Traffic on Day 1 (May 24) of Licensing Expo, back in-person in Las Vegas for the first time since May 2019, seemed to be strong and steady, and most exhibitors said they had productive meetings throughout the day. Many reported that the visitors to their booths seemed to know what they wanted and were on a mission to meet specific objectives during the event.

In its first in-person iteration in three years, 250 exhibitors were on the show floor, according to Informa Markets, which organizes the Expo in partnership with Licensing International. It was clear from walking the floor that the number of exhibitors is notably fewer than three years ago, as uncertainty over Covid-19 kept many from taking a booth. In addition to those who decided not to exhibit at all, some long-time regulars, including major players like Sesame Workshop, King Features, NASCAR, Coca-Cola, and Sanrio, opted for private meeting rooms at the edge of the show floor rather than their traditional real estate. (Informa was not able to confirm an exact total for exhibitor attendance in 2019 by Wednesday morning, but says there were “hundreds” of exhibitors, including 150 that were new to the Expo that year.)

Publishers, including Scholastic, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster, say they sent reduced teams to the Expo, while a number of licensor exhibitors were running on skeleton crews due to last-minute Covid diagnoses.

On the other hand, there are also a number of first-time exhibitors, including publishers. One is Fox Chapel Publishing, which took a booth to promote Ninja Kitties, a social-emotional learning-based book series it is launching this summer that it expects to have strong licensing potential. Highlights Licensing, which has been expanding its consumer products efforts, recently signing Playtek as its educational toy licensee, also had a stand for the first time.

A number of licensing agents, as always, are highlighting book properties, including some new offerings. Moxie & Co. is touting its licensing program for Eloise, which it is officially debuting at the Expo, while Epic Story Media was offering Hop, a new preschool animated series from Arthur creator Marc Brown. Publishing tied to the series is expected to launch shortly before the TV show, probably in late 2023 or early 2024.

Other publishers and author estates with booths at the Expo include Candlewick Press, Dark Horse Comics, the Lumistella Company (Elf on the Shelf), and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, among others.

There are a few other tweaks from tradition due to the continuing pandemic. Few licensors are holding their traditional in-person licensing summits, the gatherings where they update their licensees on the plans for their properties; many held virtual events before the show instead.

And Paramount, the newly renamed company formerly known as ViacomCBS, which oversees licensing for Paramount films, CBS-owned properties such as Star Trek, and Nickelodeon IP, included “Zoom pods” in its booth. They were decked out with wall-mounted high-res screens, webcams, lighting, and deadening foam walls, so the company could hold virtual as well as in-person meetings during the three days of the Expo.