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London Licensing Expo: Warner Bros. Franchise Focus Benefits Merchandise Business

Looney Tunes
Looney Tunes is one of the big Warner Bros. consumer products brands

"Retailers won't take a one-shot movie deal anymore," says Jordan Sollitto, the head of international licensing for the studio's consumer products unit.

LONDON – Warner Bros.' franchise focus helps the studio's consumer products licensing business in the battle for retail shelf space, executives said here at the Brand Licensing Europe expo.

The company showcased merchandise for such Warner brands as DC Comics, Looney Tunes and The Hobbit.

"When you have an evergreen property and a major media event behind it, you get a major boost" in the consumer products business, said Jordan Sollitto, executive vp, international licensing at Warner Bros. Consumer Products. "Most companies have one of the two. Retailers won't take a one-shot movie deal anymore."

After all, a movie release for a one-off brand may benefit retailers for three weeks these days, compared to months in the past, he explained. "But Batman or Superman don't come and go," Sollitto said about the iconic DC Comics characters. "For them, a new movie is just as a huge ad campaign. We're really lucky."

He added: "Even our "one-offs" are not really one-offs. For example, people know Godzilla [which is getting its latest film iteration from Warner in 2014.] Our company has been very good about investing in franchises."

The fact that many Warner properties are evergreen hits that are multi-generational and the company's global reach also help.

"The economy in Western Europe may be weak, but we have a global business and broad portfolio," Sollitto said. "That helps when one region suffers."

Pilar Zulueta, who heads up the Warner licensing business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said while Western Europe remains weaker, Eastern Europe is "doing extremely well" and the rest of the regions she covers are also showing strength.

Zulueta said she was excited about the outlook for Godzilla merchandise tied to the upcoming movie. "It's a classic, iconic character," she said. "And it plays into key trends. Monsters, such as dragons, are everywhere right now. And Japanese portrayals are a trend in the market."

Concluded Zulueta: "It is a very good opportunity for us in Europe."

The Warner executives also mentioned that DC Comics is a big growth driver of their business amid an expanding array of products and content. "We really feel the DC superheroes are in a league of their own," said Sollitto when asked about competition from other superhero franchises. "And we are putting more and more effort into them. That business is only going to go up."

But in Europe, the Looney Tunes merchandising business is bigger than DC. Zulueta cited a long history of the brand on European TV and its brand architecture as reasons. "Tweety is big with girls, there are beloved characters for boys, and there is other segmentation," she explained.

The executives cited a new Looney Tunes-NBA merchandise tie-up in Europe as an example of a big current licensing trend - the teaming of two big-name properties. "It will be very powerful," Sollitto said.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai