LICENSING TRENDS: Toys

As ever, there will be a large choice of branded product across multiple screens this year: on TV, in cinemas and on the home computer, all of which will translate into toy product. Industry expert Reyne Rice looks at some of the key highlights...
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A round-up of some of the most talked about properties launched at the American International Toy Fair in New York in February included a new pre-school brand, exciting new boys action figures and an increasing amount of Cyber Playground products, where offline play is enhanced by an online experience for an expanded play experience.

Pre-school:
Although established pre-school brands such as Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, Sesame Street, Backyardigans and others continue to grow in popularity and maintain their momentum, new properties are launching which will challenge these perennial favorites. One of the newer brands capturing attention on Nick Jr is Yo Gabba Gabba.

Spin Master, along with program producers The Magic Store and W!LDBRAIN, have been dancing to the show’s funky and phenomenally successful beat as Yo Gabba Gabba! continues to dominate Nick Jr. ratings on television, song, and video downloads since its August 2007 launch in the US. The characters and the show’s producers have created an interactive and wacky set of characters that will have kids dancing, and actively engaged in each episode. The toy products will be in stores in Fall 2008, one year after the TV show debuted on Nick Jr, to provide a window for the program to gain popularity and build up a loyal following.

Boys Action Figures and Accessories:
Last year, in the US, NPD Group reported that the Action Figures and Accessories category grew by eight per cent, led by Transformers and Spider-man properties. The boys child-sized role-play category also grew in the single digits with both of these categories expected to continue this upward growth trend. The excitement in 2008 will be driven by new TV show entertainment properties and the opening of action adventure movies which appeal to this market segment.

New TV Entertainment Properties:
Bakugan Battle Brawlers: Spin Master’s first action figure and trading card property is breaking sales records in Canada and the US. As the products have hit shelves this spring, both the TV show and product line are claiming record penetration as boys engage in this new collectible phenomenon. Cartoon Network will air the show in the US market.
Blue Dragon (pictured): Bandai and VIZ Media have partnered on this new action figure brand. Based on the fastest growing RPG game in Japan, and created by two of the most well-respected Japanese anime artists, this action-packed series follows the adventures of the Seven Soldiers of Light who must awaken within them the power of the Magical Shadow to overcome conflicts through adventure and friendship.
The Spectacular Spider-Man TV show: Produced by Culver Entertainment, (Sony Pictures) and supported by Hasbro as the master toy licensee, Spider-Man will continue his successful reign at the top of the boys action figure charts. A spring 2008 launch is planned.
Transformers TV Show: The Transformers brand returns to its television roots with the debut of the new Transformers Animated series on Cartoon Network. Over 50 licensees are involved including more than 230 licensees support the Transformers brand worldwide. Expect the momentum to continue in 2008, as the popular characters continue to dominate the action figure aisle.

Blockbuster Summer Movie launches:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: This fourth film in the Indiana Jones film series pits an older and wiser Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) against agents of the Soviet Union. Set for release on May 22nd, it will be supported with Hasbro action figures and accessories, as well as child-sized role-play products, plus Uncle Milton remote control and accessory playsets.
Speed Racers: This classic series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida has been re-energized with a highly anticipated summer blockbuster live-action movie by Warner Brothers, scheduled for a May 9th release in the US. With Mattel as the master toy licensee, vehicles, and child-sized role-play are the major toy category segments tied to this property, which is based on speed, power, performance and attitude. Additional licensed segments such as fashion and back-to-school products fuel the energy.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Lucasfilm, Warner Bros. Pictures and Turner Broadcasting System will debut Star Wars The Clone Wars in theatres August 15th in the US, followed by the premiere of The Clone Wars as a weekly animated series on Cartoon Network and TNT. The TV show, produced by Lucasfilm Animation will launch in Fall 2008, with Hasbro action figures and accessories and child-sized role-play items. It is designed to attract a new generation of boys into the Star Wars franchise, and will continue to appeal to Star Wars die-hards.

CyberPlayground and Computer-Connected Toys:
The newest segment of toy products, which combines both offline and online play with computer-connected toys is exploding across the US. NPD has begun to track this fast-growing segment of the industry, across multiple categories that now include plush, fashion dolls, construction toys, urban vinyl collectible action figures, vehicles, and trading cards for girls and boys. The newly named ‘Connected Play’ segment topped US $300 million in annual sales during 2007, and is definitely a growth segment that will continue to evolve in 2008. Some notable new trends in this segment include:

Barbie iDesign: This interactive fashion designer play studio by Mattel combines transparent collectable fashion cards, a USB-connected scanner and a CD-Rom based game that involves girls in multiple levels of play. Girls are actively engaged in designing fashion wardrobes, creating runway shows, and even designing fashion magazines on the computer. Additional game options can be played online and offline with the unique trading cards, and other features included in the software. Available from the spring.
Techno Source Disney Fairies Clickables: Techno Source has joined with Disney for a new exclusive launch of Disney Fairies toys featuring Clickables touch-link technology. Girls have already demonstrated their desire for interacting online within the Disney Fairies world, having created more than 4.5 million unique fairy avatars to date at www.DisneyFairies.com. The new immersive play pattern combines the fun of social networking, collecting, and trading with both real world options and the online world at www.PixieHollow.com. With the new Clickables-powered touch-link jewelry line and online sharing, girls can be connected to their Fairy friends and their real-life friends wherever they are: at home, at school, or on the playground.
VIP Littlest Pet Shop Pets: Hasbro has evolved the top-rated mini-doll brand into a virtual world with fashion plush and fabric pets that use unique online codes to open new worlds of play for loyal fans. Also launched in waves, the initial test market launch in the US in Fall 2007 was sold out immediately, proving that word-of-mouth viral marketing among kids is still a very strong component to kids marketing programs.
Neopets: Both boys and girls have been involved with Neopets online for over a decade. In 2008, Jakks Pacific brings the online world to life in a new completely interactive way with offline plush pets, that link kids to the newly enhanced online world of play with secret codes. Highly collectible, and affordable pets will be introduced into the marketplace in numerous waves throughout the year, to keep the excitement level high for this already popular online brand.
Tamagotchi Connection 5.0 Familitchi: Kids can now learn family values as they literally raise multiple generations of characters in one toy. Once a Tamagotchi character reaches adulthood, the virtual pet can then be connected with a compatible friend to create successive generations for kids to care for, for a richer clan experience. The enhanced website also offers new pavilions and play options for these new families at www.TamaTown.com.
Hot Wheels Turbo-Drive: Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2008, this Mattel brand is launching new play patterns for boys that are connected with racing, speed and performance both offline and online. The handheld car-tridges click into a special controller to activate additional online play options.
UB Funkeys: This online–offline collectible toy line by Radica was originally designed to bring urban vinyl action figures to kids at an affordable level, while overlaying the play component of online gaming. The second wave of products launches in spring, with additional waves slated for Fall 2008, with unique codes that unlock exclusive play features, gaming options and accessories online. The Fall 2008 online extension allows kids to chat online with other players and engage in multiplayer games, enhancing the overall gaming experience.
Me2 (aka My Electronic Double): This new handheld and online game by iToys marries parents’ desire for kids to engage in active play with kids’ desire to play online. To play, kids wear the sleek pedometer-like device to gain PowerPoints, which are earned by active exercise. The device can then be linked to a vibrant 360-degree online world, where kids create their personal avatars and engage in varied skill level play environments and games. Once the PowerPoints are depleted, kids must actively engage in more exercise to re-build their PowerPoint score. This multiple level product also challenges kids skills using various activity measurements such as intelligence, strength, agility, speed and luck.

Reyne Rice is a toy industry professional with over 25 years’ experience in marketing, researching and analysing the toy industry. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of toy products and works with the Toy Industry Association as its Toy Trend Specialist.
For further information visit www.toyassociation.org.

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