Marvel hopes to climb to No. 2 in licensing

Vice chair Peter Cuneo talks up strength of superheroes

NEW YORK -- Marvel Entertainment is hoping to leap into the second spot in the ranking of the largest licensors of intellectual property sooner rather than later.

"We believe we could be No. 2 in the very near future," vice chairman Peter Cuneo said here Thursday at the inaugural Gabelli & Co. Movie Conference while showing investors a slide with an annual ranking published in April by License Magazine.

The ranking showed Walt Disney on top with $26 billion in retail sales of licensed products, followed by Phillips-Van Heusen (Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, DKNY etc) with $6.7 billion and Time Warner's Warner Bros. and Iconix Brand Group (Candie's, Bongo, Joe Boxer etc) with about $6 billion each. Marvel shared the fifth spot with Nickelodeon/Viacom on that list, which pegged retails sales for both firms' licensed products at $5.5 billion.

Toys are Marvel's biggest licensing category, but video games could overtake them soon, according to Cuneo.

The vice chairman also discussed the company's focus on the strength of its superheroes. "Generally, we feel we don't need well-known, highly paid actors" in movies to make them work, he said.

He also mentioned that Marvel's biggest digital opportunity may be digital downloads of comic books to cell phones.

Cuneo also highlighted Marvel's international growth opportunities, citing that 62% of the boxoffice for "Spider-Man 3" came from overseas. Overall, about 50% of the company's boxoffice comes from international territories, he said.

Beyond films, foreign growth is also being driven by global licensing, digital media and animated TV programs, Cuneo said.