n­der ryan.faugh­n­der@la­

There’s no doubt that Hol­ly­wood is mak­ing an in­creas­ing amount of money on mer­chan­dise sales th­ese days with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of block­buster movies like “Frozen” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Trade group Li­cens­ing In­dus­try Mer­chan­dis­ers Assn., known as LIMA, has for the first time tal­lied how big that busi­ness is on a global scale: $107 bil­lion in re­tail sales last year. The amount of money spent in 2014 on cloth­ing, toys and other mer­chan­dise reached $47.5 bil­lion in the U.S. and Canada alone.

And in­dus­try ex­perts think that could be even big­ger in 2015 once Walt Dis­ney Co. re­boots the “Star Wars” fran­chise.

“There’s an ex­cel­lent slate of movies this year across the board,” said Richard Barry, the chief mer­chan­dis­ing of­fi­cer for re­tailer Toys R Us.

Char­ac­ters such as Luke Sky­walker and Mickey and Min­nie Mouse have long been profit driv­ers for movie stu­dios look­ing to fill up re­tail shelves with their con­sumer prod­ucts. Those clas­sic char­ac­ters have been joined in re­cent years by the Min­ions, the ram­bunc­tious su­pervil­lain side­kicks from “De­spi­ca­ble Me,” and a string of su­per­heroes from the “Avengers” and “X-Men” fran­chises.

But LIMA ex­ec­u­tive Marty Brochstein points to “Frozen” as the big­gest per- for­mer on re­tail shelves. “Frozen” hit the­aters in late 2013 and grossed more than $1.27 bil­lion in ticket sales around the world. Be­sides the ubiq­ui­tous songs, fans clam­ored for dolls, dresses and games in­spired by the an­i­mated film.

“It was a strong year on a global ba­sis,” Brochstein said. “’Frozen’ was the big­gest story of the year, and over­whelmed ev­ery­thing else.”

It cer­tainly helped boost Dis­ney’s con­sumer prod­ucts busi­ness. The Bur­bank en­ter­tain­ment gi­ant re­ported nearly $4 bil­lion in sales from the unit in fis­cal 2014, up 12% from the pre­vi­ous year.

Char­ac­ter- and en­ter­tain­ment-re­lated prod­ucts ac­count for the big­gest chunk of the li­censed mer­chan­dise busi­ness. The cat­e­gory gen­er­ated 44% of glob- al sales for the en­tire mer­chan­dis­ing sec­tor in 2014, ac­cord­ing to LIMA.

To­tal li­cens­ing sales — which also in­clude prod­ucts based on sports, col­leges and cor­po­rate lo­gos — were $241.5 bil­lion, the group said.

Look­ing to this year, U.S. toy and cloth­ing re­tail­ers are keep­ing an ex­tra-close eye on the box of­fice, with “Juras­sic World,” “Avengers: Age of Ul­tron” and “The SpongeBob Movie” al­ready driv­ing big sales, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try ex­perts.

But the li­cens­ing in­dus­try is most an­tic­i­pat­ing Septem­ber, when prod­ucts re­lated to “Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens” hit the shelves ahead of the film’s De­cem­ber re­lease. The space opera and oth­ers such as Pixar’s “In­side Out” and Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures’ “De­spi­ca­ble Me” spinoff “Min­ions” could also boost the in­dus­try.

The gog­gle-wear­ing Min­ions have ap­peared on di­verse prod­ucts such as board games, back­packs and Tic Tacs, and have even in­spired a new Pan­tone color. E-com­merce gi­ant Ama­zon last month be­gan ship­ping some cus­tomer or­ders in bright yel­low, Min­ions­branded boxes as part of a mar­ket­ing deal with Uni­ver­sal and Il­lu­mi­na­tion En­ter­tain­ment.

Still, even block­busters come with risks for re­tail­ers. Brochstein cau­tioned that stores face the chal­lenge of not get­ting caught up in the hype and buy­ing too much in­ven­tory.

“There’s a risk of flood­ing the mar­ket,” he said.

Kim­i­masa Mayama Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

THE LI­CENS­ING in­dus­try is an­tic­i­pat­ing Septem­ber, when prod­ucts re­lated to “Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens” hit shelves ahead of the film’s De­cem­ber re­lease.

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