Licensing International Expo, which ran June 21–23 in Las Vegas, attracted more than 2,700 publishing industry professionals, collectively representing 17% of the 16,000-plus attendees overall, according to show organizer UBM. While walking the exhibition floor, attendees had the opportunity to peruse licenses offered by 489 exhibitors, including producers of TV shows, films, and streaming properties; corporate brands and fashion labels; and artists and athletes.
On the entertainment side of things, one of the notable trends was the continued prevalence of preschool properties. This year, there was an emphasis on very sweet properties for the youngest children.
“There’s been a lack of wholesome early-childhood content,” explained Brad Woods, chief marketing officer at Viz Media, echoing other attendees and exhibitors. Viz, known for its manga and anime properties, is looking to expand its roster of brands to include content from outside Japan, as well as IP that appeals to demographic groups beyond the core manga/anime consumer. Toward the latter goal, it is developing its first preschool property, Gakkimals, for the international market; Gakkimals is based on a Japanese TV show.
Other safe-and-sweet preschool TV shows with a presence at the expo included Entertainment One’s PJ Masks, Mercis’s Miffy’s Adventures Big and Small, and DHX Media’s Teletubbies relaunch; Simon & Schuster is the publishing licensee for all three.
Nick Jr. has been expanding its roster of preschool programming, and continued strong sales were reported for licensed merchandise tied to Paw Patrol (a Spin Master property) and robust early results for Shimmer & Shine, a series that features an emotional-intelligence curriculum. Nickelodeon’s publishing licensees include Bendon, Papercutz, Phidal, Phoenix International, Random House, and Studio Fun.
For older children, especially girls, tiny collectible toys are having a moment as a popular source of licensed IP. Examples include Disney’s Tsum Tsum (published by Disney, Bendon, Parragon, and others), MGA Entertainment’s Num Noms (no publishing licensee announced yet), and Moose Toys’ Shopkins (Bendon, Scholastic). Meanwhile, female super-
heroes also had a high profile, including Zag’s Miraculous, with Action Lab on board for comics. Also prominent were characters and brands encouraging girls’ interest in science, such as GoldieBox, which announced a deal with Random House at the expo.
On the adult side, licensors of reality shows and networks known for reality programming were touting new publishing agreements. A&E announced a two-book deal with Abrams for Tiny House Nation. Discovery Communications, which was focusing on its Discovery Adventures travel and experience brand, recently signed two books tied to its Shark Week franchise, namely Shark Week: Everything You Need to Know, from Macmillan’s Feiwel and Friends imprint, and Sharks: The Ultimate Handbook, from Topix Media. And Endemol Shine North America announced that Abrams will publish a cookbook authored by the season-seven winner of MasterChef, something it has done for the winners of season five and six as well.
Mining the Backlist
Authors and publishers were among the mix of properties on display at the show. Candlewick Press, a first-time exhibitor, was previewing a number of its book series to prospective licensees, according to Melanie Blais, contracts and licensing manager; book series on display included Chris Haughton’s paper-cutout-inspired artwork, Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody books, Shirley Parenteau and David Walker’s Bears on Chairs series, Leslie Patricelli’s Bald Baby board books, and Chris Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship. And Scholastic, which has a long history of licensing brands such as Goosebumps and the Magic School Bus, introduced more properties to potential licensees, including the Whatever After, I Survived, and Can You See What I See book series, according to Gary Hymowitz, v-p of consumer products.
Over the past year, Scholastic has reorganized its consumer products and entertainment operations, which now fall under the children’s publishing division rather than being part of a separate media division. Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, said she works closely with Hymowitz on outbound licensing activity, as well as continuing to oversee licensing acquisitions with her trade division team.
Another company that is fostering closer ties between its licensing/entertainment and publishing operations is Corus Entertainment of Canada, whose Kids Can Press is collaborating more than in the past with its sibling company Nelvana, an animation producer and licensor. “We’re looking at using them as our in-house publisher, and they’re looking at taking some of their publishing properties into TV and licensing,” said Pam Westman, head of Nelvana Enterprises.
Moxie & Co., a licensing agent with a history of focusing on children’s book properties such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, has added a number of new literary properties to its portfolio, including Deborah Diesen’s Pout-Pout Fish and Billy Steers’s Tractor Mac (both published by Macmillan); Leo Lionni & Friends, including titles such as Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse, Cornelius, Frederick, and Swimmy (Random House); and Keith Baker’s Peas series (Simon & Schuster).
Moxie had lessened its reliance on licensing children’s book properties in recent years, focusing more on art/lifestyle and museum brands. “The [licensing business] was moving away from children’s publishing, but now it’s moving back again,” said Laura Becker, Moxie’s cofounder. “It feels like now the time is right to get back in.”
Book properties also continue to make their way onto television, computer, and phone screens, often through deals with streaming platforms. Netflix announced that it would distribute a series based on Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama picture books, published by Viking, and licensed by Genius Brands. It also forged a deal for a series called Hilda, which Silvergate Media is producing based on Luke Pearson’s graphic novel series, published by Nobrow’s Flying Eye Books. The new shows will launch in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
A Wide Worldview
As has been the case for the last several years, the expo had a global slant, in terms of licensors expanding their businesses internationally and in terms of licensors, licensees, and agents looking for properties from around the world that might work in the U.S.
As for the latter, Moxie is representing Shinzi Katoh, a Japanese illustrator with more than 25 books published in his home country. He has a significant licensing program in Asia and has developed a cult following in this country.
The localization of global publishing activities was a notable topic of conversation. Linda Lee, Nickelodeon’s v-p of domestic publishing, noted that the speed of product introductions is picking up on a worldwide basis. “As we’re looking at releasing products faster, we want local partners,” she said.
Meanwhile, some licensors are increasingly working with publishers to offer unique content for different territories, albeit all in line with global branding, storylines, and character development strategies. “Our publishing business has moved from a North America–centric publishing business to a custom creator of local content,” said Simon Waters, Hasbro’s general manager and senior v-p of entertainment and licensing, speaking on a keynote panel about the toy business.
That outlook extends into toys and other categories involved in licensing as well. “We’ve signed a brand in Germany that probably will never go beyond Germany, but it’s very important for us there,” said Laura Zebersky, chief commercial officer of global toy company Jazwares, another participant on the same panel.
Formats on the Rise
New and recent licensed publishing deals highlighted at the show reflect a number of formats that have become important for licensing. For example, even as adult coloring books are showing signs of cooling off slightly, a variety of licensors continue to sign deals in this category. Many are artists and art brands, such as Bouffants and Broken Hearts (with F+W Books), Catalina Estrada (Hallmark), and Molly Hatch (Chronicle).
Entertainment and character properties also continue to be active, with Random House publishing coloring titles tied to Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and 1990s-era millennial-targeted properties such as Hey Arnold!, Ren & Stimpy, and Rugrats.
Augmented-reality titles, which use an app to make a book’s pages come to life, are becoming more sophisticated as technology improves. Hasbro is one licensor that has expanded its presence in this category, according to director of global publishing Michael Kelly, signing Carlton Books in the U.K. for My Little Pony and Transformers AR character guidebooks and Devar in Russia for a Transformers AR coloring book.
In-world titles—which replicate books depicted on screen—continue to proliferate, with new examples including Little, Brown’s third My Little Pony handbook; The Wonderbolts Academy Handbook, under license from Hasbro; and Abrams’s third in-world title tied to Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time: The Adventure Time Encyclopedia, authored by “His Lowness Hunson Abadeer, Lord of Evil” and “translated” by Martin Olson.
Next year’s Licensing International Expo will be held May 23–25, a departure from its usual June time slot. The move reflects retailers and licensors’ desire for an earlier show, as well as a need for more space between Licensing Expo and other key international shows, notably Brand Licensing Europe in October.