With a career spanning 25 years in the children’s entertainment and licensing space, the former head of global consumer products at Xilam, and now SVP of consumer global products at ChefClub, Marie-Laure Marchand has seen the industry through all manner of evolution.
Licensing.biz sits down with the licensing industry expert to get her hot take on the evolving landscape, licensing’s knife-edge relationship with retail, and what Hasbro buying up eOne means for all of those fighting for survival in a land of media giants.
Can you talk us through your journey within the licensing space – how did you get into it and how did you wind up where you are now?
I joined Nelvana’s European office 25 years ago and was in charge of media sales. I then switched to licensing to create Nelvana’s European Consumer Product and Marketing department from scratch.
I handled and launched such prestigious brands as Babar, Franklin or Beyblade to name a few. This was a fantastic journey as Babar and Franklin became part of the top preschool properties in France and Beyblade became the number one boy’s brand in Europe.
My media sales background has been extremely helpful to build close partnerships with our broadcasters and has been instrumental to the success of these entertainment properties. I also worked at Studio 100 as SVP international licensing and marketing where I started its International licensing arm in Paris and managed Maya the Bee or Heidi internationally.
I also held such positions as global licensing acquisitions for Brand Loyalty, a company that specialised in loyalty and promotion in food retail. Prior to joining Chefclub, I was in charge of the Global Consumer Products department at Xilam, the French animated studio where I launched Oggy & the Cockroaches’ licensing program.
Over that time, how have you seen the licensing space evolve – how has the dynamic between licensing and retail changed?
The kids’ licensing business which is where I have the most relevant experience, so here’ my take…
The character licensing (driven mostly by kids’ properties) along with the media landscapes have evolved drastically in the last few years to a very competitive and crowded market. We are seeing traditional media networks making major shifts, as well as massive consumer brands like Disney, Universal, Warner taking the lead in the rapidly changing media landscape.
The rise of SVOD as well as social media platforms has led to a very fragmented media landscape and audience which makes it more difficult for properties to stand out of the crowd.
Where there were still opportunities for independent brands to succeed and make substantial licensing business, there is now a plethora of choices for young viewers to choose from and it is becoming tougher for small, independent companies to get through.
With this rapid changing market, all big studios are consolidating their business by buying out new brands or merging companies creating gigantic groups with a wide offering.
Recently, Hasbro announced the acquisition of eOne (which was one of the few last independent companies to succeed in such a fierce licensing competitive market). It is now difficult to make a difference if you are not part of the land of giants, and retailers rarely play the game either.
Shelf spaces are getting smaller and smaller and retailers can’t afford to take the risk to test new independent brands, they prefer to focus their interest in the big entertainment groups that can invest in heavy marketing campaign to support their IPs.
Moreover, the recent retail disruption was fatal to Toys R Us and other toy specialists such as La Grande Récré in France or Top Toys in Scandinavia and impacted heavily the whole kids licensing industry. This is a shame as Toy Specialists have been historically the trendsetters and gave the opportunities to new innovative brands coming from smaller studios to be launched and tested, paving the way to a larger success in mass market retail.
What do you think are the biggest factors influencing and affecting licensing at the moment? How do you see these factors progressing what licensing looks like today?
Media consumption is one of the key factors affecting licensing at the moment as kids and young adults are more and more connected on social media and we see the rise of influencers who are now becoming ‘brands’. A good example is Ryan, this seven year old Youtube sensation, who has created his own toy line and has now partnered with Nickelodeon to develop a stand alone licensing programme.
The videogame market has evolved from geek to a more family-oriented one, and has therefore developed a much wider audience. Videogame properties are becoming very hype, creating a whole new space for innovative licensing developments and expanding the target audience from kids to adults.
E-sport is also surfing on the new streaming wave and e-sport brands are flourishing.
I do think that there is a space for lifestyle brands to develop and counter-balance the more short term licensing phenomenons. Consumers are in search for a simple thing : meaning. Lifestyle brands can really meet those needs and foster consumer loyalty and trust on a longer run.
From here, what do you think the future of licensing and its relationship with the consumer and indeed the retailer will look like in the coming years? What do you think will be the biggest changes in the space over time?
Content was, is and will still be key, and good content will be even more important within this changing media environment.
As mentioned earlier, brands coming from social media, e-sport, videogames will be increasing their footprint even more.
At retail, online shopping, apps and delivery services are transforming consumers’ shopping habits. We already see incredible initiatives with Amazon go or Hema Fresh (from Alibaba) or Tmall where e-commerce meets brick and mortar retail and technology smoothes the consumers’ shopping pattern. It is fascinating to follow all these tech innovations and this is only the beginning.