Is digital the new super-category in the boys' licensing space?

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

November 22nd 2017 at 10:12AM
UPDATED November 22nd 2017 at 2:35PM
Is digital the new super-category in the boys' licensing space?

As Licensing.biz continues its Boys' Month special, we explore the evolution of the licensing sector.

Digital platforms and gaming have been heralded as significant players in the on-going evolution of the boys’ licensing market.

Advances in AR and VR technology as well as social and digital engagement have been billed as fundamental factors leading to a mass rethink among many of the industry’s licensors looking to maintain their position within the children’s space.

It’s no secret that the toy retail landscape has been a challenging environment this year, something that the continued saga surrounding Toys R Us’ financials can only attest to.

But while Toy Town battles its demons on the retail scene, it is thanks to the shifting landscape of the boys’ market – taking up greater residence in the digital space -  that it remains as robust as ever.

“The evolution of the market is most obvious in the gaming and digital space, where fans can access their favourite characters in their own time and engage on deeper levels than ever before,” Johanne Broadfield, VP of Cartoon Network Enterprises EMEA, told Licensing.biz.

“With a critical mass of content viewable on demand, and social and digital engagement, boys are spending their time in different ways and has meant a fundamental rethink for licensors in terms of reach and demand creation.”

Despite the shift, the staple categories for boys appear to be holding their own. Vehicles, play-sets, construction and action figures still make up the DNA of the market, all alongside this year’s surge in the collectables sector.

From a toy perspective, action figures still lead the charge. It was only earlier this year that Saban Brands’ master toy partner Bandai’s range of Power Rangers action figures took the top spot in the UK’s action figures category.

“New technology is important for boys, too. For example, the WowWee toy line for illumination’s Despicable Me was a great innovation for boys,” says Hannah Mungo, country director UK and Ireland, Universal Brand Development.

“A characteristic of the boys’ market is being able to highlight the comedy angle where it makes brand sense – Thinkway’s fart gun and Wow Stuff’s Flying Minion Dave are good examples of this.”

Away from toys and the fashion category will always maintain its position as a staple category for boys. However, it is new advances within the digital that are catching the eye of children’s entertainment studios.

“We are excited by on-going digital innovation; toy and online games, AR and VR combined with toy and publishing,” added Ron Allen, SVP commercial at Silvergate Media.

“I think in the future, we will see even more gaming and online IPs breaking through in the boys’ market.”

More than anywhere, however, the demand for digital is evidenced by the growing digitisation of content and the move to take classic properties and re-establish them on new platforms.

“With our franchise, we have seen a significant evolution in the digital content and experiences our fans want to see,” says Saban Brands’ Leila Ouledcheikh, SVP EMEA, distribution and consumer products.

“Providing these kinds of new touchpoints is important. Through different mediums, we are also seeing crossover in the market as girls are now being featured in the ‘boys market’ conversations in new ways, which we love because Power Rangers has always featured strong female superheroes and has a strong girls’ viewership.”

The boys’ market is currently brimming with brands, each performing well. But is there a clear leader in the space?

“Not at the moment,” continues Universal’s Mungo. “We are looking forward to seeing Jurassic World, DreamWorks Dragons and Dream Works Voltron Legacy Defender succeed in the space over the next two years, something for fans of all genres.”

As for the future of the boys’ market, Cartoon Networks’ Broadfield summarises: “I think we can expect a continued fascination with heritage and new action brands which offer boys great storytelling, aspirational heores, menacing villains, rich role-play opportunities and lots of battling action.

“The media and content platforms may have changed, digital gaming has taken share of time but play patterns and boys’ passion for hot brands which they debate and play out in the playground remain unchanged.

“The future holds lots of opportunity.”