Film News

Studios descend on Toy Fair with movie merchandise

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - It’s play time again for Hollywood, as the annual Toy Fair kicks off in New York on Sunday with the traditional slew of product tied to movies, TV shows and entertainment characters.

Buzz Lightyear (L) reminds Woody that he is a toy in this undated file photo of a scene taken from "Toy Story 2". January 24, 2006. REUTERS/Photo Courtesy Disney/Pixar/Handout/Files

Among this year’s hot properties: “Toy Story 3,” “Iron Man 2,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” the latest installments of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” and TV favorite “Dora the Explorer,” who is celebrating her 10th anniversary. But overall, there are fewer movies than last year that are ripe for toy merchandising.

“There are fewer 3D films with toy opportunities, but there will be a lot of sequel or legacy film product,” Toy Industry Association spokeswoman Reyne Rice said.

Some movies will cater to the core toy demographic of kids, while others will skew more adult, providing the opportunity to sell merchandise to toy collectors.

“Toys for sequels usually sell better,” Rice said. “Retailers, for example, will support ‘Iron Man 2’ more, because they know how well product for the first one did.” And “Shrek 4” merchandise will more easily fill retail shelves now that the franchise is proven and retailers no longer question the appeal of a green ogre.


About 25 percent of all toy dollars in a typical year are spent on products tied to a licensed or entertainment property.

NPD Group said licensed toys in 2009 represented 25 percent, or $5.4 billion, of total industry sales of $21.5 billion. That was down from 27 percent of the $21.65 billion registered in 2008.

Last year’s figure excluded “Transformers,” a Hasbro property that’s become a box-office hit and was one of the top five toy properties of 2009, according to NPD. This week, toy giant Hasbro said last year’s “Transformers” sequel, distributed by Paramount, led to sales of toys in that franchise worth $592 million, up more than 20 percent from 2007 sales of toys connected with the first movie. Sales of its “G.I. Joe” toys brought in revenue of $125 million in 2009, driven by the Paramount summer release.

The symbiosis between toy companies and Hollywood has gone so far that Hasbro and others increasingly have pushed into film and TV to become branded entertainment firms. “All the major toy companies are trying to become entertainment studios,” said Steven Ekstract, group publisher of License! Global magazine. But for film studios, licensing also has been a very profitable business.

Licensors of entertainment properties generally get an upfront guarantee from a master toy licensee, which can be worth $1 million or more for top franchises. Then the studio typically gets a 10 percent-15 percent cut of wholesale receipts, which are about 50 percent of retail. At Toy Fair, licensees will showcase their wares in hope of finding buyers among retailers. But like in the movie business, there is no guarantee.

“Sometimes, a movie is really hyped, and you go to the licensee’s showroom and see a rather anemic line of toys,” NPD analyst Anita Frazier said. “Other times, you find that they have pulled out all the stops.”

Disney, which makes more money from consumer products than any of its peers, will once again use the Javitz Center event to showcase its fairy characters, which will benefit from anticipation for a fall DVD release. Another evergreen line of characters are its princesses, which could enjoy continued sales of “Princess and the Frog” product and a boost from this fall’s remastered “Beauty and the Beast” DVD release.


But “Toy Story” will be center stage as the company unveils “Toy Story 3” products with partners Mattel, Thinkway and Lego on Sunday.

Bringing together two of Disney’s franchises, the studio and toy partner Fisher-Price also will unveil “Dance Star Mickey” dancing plush toy with the help of Donny Osmond, who won the most recent season of “Dancing With the Stars” on Disney’s ABC.

Warner Bros. Consumer Products will present product related to new films “Jonah Hex” and “Guardians of Ga’Hoole.” It also will serve fans of TV favorites “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and “Scooby-Doo,” with the launch of a toy line that includes a Scooby plush figure and a Ghost Patrol Mystery Machine.

Viacom’s Nickelodeon, generally seen as the top TV-driven licensor, will be present with a range of product tied to “Dora,” the leader in licensed preschool toys. Besides such fare as the singing and dancing “We Did It” Dora Doll, Nick will feature animation favorites “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Go, Diego, Go!” as well as live-action stars “iCarly” and “True Jackson, VP.”

Viacom also will put the spotlight on toys tied to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.”

Marvel is presenting a helmet and a remote-controlled walking Iron Man, in time for the movie sequel, distributed by Paramount. Rice predicts that along with “Toy Story” it will be one of the year’s biggest Hollywood toy franchises, attracting both the core kids target demo and older collectors.

Hasbro predicts it will increase revenue and profit this year with its products tied to “Toy Story 3” and “Iron Man 2,” even given last year’s “Transformers” bonanza.

CBS Consumer Products is bringing games tied to this summer’s edgy teen romance release “Beastly” along with licensed video games based on TV hits “NCIS” and “America’s Next Top Model,” as well as new fare for Trekkies.

20th Century Fox’s licensing & merchandising team -- which had a particularly big toy year in 2009 thanks to such hits as “Ice Age 3” -- will be back with a second wave of “Avatar” action figures and prop weaponry. Summer release “Predators” also will get action figure and bobble-head treatment, with “The A-Team” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” toys also on display.

After a decline of less than 1 percent in total toy sales in 2009 amid the recession, NPD’s Frazier is optimistic for the industry this year given that unit sales in the holiday quarter rose 4 percent, even though revenue stayed flat due to heavy retail price promotions.