Babes in Toyland

Hasbro's Lisa Licht has her eye on Hollywood

Hasbro has moved more aggressively into entertainment than other toy companies, bringing brands to theaters through such movies as "Transformers" and this summer's "G.I. Joe." It also has a lucrative deal with Universal Pictures to develop as many as nine other properties, including "Monopoly" and "Candyland." Lisa Licht, the company's GM of entertainment and licensing, and former executive vp, global marketing partnerships for Twentieth Century Fox, talks about the benefits of the strategy.

The Hollywood Reporter: Why has Hasbro shifted its strategy to becoming more of an entertainment company?

Lisa Licht: We have an incredible portfolio of brands. The focus really for the past eight years has been on those brands and on continuing to reinvent and re-imagine them in new formats for the consumer to really re-ignite the whole franchise. We want our consumers to be able to experience the brands that they have an emotional connection to, that they have loved since they were children, any time, any place.

THR: Give us an example.

Licht: In the case of "Transformers," it has meant a major motion picture, an animated television show on Cartoon Network, a terrific line of bicycles, backpacks and publishing. And we have announced a partnership with Universal Theme Parks; there will be a ride as well (in Singapore and Los Angeles).

THR: Traditionally, toy companies have licensed film rights. But in a growing number of cases, you own the rights to the game and partner with a studio. How are these relationships working?

Licht: The deals are much more of a partnership than a fee arrangement. I can't get into the financial details, and they are all slightly different. The constant is Hasbro is a producer on all our films. In the case of the Universal properties, we are developing them. Our executive is finding the creative stewards in collaboration with the studio but is really driving the process and the development. So, we have input on everything from writer, director, talent and story arc all the way into the edit room.

THR: Is it cheaper to promote a known toy brand you have coming out in a film or on TV, or is it trickier because you have to update and change the brand for a new generation?

Licht: The summer when "Transformers" came out, it was the summer of thirds in trilogies. When "Transformers" came onto tracking, it was tracking like a sequel. So, you have pre-awareness and positive brand affinity. Your job is only to convince people to see the movie. You don't have to make them aware and convince them.

THR: How high is the risk of alienating older fans?

Licht: What has been so impressive to me is that the creative forces back in our Rhode Island (headquarters) that really are driving the toy brands, they are huge fans of the toys and understand what the fans are looking for and (what) would be special to fans. So, you see a director like Michael Bay reaching out to the creatives in Rhode Island, asking for suggestions, criticisms, story lines and ideas that would truly resonate with the fans. And this happens as early as story outline.

THR: Will you continue to buy toy licenses for movie franchises that don't come from within Hasbro?

Licht: Absolutely. Our relationships with Lucasfilm and Marvel, which are probably our most prominent ones, are significant pieces of business and are a major priority for us.

THR: Do you expect your toy competitors will follow your move toward making films and TV shows based on toy franchises?

Licht: I have (at least) noticed competitors trying to go into that direction.

THR: Given the recession, what kind of toys hold up in this kind of environment?

Licht: I feel consumers love our brands, and they find them comforting during challenging economic times. We have seen that over history. I'm quite confident with the major marketing campaigns being put behind our franchises for the summer, that they will definitely resonate with the consumer. A majority of our price points (for retailers) is under $20. The combination of being priced properly, having good retail relationships and constantly reinventing what the brand could be and could mean to the consumer will keep us top of mind for them.