Sony Consumer Products Boss on 'Ghostbusters,' 'Cobra Kai,' Tapping Into '80s Nostalgia

Courtesy of Sony
Jamie Stevens

Jamie Stevens at Brand Licensing Europe in London talks about working across film and TV, going deeper into the vault, the impact of streaming platforms and the 35th anniversary and lasting appeal of 'Ghostbusters.'

Jamie Stevens joined the Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group as executive vp worldwide consumer products in June 2016 after working for the likes of NBCUniversal, Walt Disney, the NFL and Hasbro.

Her remit is developing and capitalizing on product and licensing opportunities for such film franchises as Ghostbusters, Hotel Transylvania and Jumanji; Sony's TV series, including Breaking Bad ,  Better Call Saul and Outlander; and library product.

Stevens attended the annual Brand Licensing Europe show in London this week and spoke to THR's international business editor Georg Szalai about working across film and TV, how streaming platforms and 1980s nostalgia affect the business, hot consumer products, the 35th anniversary of Ghostbusters and developing merchandising plans for Cobra Kai.

What’s the focus of Sony’s brand licensing, consumer products and merchandising strategy and how has that changed since you took over about two-and-a-half years ago?

We have always had a consumer products group, but the focus was more on using the products to market versus driving revenue and really having the studio have a focus on consumer products. In the two-and-a-half years I have been here I have worked to place more of an emphasis on this and use consumer products to help promote and market our brands and also drive revenue.

When it comes to films, almost every property can have a consumer products program, and that is a big shift from the past when we might have only looked at the more well-known or bigger potential properties. We have been able to build programs around certain things that have had niche products or retailers.

What are you focusing on here at Brand Licensing Europe in London?

We are celebrating our 35th anniversary of Ghostbusters. The great thing is that the ‘80 and ‘90s are trending, and we are doing a lot of activity around that and having a lot of product.

We are also focused on Hotel Transylvania. We not only had great success with the film, but just announced our second season of TV, so we are focused on developing product for the second season. 

So we have a lot of new and catalog content. And we are also now managing the licensing for our television properties. So we are working on such things as Breaking BadOutlanderCobra KaiBetter Call Saul. We have a lot of things in our tool box.

How different is your consumer products approach for different Sony brands and are there differences in the business for film versus TV products?

It really depends on the property, there is not one way to do it. So you need to start from the bottom up, looking at what is the DNA of the brand and who the consumers are and how that aligns with what type of products we could potentially generate.

For television, there is a longer window and maybe an opportunity to come out with different products during the life cycle.

Does the fact that you have shows on streaming services now also help with extending consumer products opportunities?

For TV, it’s a little less challenging, especially now where there is plenty of programming that is digital and nonlinear. So some of the content is accessible all the time. The retailers like that because the product can be on shelves longer and there is not a specific window.

But there is nothing like a big movie event. You will continue to see that close to the movie release when all the marketing is hitting is a good time to be on shelves. And for franchises you see the development of new product to keep things fresh until the next piece of content.

Are there any age groups your team is targeting in particular or do you look to go as broad as possible?

It’s great for us that we have different film labels. We have Sony Pictures Animation, so animated content for mainly kids. Then we have Columbia Pictures for big-budget films, and we make family and adult films. So in our business, with every film and every day we are targeting different consumers. We are making 26-plus films a year. We have a lot of opportunity to reach consumers in different ways.

It seems like management at Sony and the studio has really put more focus on consumer products and the like.

The studio as a whole is looking to ancillary businesses to help drive revenue outside of the traditional windows. 
Tom Rothman and the rest of the management group have been very supportive of licensing.

How early do you get involved to help shape the consumer products opportunity when there are new film or TV projects?

I’m part of the greenlight committee for films. So they are looking for my feedback. When we have opportunities to work with filmmakers to extend our programs where it is appropriate, everybody is very open to doing that. That is a unique proposition for our studio versus the way maybe some of the other studios work. They are very supportive of pushing the business forward. 

Can you share how much revenue your business makes or any revenue targets?

I can’t comment. Our goal is to grow the business, and we have been doing that year after year.

What are the upside drivers?

It’s going deeper on some of our properties and looking into our vault. The vault is really trending, especially in apparel. The apparel partners want classic properties, and we always look in our vault...what is potentially trending and what opportunities can we create. 

It’s also about enhancing categories and innovation. You have to bring new types of product to market, either with existing licensees that have ideas for innovation or new types of categories. 

What's Sony's biggest brand in consumer products?

It’s hard to answer that. Ghostbusters continues to deliver for us every year. And we really tap into all our new releases both in film and television. It’s really across the board. 

The 2016 all-female Ghostbusters reboot disappointed at the box office. What did that mean for the consumer products business?

The Ghostbusters franchise continues to be a very strong franchise for us in consumer products. 

What have been some of your best-sellers over the past year?

This past year for the holidays we did a Jumanji board game, which was an update on the classic board game and was the number 1 board game for the holiday season. And we have a great line of product with Playmobil for Ghostbusters. It was the first time Playmobil did a licensed collection, and it has done very well for them.

Is there any hot consumer products category?

Board games are very big right now, and we have been in that across a lot of our different properties. 

Why do you think board games are doing well?

I think that especially with families and kids, parents are trying to get their kids not to be on their phones and their tablets all the time, and this is a great way to have family time. Also the manufacturers have been doing a great job with innovation and just being on trend.

You mentioned Cobra Kai earlier. How did that consumer products program come together and how much was it influenced by past Karate Kid work?

We already had a really nice classic program with Karate Kid, so it just made sense when the TV show came out on YouTube, and it did extremely well in the first season. We took some of the lessons learned from Karate Kid, but also looked at the DNA of Cobra Kai to put together products for the fan. We have apparel, with things like accessories, socks and costumes, publishing, collectors’ figures and things like that. We are working very closely with the showrunners to develop the right product. They have great ideas, so it’s a best-case scenario where it’s a very collaborative relationship.

What will get a big push over the next year?

We will continue to mine Hotel Transylvania since it’s been really successful and a great opportunity. We will continue to mine the vault and our great TV properties. And we have in 2019 the next Jumanji movie, Jumanji 3, during the holiday season. We also have Men in Black, which is a reimagination of the franchise with great talent and great opportunities there. We are also reimagining Charlie’s Angels, which will probably be more of a fashion program. 

What does reimagining mean for consumer products?

That’s the fun part of my job — being able to work with new partners and go into new categories that have never been done before. We have been able to do that, and I challenge my team to do that and find innovation both with the partnerships we do and licensees that we sign and also the type of product.

Anything you can share about things your team is working on beyond 2019?

For 2020, we are releasing Bloodshot with Vin Diesel, so we are working with Valiant Comics on that and are really excited about it. We are in the process of signing licensees and have had a lot of great feedback on it. There will be some things in the collector area and we will also be broadening it out into other categories that are a little wider. We also have another Peter Rabbit in spring of 2020 and other animation properties.