With the show kicking off this week, we talk about how 2015 is shaping up, Bethany Mota, showfloor buzz and the health of the US market.

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Jessica Blue, VP, Licensing Expo

Firstly, can you remind me of the key facts and figures from the 2014 show?

Over three days, 15,702 licensing professionals attended the show, representing a five per cent increase from the 2013 event. There was a 33 per cent increase in retailers on the previous year. We had 482 exhibiting companies in 218,872 net square feet with an additional 100,000 square feet of conference and special event space. 120 journalists worked the show, covering news from exhibitors.

How is the 2015 event shaping up? How does progress compare with this time last year? How many of the exhibitors will be first timers at the show?

The show is currently at 229, 038 net square feet, and was at 214,000 sqft at this point last year so we are tracking ahead of last year. We have 150 new exhibitors signed up including Nintendo of America, YouTube with a Pavilion of their content partners, AwesomenessTV, Maxim, Fatburger North America, Global Trademark Licensing, Shopkins, American Mensa, Skymall, Promexico (The Mexico Pavilion) and The British Heritage Pavilion.

What has the feedback been from exhibitors on the zoning of the show floor?

We introduced the zoning three years ago as a result of attendee feedback. Retailers and licensees were finding it increasingly difficult to find what they were looking for. As a trade show grows, you have to work harder to help attendees navigate the floor but our show layout had not changed since we moved to Las Vegas in 2009. Along with the zoning we introduced a new booth numbering system and we opened up all of the aisles to give clear site-lines. This will be the fourth year that we have had the zones and the feedback from exhibitors and attendees has been positive.

Can you talk me through any changes on the show floor for this year?

We have introduced lots of new features and initiatives, which are free to attend – including an on-site stunt performance feature from Nitro Circus Live, the Digital Media Licensing Summit, the introduction of a sports area, new and increased International Pavilions plus 150 new exhibitors. We are also looking forward to this year’s all-industry Opening Night Party on Tuesday night during the Expo. Sponsored by LIMA and co-hosted by Sony Music, the party is a not to be missed event especially this year with Fifth Harmony as the special guest performer.

The Licensing University has an interesting keynote from YouTube’s Bethany Mota – can you explain the thinking behind this?

Fashion designer and influencer Bethany Mota will deliver ‘The Big Interview’ keynote address in conjunction with the inaugural Digital Media Licensing Summit. This Summit is a first-of-its kind programme designed to create a bridge between the manufacturers and retailers of licensed products and the world’s most successful and popular digital media companies and stars. With over eight million subscribers to her YouTube channel, Bethany’s story will help us all understand the digital landscape and how to navigate and leverage this new area of the business to create successful partnerships. The Summit also features exhibitors from the digital content world, as well as a several panel discussions on Monday, June 8th – categories covered will be including fashion & beauty, games & electronics, kids, the home and more. For the first time, YouTube will exhibit with a number of their content partners. Digital media company AwesomenessTV and Gallina Pintadita will also exhibit for the first time.

What’s the most fun thing about working with Licensing Expo so far?

I think we are so lucky to work on Licensing Expo, the show is so exciting and dynamic and not all trade shows are that way. I have a great team that has real passion for the show and we work incredibly hard but have fun too.

What trends do you think will be strong this year?

Digital media content and stars will be the stand out trend; however, attendees will also see a significant increase in the number of videogame, app, sport, toy and international brands on the show floor.

How economically robust is the licensing industry in the US?

I always use the License Global Top 150 Licensors report to assess this. It’s a global report but as it’s based on retail sales, it gives us a clear snapshot of the industry’s economic health. The top 150 companies reported retail sales of $251.8 bn in 2013 and this year is it up to $259.9 bn. 18 licensors made the list for the first time and a total of 59 companies reported sales of $1bn or more. I would say that’s a sign of a healthy industry. The fact that the show will be much larger than last year is also a sign that the industry is economically robust.

Attending Licensing Expo is a major commitment for those companies and individuals from the UK and Europe – why should they make the effort to attend?

Yes, it is and we have a significant number of people attending from UK and Europe. The reason they come is that they can see the world’s largest selection of brands available for licence in just three days. 390 of our exhibitors don’t exhibit at any other licensing trade shows and only 80 of the 450+ exhibitors show at BLE. So, the show offers a unique mix of exhibitors that they can only see at Licensing Expo.

And for toy companies and retailers in particular, why should they make the journey? What can they expect to find that would help them grow their business?

As you know, licensed toys are a significant category in the licensing business, as 30 per cent of all toys sold in the US are the result of licensed partnerships. Thousands of toy manufacturers and retailers attend to spot consumer trends and to connect with the exhibiting brands to develop new toys and games. The Character and Entertainment zone hosts around 2,800 brands and this is where companies such as Sony Pictures, Mattel, Hasbro, CBS, YouTube, DreamWorks, BBC and Nintendo exhibit. I would encourage all toy companies attending to check out the brands and Agents area too as there are so many interesting new opportunities to be discovered with our corporate brand exhibitors.

What would you most like to achieve with this year’s event?

We would like to see the buzz on the show floor from 2014 continue. Last year the feedback from exhibitors and attendees was overwhelmingly positive. We saw more business being done than ever before and so we are excited to begin building on this success for 2015.

If visitors from the UK could only go away from the Mandalay Bay with one message, what would you like it to be?

Thank you for coming, I hope you were inspired and excited by what you saw. If I didn’t get to see you and chat for a bit, I look forward to seeing you at BLE.

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