Gardner's World: LIMA UK's Kelvyn Gardner on the hot trends for licensing in 2019

The musings of Kelvyn Gardner, MD of LIMA UK have returned for a post show special as the licensing veteran talks Licensing.biz through his hot tips for a year ahead in the licensing game...
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Where do you begin to draw together the strands of where licensing will take us in 2019? 

I guess that if you’re looking for gold you’d head to the bank, or one of the sites of famous ‘gold rushes of the past around the world. The equivalent locations would be the myriad trade fairs through which we’re finally emerging as the ‘real’ spring, (as against the ‘Spring’ Fair) shimmers on the horizon. 

Then again, news hits us from everywhere that impacts: HMV threatened with liquidation, Richard E Grant (speaker at last year’s Bellas lunch) finally gets an Oscar nomination, Disney prepares to launch its own streaming service, The BBC details its new adaptation of the bestselling book series His Dark Materials and if someone mentions ‘unicorns’ you need to check whether they are talking about toys or, just as likely, the ever-increasingly tortuous ‘solutions’ to Brexit.

Here’s another thing about trade fairs. I was recently contacted by one of the finalists in 2018’s License This! (the friendlier licensing version of Dragon’s Den held at BLE) about her first ever trade fair, Top Drawer. She was very happy with the result, but she said to me ‘You know, Kelvyn, everyone was telling me that there were not as many people as there were last year’. 

Talk about putting a downer on trade fairs in one phrase. 

I replied that my own very first trade fair had been London Toy Fair 1981. As I recall, someone I spoke to on that long-ago occasion said to me ‘You know, Kelvyn, there are not as many people here as there were last year’. I bet anyone reading this will have heard the same. 

Were it true in 1981, there would be literally no-one at trade fairs at all now that we’ve reached 2019. I guess it’s why we need statisticians. What we do know, from accumulated experience, is that no one trade fair will ‘clue you in’ completely as to the big opportunities for the year ahead. 

Look, meet, talk, read, absorb, report, analyse and file away your thoughts for further refinement and consideration. So I guess it’s about time that I gave you some of my thoughts, so, in no particular order of importance or relevance, here goes... 

Unicorns, elves, fairies and sundry other mythical creatures and their invented brands and variants are going to be with us for a while yet. There is not yet one brand that has ‘owned’ this sector in the way that Universal’s Jurassic World does the dinosaur sector, so this particular bun-fight is set to run. 

The same is true for ‘blind-bag’ collectables in general. As someone with a bit of a history in collectables myself I would, nonetheless, urge a bit of caution here. Not everything can be ‘collected’, and in toys or licensing you really need an authentic ‘reason to collect’ if you’re going to have a chance in a normal market, let alone one as crowded as it is right now. 

That’s why sport, especially football, and ‘group of stars properties’ like World Wrestling Entertainment, tend to work consistently in this field, whereas a new set of 200 anthropomorphic tea-cup personalities may not. 

LOL Surprise will have another good year but will also find lots of other brands competing in the ‘opening up’ space. 

Nickelodeon and Entertainment One have ‘owned’ pre-school for the last few years and are still launching powerful-looking new properties into this space, but the return of the ‘king of pre-preschool’, Andrew Davenport, with Moon and Me, will need watching. Certainly this property is a very major bet for a field of blue-chip licensees. 

Looking further out, Game of Thrones returns for one last hurrah, as does Hellboy, expanding our love for comic book universes further. Cricket’s world cup will attempt to steal some merch thunder from soccer, the same goes for rugby union’s world cup in Japan, though the time difference may mitigate. 

Downton Abbey’s reappearance as a movie may breathe new life into what has been a quite original licensing programme with many unfamiliar products and companies involved. 

Just remember: You heard it here first (or not, depending on which trade shows you were at). See you at the next one.

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