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Studios toy with tentpoles at licensing expo

'Tron,' Green Lantern among hot properties

NEW YORK -- Less is more.

Amid the recession, entertainment giants have shifted their licensing and merchandising efforts to focus on key brands. So it is no wonder they will bring the tentpole focus they have followed in their film business to next week's Licensing International Expo.

The 30th anniversary show, which runs Tuesday-Thursday in Las Vegas, will feature attendees from the worlds of retail, advertising and licensing and 500 exhibitors -- film and TV studios, networks, sports brands and other purveyors of characters.

They amass in an annual ritual that will showcase merchandise based on Hollywood properties that arrive this year and next.

"Hollywood has never been more obsessed with producing films featuring branded characters that have currency with the widest possible audiences," said Steven Ekstract, group publisher of License! Global magazine.

Marty Brochstein, senior vp industry relations and information at trade organization LIMA (International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Assn.), said that content firms have focused on fewer but bigger properties amid retailers' recession-fueled conservatism. "They are much choosier about which and how much merchandise they showcase, so studios are marshaling all their resources behind the A and B properties," he said.

Added Robert Marick, executive vp at 20th Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising, "The past 18 months of the recession have shown that focusing on fewer and bigger opportunities is really the way to go."

Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products, the biggest licensing business among all entertainment giants with $27 billion in retail sales last year (and the goal of hitting $50 billion in the next five to seven years), also highlighted that point Wednesday during a news briefing.

As a result of a refocusing, the percentage of DCP's business delivered by core franchises will increase from 50% in fiscal year 2008 to a projected 60% in fiscal 2010. "Fewer, bigger bets" is how the division put it during a slide-show presentation.

The recession also has helped "reset the definition of success and expectations from two years ago" for licensing executives in the entertainment space, Brochstein said. "People are more realistic about their expectations, and some big properties are even exceeding them," he noted.

Here is a look at big entertainment licensors and their brand focus:

Disney

After making a splash with the Disney Channel at last year's show, Disney will for the first time since its Marvel acquisition bring its new superheroes to the fore. Adding additional boy appeal to the company will be "Tron Legacy" and Disney Channel and Disney XD hit "Phineas and Ferb."

Otherwise, DCP will highlight its six core brands: No. 1 global franchise Mickey Mouse (who has recently received high-end fashion treatment), Winnie the Pooh and "Cars" -- both of which return to the big screen next year -- princesses, fairies and "Toy Story."

It also will be open for deals for next year's "Pirates of the Caribbean" installment, among other things.

Warner Bros.

The focus is Green Lantern, which the studio hopes will light up boxoffice and merchandise business in 2011. Plus, the second-largest consumer products business in the biz will put a lot of power behind "Happy Feet," ahead of its sequel next year, and the last two "Harry Potter" theatricals.

Also stepping up: DC Comics, Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network favorites such as Batman, Looney Tunes, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Scooby-Doo.

"When consumers think of Warner Bros., the Looney Tunes are often the first images that come to mind," said Brad Globe, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Consumer Products. "Their timeless appeal, antics and sense of irreverence are made for today's audiences of all ages."

Nickelodeon

Viacom's Nickelodeon Consumer Products will shine the spotlight on this summer's film "The Last Airbender" and the 10th anniversary of Dora the Explorer. Established properties SpongeBob SquarePants and iCarly and newcomers Big Time Rush and Team UmiZoomi also will be prominent.

Fox

The News Corp. arm is rolling out a new approach to licensing, said Marick, who is attending his first Licensing Show since taking over the division. "We will focus on the long-term potential in how we manage franchises and great products."

In the past, the licensing division concentrated on theatrical and DVD releases as well as anniversaries. "We have now built a portfolio of properties with longer-term appeal, and we are looking at extending them into merchandising, as consumers want. "Outside of 'The Simpsons,' we didn't have that many in the past."

Fox is rolling out a merchandise program tied to network sensation "Glee" in the coming months.

Marick, though, said he is most excited about next year's Blue Sky animation film "Rio," for which the company will seek merchandising partners in Las Vegas. "It has action-adventure, color, music -- something for everybody," he said.

Other brands on center stage: "Family Guy," "Avatar," "Ice Age" and "The A-Team."

CBS

CBS Consumer Products arrives with the upcoming film "Consent to Kill" and a re-imagining of the classic Western "Gunsmoke."

Following the reboot of "Star Trek" on the big screen, it also will look to extend its retail presence across product categories ahead of the sequel in 2012.

Other CBS properties at the show include " NCIS," "CSI," "90210," "The Andy Griffith Show," "I Love Lucy" and "Mighty Mouse."

"Unlike so many trade shows, the Licensing Show seems to get more important over time, now being the central, most efficient marketplace for pitching new properties and sourcing new partners," said Liz Kalodner, executive vp and GM at CBS Consumer Products. She predicts gaming and virtual worlds to continue their upward momentum.

Universal

Universal Partnerships & Licensing hits Vegas seeking partners for big 2012 Hasbro-based film releases "Stretch Armstrong" and "Battleship." Other headliners: "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," "Cowboys & Aliens," animation-meets-live-action film "Hop," "Fast and Furious" sequel "Fast Five" and the sci-fi thriller "The Thing." It also will offer opportunities around the studio's 100th anniversary to be celebrated in 2012.

DreamWorks Animation

The studio will talk about merchandise opportunities for next year's "Kung Fu Panda" sequel and "Puss in Boots" as well as this winter's "Megamind" and TV's "The Penguins of Madagascar."

It's unclear whether DWA's recent retail partnership with Walmart for "How to Train Your Dragon" will be replicated. It was considered successful and unusual in that it provided a lot of promotional space for the film for several weeks. "It promoted the film and helped traffic in a very comprehensive approach," Brochstein said.

Lucasfilm

The company is celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Star Wars" saga "The Empire Strikes Back." Last year was competitive for boys' properties, but with more than $480 million in retail toy sales, "Star Wars" ranked far ahead of any other toy licensee in the space.

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" returns for a third season on Cartoon Network in the fall and again will have a strong presence.

Classic Media

The company Wednesday announced a mobile game called "Where's Waldo? In Hollywood." Next week, it will showcase the Lone Ranger, "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" in its 40th anniversary year, Casper, George of the Jungle and two new preschool TV series, "Tinga Tinga Tales" and "Guess With Jess."