Going to the Movies

This year looks to be the strongest in a while for movie-based licensing, with licensees having high hopes for Disney’s Zootopia; Dreamworks’ Trolls; Sony’s Ghostbusters and Angry Birds: The Move, Universal’s Secret Life of Pets, Warner Bros.’ Batman v. Superman, and others. In 2015, meanwhile, Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the toy industry, with $700 million in retail sales of toys—movie-based and otherwise—according to the NPD Group, and Jurassic World, Minions, and Avengers: Age of Ultron also did well.

Many of the films are sequels or are otherwise tied to an existing franchise. So although they provide publishers with opportunities for direct tie-ins, they are even more significant in their ability to drive sales for titles not based on films. At the North American International Toy Fair (February 13–16), National Geographic, for example, showed an Angry Birds: The Movie tie-in; the film may also help boost sales for its Angry Birds Playground kids’ books, which have just been released in paperback, and its series of Angry Birds titles for adults.

STEM and STEAM Tie-Ins

The biggest mass market firms and smaller specialty companies alike used the fair to highlight the fit between their building sets, craft kits, and science labs and STEM and STEAM curricula. Many of the products were tied to educational licenses, including preschool examples such as Nickelodeon’s series Blaze, Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab, Wild Kratts, and others.

Disney’s Imagicademy brand, which features all of the company’s characters, launched apps last year and is now expanding into a variety of physical products. Among the Imagicademy licensees at Toy Fair were Wonder Forge, selling activity games, books, and crafts; Incredebooks, with augmented-reality storybooks; and Bendon, with activity-based educational products.

Appealing to Young Collectors

Toy companies stressed the collectible components of their products across the board at this year’s fair, and some of the licensed properties that were called out by exhibitors as being in particularly high demand, including Shopkins and Disney Tsum Tsum, are collectible toys. The latter is a craze that got its start in Japan and consists of stackable, collectible character plush. Bendon and Parragon are among the property’s licensees. “At the moment, it’s difficult to keep pace with the demand,” says Parragon’s Risa Beckett, executive v-p at Parragon North America.

Girls at the Forefront

Licensed properties and products for girls, with a focus on empowerment, were notable at this year’s Toy Fair. A growing group of brands are positioning girls as superheroes; two examples are Zagtoon’s Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir (Bandai) and Warner Bros.’ DC Super Hero Girls (Mattel). Action toys are being linked with girl-centric properties, including Hasbro’s line of Nerf Rebelle bow-and-arrow kits tied to the book-based Divergent movies.

In addition, many toys with science or business themes—which have traditionally fallen mostly under the boys’ banner within the toy industry—are now being positioned for girls. Scholastic’s Klutz division was one of several exhibitors showing STEM products, including a kit to grow crystals for making jewelry, and GenGirl Media introduced iBesties: Middle School Moguls, a collection of dolls, books, and online content about five middle school friends who become successful Internet entrepreneurs.

Nontraditional Licenses

Toy companies are still firmly rooted for the most part in the worlds of film and traditional television licensing. But licenses from the online realm are starting to emerge. Toy company Jazwares has a line of collectibles under the Tube Heroes brand, featuring the likenesses of celebrity YouTubers such as Dan TDM, known for videos of his Minecraft games. And Hasbro introduced a line of yard toys tied to DudePerfect, a group of men who create sports-entertainment and trick-shot videos.

Publishers are ahead of the game in this area, increasingly tying in with licenses that come from beyond TV and film, whether from online content, apps, or YouTube celebrities. Imprint (an imprint of Macmillan) recently tied in with Genius Brands’ SpacePop online series, for example, while Random House introduced Egmont’s first Stampy Cat title, tied to a YouTube celebrity and Minecraft gamer, into the U.S.

The increasing presence of such properties at this year’s Toy Fair suggests that toy companies, while still largely reliant on TV shows and films, are starting to move toward newer media platforms when it comes to licensing.