Licensing 2018: Looking Back on the Biggest Moments of the Year

It seems like only yesterday that industry professionals were ringing in the new year and wondering what 2018 had in store. Have their predictions come true?

License Global

December 13, 2018

9 Min Read

2018 can be summed up in one word: Change. License Global is taking a look back at its top-ranking and other noteworthy stories, month-by-month.


Top News: 2018 Predictions from Global Licensing Group

UBM Global Licensing Group brand director Steven Ekstract's analysis, "2017: A Year of Disruptions," was widely-shared across the industry. The article, which was featured in License Global's December/January issue, made several predictions for 2018 that proved true including the continuation of retail bankruptcies. 2018 saw Sears, Claire's, Nine West, Bon-Ton, Brookstone and more file for Chapter 11 in the U.S.

Notable Mentions

"Peppa Pig" in North America

Entertainment One kicked off 2018 with a series of new licensing partnerships and renewals for "Peppa Pig" in the U.S. and Canada. Deals included holiday classroom products from CSS Industries and a renewal with Amscan for party goods.

The Influencer Enigma

In 2018, the beauty and fashion industries were taken over by influencers, which was only beginning to make waves within licensing at the start of the calendar year. Influencer Jake Paul was a panelist at this year's NYC Licensing Summit, pet influencer Grumpy Cat was on site at Licensing Expo and kidfluencer Hearts by Tiana made her debut at Brand Licensing Europe.


Top News: Licensing Summit Takes Place in New York City

Coinciding with the New York Toy Fair, the 2018 NYC Licensing Summit took place on Feb. 20. Executives from Telsey Advisory Group, Warner Music Group, Amazon and many others were on hand to discuss topics ranging from gaming to entertainment, fashion, retail and more. The Summit will return in 2020 bigger and better than ever. Stay tuned for announcements on the new, ground-breaking industry event.

Notable Mentions

The Redbubble Dilemma

License Global gave a detailed look at one of licensing’s controversial topics, print-on-demand and copyright infringement. Redbubble’s Eric Morse, who spoke at the NYC Summit, gave his perspective on the divide. “There is a real misunderstanding among some in the licensing industry about Redbubble encouraging pirated designs,” says Morse. “It’s quite the opposite. We have over 200 ongoing agreements with rights holders to actively police our site for their properties.” Since the NYC Summit, Redbubble acquired fellow print-on-demand company TeePublic. 

Toy of the Year Awards

The Toy Association crowned both WowWee’s Fingerlings and MGA Entertainment’s L.O.L. Surprise! as Toy of the Year. License of the Year went to Disney Consumer Products & Interactive Media for its Star Wars property.


Top News: Disney Consumer Products Revamps

Disney caused a stir when it decided to retool its consumer products division and reorganize its business model. The move saw the world’s No. 1 licensor segment its operation into four distinct factions–direct to consumer, experiences and consumer products, media networks and studio entertainment. Key executive moves included Bob Chapek taking on the role of chairman of parks, experiences and consumer products, and Kevin Mayer ascending to chairman of the new direct-to-consumer and international operation.

Notable Mentions

Spin Master Acquires Gund

By absorbing Gund from Enesco, Spin Master completed its ninth acquisition since 2015. Through the deal, Spin Master plans to expand into the infant and special gift categories, as well as plush, a category which the NPD reports has grown 6 percent year-over-year. 

ABG Absorbs Nautica

Authentic Brands Group kicked off a year of newsworthy acquisitions with the purchase of the Nautica lifestyle brand from VF Corporation. The deal closed in Q2, and in the time since, ABG has helped Nautica to tap into its 1990s roots to appeal to younger, nostalgia-oriented customers. A collaborative line with rapper Lil Yachty launched in July.


Top News: Toys ‘R’ Us Bankruptcy, Bust and Bidding War

Toys ‘R’ Us sent shock waves through the toy industry when it announced that it would be shuttering its U.S. and U.K. operations in mid-March. By April, the company was on the auction block. In October, Bloomberg reported that the lenders who oversaw the company’s liquidation planned to resurrect the brand. The interested parties canceled the planned auction of the TRU IP and are now looking to reorganize the group’s assets under a new entity.

Notable Mentions

Lucasfilm Unveils Solo: A Star Wars Story Merch

Lucasfilm unleashed an array of merchandise ahead of its widely-anticipated film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Featured items included role play products, apparel and action figures.

Former Disney Exec Takes Over Mattel

Mattel named Ynon Kreiz as the company’s chief executive officer. Kreiz formerly served as one of the toy company’s directors. In the past, Kreiz worked as the chairman and chief executive officer of Maker Studios, a global digital and content network company and a division of The Walt Disney Company.


Top News: Licensing Expo 2018 Brings Light to Las Vegas

The global licensing industry descended on Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center to fete Licensing Expo 2018. The show, which is sponsored by LIMA, showcased more than 5,000 brands with more than 16,000 attendees, licensees, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, brand owners, licensing agents and IP holders. The premiere event also offered a selection of networking, educational and business-building opportunities. License Global also celebrated its 20th anniversary at Licensing Expo. The convention was abuzz with talk of the future of e-commerce as Nicholas Denissen, vice president, Amazon, delivered the opening keynote address and elaborated on how brands can grow their business online and what Amazon is doing to support them. In a separate ceremony, LIMA announced the winners of its annual International Licensing Excellence Awards. Top winners included Spirit Halloween which won Retailer of the Year for its “Stranger Things” program; and Amazon secured top honors in the digital (apps/software/video) product category for the “Sesame Street” Alexa skill.

Notable Mentions

Hasbro Grabs Saban’s Assets

Hasbro and Saban Brands entered into a definitive agreement that saw Hasbro acquire an assortment of Saban’s assets, valued at $522 million.

IMG Announces ‘Fortnite’ Licensing Program

Epic Games selected IMG as its worldwide agent for consumer products licensing and promotions for its video game “Fortnite.” Since making the deal, “Fortnite” has announced an array of partnerships, such as Jazwares as master toy, McFarlane Toys for collectibles, Rubie’s Masquerade for costumes, Fashion U.K. for apparel and more.


Top News: Time Warner and AT&T Merge, Announce New Name

A U.S. court sanctioned the $84.5 billion merger of AT&T and Time Warner in mid-June, now called WarnerMedia, whose players include (in order of size) AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter Communications, as well as T-Mobile and Sprint.

Notable Mentions

Mattel Marks Anniversaries

Mattel made noise mid-year with Barbie’s 60th-anniversary celebration and the 50th anniversary of the Hot Wheels brand. To mark the occasion, Barbie celebrated with a deal with Sephora and a line of dolls inspired by International Women’s Day. Hot Wheels was commemorated on a U.S. Forever Stamp

Differential Brands Group Agrees to Buy GBG

Differential Brands Group agreed to buy a significant portion of Global Brands Group Holding Limited, which allowed the company to absorb licenses for Disney, Star Wars, Calvin Klein and more.


Top News: Brand Licensing Europe Finds New Home

The Global Licensing Group at UBM unveiled its plans to move the 2019 Brand Licensing Europe show to London’s ExCeL. The new venue will offer more flexibility to exhibitors attending Europe’s largest licensing show, and allow the event’s producers to create more enhanced programming such as screenings and interactive features within the hall. “We are confident that ExCeL can meet the needs of everyone,” says Anna Knight, brand director, BLE.

Notable Mentions

Funko Dishes Cereal

Toy and collectible brand Funko stepped into the cereal aisle (with more than 40 of its licensing partners) via FunkO’s. The cereal product included mini-figures themed around “The Golden Girls,” DC’s superheroes Batman and Batgirl, The Lord of the Rings, “Huckleberry Hound,” Beetlejuice, It (2017), A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and more.

Rubik’s Puzzles McDonald’s Customers

The Smiley Company bit into McDonald’s with a retail promotion that saw its Rubik’s brand featured in Happy Meals across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America.


Top News: License Global Reveals Leading Licensees

License Global’s list of the Top 150 Licensees spanned multiple countries and categories and acknowledged third-party services for design, distribution and manufacturing that help licensors’ products get maximum visibility.

Notable Mentions

Hasbro Adds New Global CP Leader

Hasbro tapped licensing industry veteran Casey Collins to serves as the senior vice president and general manager of global consumer products. Before Hasbro, Collins was the executive vice president of consumer products at World Wrestling Entertainment. 

Bioworld Acquires Vandor

Bioworld Merchandising obtained Vandor, a design and distribution company with a focus on licensing home products. The acquisition helps to expand Bioworld’s global distribution network, among other things. Most Talked-About Apparel Company: Authentic Brands Group


Top News: Warner Bros. Combines, Creates New Unit

Warner Bros. strengthened its product lines with the formation of its Global Brands and Experiences division, with consumer products president Pam Lifford at the helm. The new venture is part of the group’s ongoing initiatives around fan engagement. The group also put a “never go dark” action plan into place to make sure fans can interact with Warner Bros. content at all times.

Notable Mentions 

Netflix Finds Exec for Consumer Products Program Netflix made a more-extended foray into consumer products this year with the appointment of Christie Fleischer, global head of consumer products, who will aim to extend retail and licensee partnerships, publishing, interactive games, merchandising and experiential events across all categories. 

Mattel Launches Global Franchise Management Group

Mattel’s new division will merge vital functions to expand the brand into new commercial opportunities with children’s entertainment vet Janet Hsu as chief franchise officer.


Top News: Brand Licensing Europe Sets London Ablaze

Brand Licensing Europe took place at London’s Olympia, Oct. 9-11. The three-day event drew in industry executives from across Europe, with notable appearances by “The Great British Bake-Off” winner Nadiya Hussain, Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products’ Pam Kaufman, Perfetti Van Melle’s Christine Cool and many more. Notable Mentions

Mickey’s 90th Anniversary Revs Up

The last few months of Disney’s Mickey Mouse 90th anniversary program include agreements with Levi’s, Lacoste and Skinnydip, which were announced in October. Celebrations were held across the company’s theme parks earlier this year, including an apparel program with Opening Ceremony and more.

CPLG Absorbs Pullman CPLG acquired a 49 percent stake in Russian licensing agency Pullman Licensing, and rebranded as CPLG Pullman.


Top News: Blizzard Levels Up with New Merch

Blizzard Entertainment signed deals with LEGO, Hasbro and Funko to license its games, including “Overwatch” and “Diablo.” “We cherish these game worlds as much as our players do, and [this] helped put a spotlight on how far we’ve come in developing toys and apparel that reflect that shared passion,” says Matthew Beecher, vice president, global consumer products, Blizzard Entertainment.

Notable Mentions

Pokémon Catches Clothing Capsule

The Pokémon Company International inked deals in anticipation of its film Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us. Pokémon characters will also appear on apparel from Maison Labiche, H&M and more.

JoJo Siwa Announces U.S. Tour

The teen star announced plans to embark on her first multi-city U.S. tour. Nickelodeon and AEG will oversee the production, which kicks off May 2019 at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix, Ariz.

Additional Highlights

Most Surprising Licensing Program: BuzzFeed’s Goodful

Most Talked-About Retailer: Amazon

Most Talked-About Toy Company: Funko

About the Author(s)

License Global

License Global is the leading news source for the brand licensing industry, delivering award-winning editorial content including news, trends, analysis, and special reports about the global consumer product and retail marketplace.

Through its print edition, website, daily e-newsletter and event publications, License Global reaches more than 150,000 executives and professionals in all major markets. The magazine also serves as the official publication for the sector’s trade events, which include Licensing Expo, Brand Licensing Europe, Licensing Expo Japan, Licensing Expo Shanghai and the Licensing Leadership Summit.

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