Digital IP comes of age

I was intrigued by the article that appeared here last week about spotting a merchandising-friendly 'App' brand.
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If you remove the 'App' from the title you could have taken the writers' well argued points as applying to any core IP that can be considered to have licensing potential.

Sure there was a spin to point the reader more carefully at this new, digital world, but the reasoning works across the board.

Let me be clear here: I'm not denying the potential of digital platforms to become an important new source of licensing opportunities. Rather, I'm saying that they've now grown up enough to enter the overall world of licensing and fight their case with the best of them.

This is an achievement in, and of, itself. Apart from a tale I heard at this year's BLE, when one store buyer was reported to have stated to a licensing agency: 'If it's not got a TV platform, we won't look at it', breakthroughs like Angry Birds and Moshi Monsters have got us all looking digitally, so to speak. No small feat.

I'm genuinely impressed and excited that, from now on , not all licensing meetings will have to be dominated by 'how many episodes, when will it get a terrestrial broadcast', the consistent dialogue of my 30 years in the business. That's genuinely refreshing, and, among other things, will provide food for thought for me when I get around to a new edition of The Licensing Phrase Book.*

Digital IP is also spawning some seriously interesting licensed products. I think it's really cool that so many toy companies are this Christmas not only selling toys based on digital IP, but toys designed to get more from the core digital IP. 'App toys' represent quick, clever and imaginative thinking. Where will this path lead in 2013? I'll be keen to see.

Meanwhile, it was also put to me recently that there is less 'new' to this than at first appears. For all my life in licensing, with a few exceptions the dominant IPs have come from TV or film, from Masters of the Universe to Jurassic Park and lots more before and since that you'll all be familiar with.

In the 1990s the first video game-based licences surfaced with the likes of Super Mario and Street Fighter 2. What did all these things have in common? They were encountered, experienced and appreciated via a screen of some kind, a cathode-ray TV or a big screen at your local cinema. The digital opportunities are themselves coming to us on screens - just different screens, smart-phones, tablets, PCs and whatever comes next.

'Screen accessibility' to the consumer has widened, IP has come forward to bypass traditional media and reach those screens via internet or 3G/4G mobile networks, and, hey presto, new licensing opportunities.

Is there a downside to this? In a way, yes. If we can now carry multi-dimensional entertainment with us wherever we go, what happens to entertainment formats which have traditionally been portable, but which require more input of imagination? You know them: books and music.

Of course, even books are now enjoyed digitally, and music did not become truly portable until the Sony Walkman arrived in the 1980s. Portable music is a classic victim of 'the law of unintended consequences' leading ultimately to the MP3 format, illegal downloads, and today to the virtual disappearance of the retail market for recorded music. I'd hate to see books go the same way. However, screens everywhere and anywhere is the way of it, and we must all adapt or we'll surely fail to carry licensing into the future. Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge.

* For a last minute digital Christmas gift, the e-book format Licensing Phrase Book is available on the Amazon Kindle store, with all proceeds going to The Light Fund.

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