Ten big stories from 2008

From the shock switch to Vegas for Licensing International and the collapse of a British retail institution, to the emergence of new retailers for licensed product and new trends, Licensing.biz looks at some of the biggest stories we covered in 2008...
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Farewell Manhattan...

The speculation had been rife since Brand Licensing Europe 2007 and, in February, organiser Advanstar finally confirmed that the 2008 Licensing International would be the last held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, with the expo moving to Las Vegas in 2009. Industry decision was split over whether this would be a good move, with the extra distance and the reputation of Vegas as a party city putting some off. However, cheaper flights and hotel rooms, plus more floor space at the Mandalay Bay, won favour with many.
Indeed, this is already enabling Advanstar to add new areas to the show, including an Interactive Showcase for video games companies.

... and goodbye Woolworths

The largest retailer of licensed products in the UK entered administration in November. The chain had originally forecast a return to profitability in 2008 despite a challenging Christmas in 2007. It expected to exceed '07 profits of £21.8 million in the full year and meet City expectations of between £25-£29 million.
However, Woolworths was dogged by problems throughout the year, with Icelandic investment group Baugur making a bid in August with the aim being to break up the group. This was rejected, and a possible sale of the retail business to turnaround specialist Hilco for just £1 also came to nothing. All of the chain's 840 stores have now been closed.

The Dark Knight success

Officially the most successful super hero movie of all time, The Dark Knight succeeded in putting the Batman brand well and truly back in the game.
The film set a new record at the box office in its opening weekend in the summer, and since then has gone on to become the second movie in Hollywood history to top $530 million at the US domestic box office, bringing in a total worldwide box office of $997 million to date (Source: Boxofficemojo.com).
Warner Bros Consumer Products is now looking to capitalise on the success and bring Batman to as many audiences as possible. New animation The Brave and the Bold will arrive later this year, targeting four to seven year-old boys, with Mattel already on board as master toy licensee.

Shock job moves

Melanie Beer resigned from her position as merchandising and licensing director at ITV in September. She re-emerged in November, taking on the post of head of licensing and content development, children's at HarperCollins.
Meanwhile, Stephen Gould confirmed in early October that he had resigned from his co managing director role at 4Kids Entertainment International, before reappearing later on in the month at RDF Kids in a consultancy role as director of consumer products.
And in December, David Binnie left his role as UK general manager at Warner Bros Consumer Products.

Entertainment Rights' troubles

2008 wasn't even a month old when ER revealed that it had received a takeover approach after it said its FY07 profits would be hit by a sales shortfall. Nick Phillips arrives as CEO in March, and, in April, chairman Rod Bransgrove announced that the company was no longer in takeover talks, stating ER had "significant underlying value and remains in a strong position with regard to generating returns from its extensive portfolio of brands and content".
But, despite having the likes of Postman Pat, Rupert Bear and new signing Tinga Tinga Tales in its portfolio, there was more trouble ahead. In October, the firm released its interim results for the eight months ending August 31st - reporting turnover for the period of £20.3 million (compared with £17.3m for the six months to June 30th 2007), but impairment of assets of £83.0 million resulting in a loss before tax of £105.0 million. A financial and operational overview was immediately implemented.
Phillips, meanwhile, departed in December, with the firm announcing Deborah Dugan has his successor, while also stating that Jane Smith, chief creative and commercial director, had left the board with immediate effect. A number of staff cuts were also made.
ER started the New Year much as it began 2008 - admitting it was in early stage talks with a potential buyer.

The Light Fund Swim

Who didn't enjoy the daily blogs from the 11 brave souls from the licensing industry who braved the cold and jellyfish to swim round the Maltese islands of Comino, Gozo and Malta in May? For those who missed them, just follow the links for each day: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six.
The team completed their task, raising almost £50,000 for the Light Fund in the process.

Ten Years of Brand Licensing

Originally called Brand and Licensing London, the first show was held at the Landmark Hotel and played host to just 39 exhibitors. In 2008, a total of 181 companies from across Europe and beyond presented properties to the industry across the two days. More than 50 of these firms were first time exhibitors and last year also attracted the highest number of exhibitors ever from mainland Europe.
Following this success, this year's event is already shaping up to be even bigger. Advanstar reported that over 40 per cent of the firms exhibiting in 2008 rebooked while still on-site, while a healthy number are also looking to up their stand space.
The ten years of the show also coincided with a decade of HIT property Bob the Builder, with a special party taking place at Olympia.

The re-emergence of playground craze licences

Bulldog Licensing saw two of its properties really take off last year - with the cheap, fun and collectible elements of GoGo's Crazy Bones and TWF: Thumb Wrestling Federation having a wide appeal.
Magic Box's GoGo's came out of nowhere, quickly built up momentum and became a solid moneyspinner for independent toy retailers, just when they needed it. Then, it became a bona fide brand, with Bulldog building up an impressive licensing programme within a relatively short amount of time. The push now is to break into the multiple retail sector.
The secret of success for Thumb Wrestling, meanwhile, can also be partly put down to its simplicity. Created by Animation Collective, the show is stripped across BBC1 and BBC2 children's and daily on the CBBC channel. The short-form segments - including one-minute wrestler bios, 45-second gags and three and a half minute thumb wrestling matches - have been snapped up in Spain, the Far East and Canada, while Cartoon Network has recently come on board as broadcast partner in the US - showing that you don't necessarily need a blockbuster brand to have a blockbuster success.

New retailers for licensed product

With the industry's traditional route to retail taking a severe hit, canny firms were discovering there was another way to get product in front of consumers.
The likes of Play.com, Boots, Next, Truffle Shuffle and New Look among others emerged last year as significant new players in the licensed product marketplace.
Play.com, for example, is the UK's third most visited online retailer with over seven million customers - and at September's Licensing Awards it picked up two accolades, Best Online Retailer and Best Overall Retailer of Licensed Products.
Meanwhile, New Look has been steadily making its mark with lines of tween and teen branded clothing - including a deal with BBC Worldwide Children's & Licensing for Teletubbies apparel.

The Green debate

2008 was the year when the licensing industry really started to up its green credentials. Licensing.biz Executive Advisory Board member, Caroline Mickler got the ball rolling in March, speaking out about why it was time for the business to deal with the problem of excessive packaging for children's products. Her views sparked a debate on the site, which can be followed here.
Ranges such as Peter Rabbit Naturally Better from Chorion also performed well, with Rainbow Designs releasing new branded product this year.

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