Interest at the show came from both licensors and licensees as one would expect, but most importantly, also from the retailer side of the spectrum.
Given that digital entertainment properties, by their very nature, are not generally visible yet beyond the digital space (although they may have a loyal following which is often in the tens or hundreds of millions), it is of particular note that retail buyers are now focussed on uncovering the 'next big thing'. Retailers arrived armed with statistics from digital analytics platform App Annie, an understanding of the gaming space and hunger to learn more. If Licensing Expo was anything to go by, I foresee that the interest in digital properties and consumers’ desire for branded products will only intensify going forward.
Beanstalk’s new digital entertainment division, Tinderbox, received a warm welcome from the licensing industry with fantastic editorial coverage as well as a flurry of discussions among interested game developers visiting the show.
Tinderbox client Doodle Jump, created and published by game developer Lima Sky, showcased an innovative booth design inspired by, and literally shaped like, the application’s four-legged character. Their playful and imaginative appearance points towards the often strong emotional connection fans have to their favourite gaming properties, the same emotional connection that translates into consumer demand for products outside of the digital world.
Of course, it is not unusual for children, and adults, to want to interact with the brands they admire outside of their home space; what is interesting today, however, is that it is the consumers themselves – the actual players – who are making the decisions and driving demand, rather than the brand creators or big movie studios. Digital entertainment in this regard is literally turning the source of new entertainment properties on its head.
The other overriding factor in the changing entertainment landscape is the speed at which digital entertainment brands emerge and grow. Popular gaming sites such as MovieStarPlanet and My Singing Monsters have experienced extraordinarily rapid expansion in the short times since launching; MovieStarPlanet for example has reached over 100 million users since debuting in 2009. Similarly, My Singing Monsters has only been live for ten months but has already amassed millions of players, who are demanding to see toys from the game in the real world, illustrating how user loyalty and enthusiasm often serve as key motivating factors for digital brands moving into the branded goods arena.
Candy Crush Saga, developed by mobile and social gaming company King, also made a visible impact on the show with a frenzy of interested partners swarming the company booth. Needless to say, the vast interest for the brand and its developments prove a great introduction for a first-time exhibitor and new licensor. Even more promising, fans of Candy Crush voiced their desire for consumer product extensions and it appears to me that the brand owners are listening.
A majority of the people I spoke to at the show were of the opinion that Candy Crush is 'the property of the moment', with opportunity to grow to the dizzy heights of previous digital success story, Rovio’s Angry Birds. Indisputably considered the industry’s runaway high-flier in terms of digital properties, Angry Birds has successfully managed to make a lasting impression in the entertainment space, competing with longstanding entertainment franchises with decades of experience and history.
The impressive booth design and intense visitor traffic indicate that, for the time being at least, Angry Birds’ position as a leading licensor is set to last. On the other hand, notable absences included Minecraft, whose hugely popular brand is entering the consumer products space with Jazwares on board as toy partner and Egmont for extensions within the publishing arena. Given the caliber of its already secured partners as well as its ever-growing fan base, I fully expect that Minecraft will have a presence in Las Vegas come the 2014 show.
Continuing in the vein of digital properties but stepping away from gaming, it is clear that the industry is catching on a trend that I imagine has been noticeable in the publishing industry for quite some time; the presence of blogs and bloggers as key influencers within consumer product categories. Increasingly, customers are turning to online personalities for insight, recommendations and inspiration, especially within areas such as fashion, beauty, home décor, child care and entertainment.
Natural extensions for this type of 'online celebrity' brand appears to be tied to lifestyle related properties, with celebrated bloggers such as Cupcakes & Cashmere and Beanstalk client Bag Snob looking at opportunities within the apparel, accessories and home décor product arenas. The blogging platform allows brands to develop at a pace similar to the way App Store is a breeding ground for the next wave of digital entertainment giants.
As the rise in user-friendly technology increases the public’s knowledge of and engagement with new digital and online celebrity brands, it is more important than ever to embrace them into the world of licensing. The question is however, at what point a digital brand is ready to take the leap into consumer products and how we foresee where the sway in consumer demand will take us next?
Dan Amos is the Head of New Media at Tinderbox, a division of Beanstalk, which specializes in extending digital properties into consumer properties. For more information, please visit www.tboxagency.com.