Licensers: '07 bounty will be tough to match


The Licensing Show opens today amid concerns that there are few if any major movies slated for 2008 that can match the enormous merchandising success of this summer's megahits "Spider-Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" and "Shrek the Third" as well as the highly anticipated "Transformers."

But with CBS hosting a booth at the show for the first time and increased primetime offerings from NBC and ABC, the major networks are making their strongest showing yet at the event, with more opportunities for primetime licensing. Fox, which through 20th Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising has had a strong presence at the show for years with "The Simpsons," is back as well because "The Simpsons Movie" opens in theaters July 27.

"It's going to be very, very difficult across all product categories to match the (retail) numbers against this year," said Jonathan Samet, publisher of the Licensing Book and the Toy Book. "There are just not that many 'Spider-Mans' and 'Pirates' out there. A lot of the studios really just don't have anything new on the horizon from a merchandising standpoint. With the lineup that's coming out next year, I don't see anything that's going to match the merchandising numbers from this summer."

Charles Riotto, president of LIMA, the licensing industry's worldwide trade organization and sponsor of the Licensing Show, said he was expecting this year to be "the biggest year ever for sales of entertainment-based licensing merchandise because of all the blockbuster movies we've had this year and all the ones that are still to come like 'Transformers,' 'The Simpsons Movie' and 'Ratatouille.' "

Riotto is set to report at the show today that U.S. retail sales of licensed product were up 1.5% in 2006 to $108.7 billion, a slightly smaller increase than the 1.8% increase in 2005. Entertainment licensing fared better but still experienced a bigger percentage gain in 2005. U.S. retail sales of entertainment-based licensed product rose 2% in 2006 to $48.2 billion, up from $47.3 billion in 2005, when sales rose 2.4%.

Of all the major studio offerings, the two films drawing the most interest so far are both from Warner Bros. Pictures: the Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" and "Speed Racer," a live-action movie based on the 1960s TV series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida. The latter film, scheduled to bow in May, marks a reunion for directors Larry and Andy Wachowski and producer Joel Silver, who worked together on "The Matrix" trilogy. But with the "Batman" sequel being described as a bit dark, there are concerns that the theme could limit sales among younger children who might not see the film.

Marvel's "The Incredible Hulk" also is attracting interest going into the show.

For the most part, retailers and licensees will be working hard at the show this year to figure out the best bets for boxoffice and merchandising success in 2008. "I think retailers are going to be looking to figure out how to (meet) some pretty significant sales they had in 2007," said Vince Klaseus, senior vp franchise development and marketing at Disney Consumer Products.

Among the many possibilities for 2008 are the Walt Disney Co./Pixar's "Wall-E," Disney/Walden Media's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and Disney's "Bolt"; "Space Chimps" from Fox; "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar 2: The Crate Escape" from DreamWorks Animation; "Inkheart" and "Journey 3-D" from New Line Cinema; "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" from Sony Pictures Animation; "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" from Warners; the fourth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise from Lucasfilm; "The Tale of Despereaux," "The Mummy 3," "Coraline" and "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" from Universal Pictures"; "The Spiderwick Chronicles" from Nickelodeon Movies/Paramount Pictures; and "Sweeney Todd" from Paramount/DreamWorks.

While the Indiana Jones trilogy in the 1980s had no major licensing program, Lucas Licensing on Monday announced a broad merchandising and promotional campaign for the fourth film, with Hasbro, Lego, Hallmark, Random House, Scholastic and DK Publishing signed on as licensing partners. "Nothing is in the league of 'Star Wars,' but we think this film has enormous potential," Lucas Licensing president Howard Roffman said.

The Licensing Show, which runs through Thursday at the Javits Convention Center, kicks off with the Radio City Rockettes and Warners unveiling the new Batman Batsuit and vehicle from "The Dark Knight" and the Mach 5 vehicle from "Speed Racer."

Miley Cyrus, star of Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana," will unveil a new fashion line based on the series. There will be a meet-and-greet with the Naked Brothers Band from the hit Nickelodeon series, and the three girls who voice Nick Jr.'s "Wonder Pets" operetta series will perform live accompanied by an 11-piece orchestra during a screening of a new episode.

Disney Consumer Products chairman Andy Mooney will announce that the unit has doubled in size in just five years from $13 billion in retail sales in fiscal 2002 to a projected $26 billion this year. He also will report that the tween girls business is the fastest-growing segment of DCP and is expected to generate $400 million in retail sales in fiscal 2007 from "Hannah Montana," "High School Musical," "That's So Raven" and "The Cheetah Girls."

For the first time in four years, Paramount will have its own licensing booth, while in a rare move for a major studio, Universal has handed responsibility for licensing its films to the Beanstalk Group licensing agency.

Paramount said Monday that it will be the North American licensing representative for the Smurfs brand. "To have the Paramount name front and center in the licensing world again is very exciting for us," said Mike Bartok, executive vp licensing at Paramount Pictures. Paramount films were previously represented by Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products.

The global presence at the show also is expected to be stronger than ever, with networks and studios bringing in more of their international licensing executives and an increased number of international retailers and manufacturers attending the show.

Led by Nickelodeon and Disney, there also is expected to be more discussion about the licensing of entertainment brands for healthy food items and healthy lifestyle products.

With its presence at Licensing Show for the first time, CBS will be seeking licensing partners for the "CSI" franchise, "Criminal Minds," "Numbers," "Ghost Whisperer," "Survivor," "Amazing Race," "America's Next Top Model" and the "Star Trek" franchise. NBC will mostly be represented by the JTMG Llc. licensing agency at the show for "30 Rock," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "House," produced by NBC Studios. JTMG also will be seeking partners for series from Bravo, USA, Sci Fi Channel and CNBC. Universal Consumer Products, which handed most of its own licensing over to the Beanstalk Group, actually will be handling licensing for NBC's freshman hit "Heroes."

ABC, which will be at the Disney booth, will be launching new licensing programs for "Ugly Betty," "Dancing With the Stars" and "National Bingo Night" as well as seeking additional partners for "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives."