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Toy Trends 2016: The Future of Play

Toy Trends 2016: The Future of Play

License! Global takes a look at trends in the global toy market that will influence retail sales and how children play in 2016.

License! Global takes a look at trends in the global toy market that will influence retail sales and how children play in 2016.

With global toy sales on the rise, and much of that licensed, the upcoming toy fair season is shaping up to be a good one. As the world's major toy events get underway–London Toy Fair, Nuremberg Toy Fair and New York's International Toy Fair–License! Global is looking ahead to trends that will be seen on show floors and at market around the globe.

As of last month, The NPD Group is projecting toy sales growth of more than 7 percent heading into Q4 across 11 major global markets. That growth, says NPD, is not being fueled by any one toy or property this year either, thus broadening opportunities for varied licensed products.

"This year, the hype is not centered on any one toy item or property; there is popularity around a variety of products, which is making 2015 a particularly strong year for the toy industry in markets around the world," says Frederique Tutt, global toys industry analyst, The NPD Group." With that in mind, here are some trends that License! Global predicts will continue the toy industry's growth in 2016.

Star Wars

It's a plain fact: Disney Consumer Products has something special on their hands with the flood of Star Wars merchandise in market. As the first film in years (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) opens around the world this month, products continue to dominate retail shelves and find themselves in shoppers' baskets.

DCP kicked off the international roll out of Star Wars merchandise September 4 with Force Friday, a globally coordinated debut of never-before-seen toys and product that led with an online unboxing event and was celebrated with midnight retail openings. The clamor for all things Star Wars took off with consumers, with NPD Group reporting that "about $1 of every $11 for the week (of Sept. 4) was spent on a Star Wars toy." NPD also predicts that the toy industry on the whole will benefit from the Star Wars lift, as the products contribute significantly to overall sales through the holiday season.

In October, advance ticket sales for Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattered box office records more than two months ahead of its theatrical debut Dec. 18 (Dec. 17 in the U.K.), and some analysts are predicting the film will bring in $650 million in the U.S. and a total of $2 billion globally. (Source: Fortune.)

With at least one new franchise installation per year on the books through 2019 and a four-decades-long heritage in the marketplace, the consumer appetite for Star Wars is long from over and retailers are bolstering their shelves with product to keep up with demand. According to recent findings from The Wall Street Journal, mass retailers such as Target and Walmart have aisles so full of Star Wars merchandise, it is pushing out other properties. And with toys such as the BB-8 app-enabled Droid from Sphero in its product arsenal (an early CP star for DCP's Star Wars collections) and new Star Wars-themed lands heading to its amusement parks (the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida opened the doors to its Star Wars entertainment this month, and more enhancements are planned for the California park), the love affair with the classic and new films will likely continue long into the second half of the decade.

Connected Toys

The past few years have been about toys-to-life, led by Activision's "Skylanders" video game and accompanying range of products and figures, and moving forward, consumers will begin to see that concept mature.

Activision will continue to be a market leader in the connected toy space, particularly as it grows its stable of properties to now include mobile gaming company King Digital Entertainment (that acquisition took place last month), but there are now other players to keep an eye on.

This past fall, LEGO, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and TT Games launched the new crossover video game "LEGO Dimensions," a gaming experience that merges physical LEGO brick building with interactive console gameplay.

At its debut, "LEGO Dimensions" spanned 14 franchise universes that tapped into varied genres of entertainment and include DC Comics, The Lord of the Rings, The LEGO Movie, Back to the Future, Jurassic World, "Scooby- Doo!," "The Simpsons," "Doctor Who" and more.

"For the first time, beloved characters from LEGO building sets are introduced into a gaming experience where fans can mix and match characters and universes just like they do in the playroom," says Niels Jørgensen, vice president, digital games, the LEGO Group.

Disney is also furthering the connected play concept with the launch of Playmation, a joint effort between Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media and Hasbro. The system of connected toys and wearables fuses technology with digital storytelling and is the result of an extensive online study of 2,000 U.S. families as they looked at children's play. Playmation aims to bring children together with their families through the collaborative play pattern and use of technology, but the innovation, however, is that Playmation does not rely on an Internet connection, allowing players to use the system anywhere and everywhere.

"Playmation blends technology, storytelling and imagination in a way that's made for today's digitally savvy kids," says Nitin Chawla, vice president, strategy and business development, DCPI. "Our research shows families are looking for a new way to play that's active, creative and technology-infused–and Playmation is just that."

Playmation debuted at market in October with a Marvel's Avengers starter pack that includes five connected toys, with additional toys and smart figures available.

Disney has also upped its Disney Infinity gaming concept, which too brings "toys-to-life," with the launch the 3.0 Edition, this summer. The latest update to the gaming platform folds in to its gameplay many of the franchises from its portfolio such as Star Wars, Disney, Disney•Pixar and Marvel.


Toys that have a high collectible component are a perennial play trend that is showing no signs of slowing, particularly for properties such as Moose Toys' Shopkins brand or the new "Yo- Kai Watch" property from Level-5.

Girls' brand Shopkins are small, largely food-based characters that come in hundreds of iterations, lending itself to the FMCG category expertly. The brand is also fast and furiously expanding, thanks to its network of licensing agents around the world such as Bulldog in the U.K. and Ireland and Nelvana in EMEA. Most recently, Bulldog has helped the brand to secure new partnerships in broad categories such as food and beverage, which joins the large program of Shopkins goods across apparel, stationery, toys, publishing, homewares and more. The property has earned itself a spot on the bestselling toy lists in the U.K. and U.S., and shows no sign of market fatigue in the immediate future.

For boys, Japan's Level-5 has found much success with its "Yo-Kai Watch" series.

A true phenomenon in Japan, the "Yo-Kai Watch" product program saw more than $2 billion in retail sales since its television debut in January 2014. Now as the property, which will have a consumer product program based around the main character Nate's Yo-Kai watch and collectible medallions, enters international markets, Level-5, its production partners Dentsu and TV Tokyo, and a series of global licensing agents are projecting similar success around the globe.

The series debuted in the U.S. and Canada in October, and in Australia and New Zealand this month. It will launch in Latin America and Europe next year. In addition to Japan, the show is already on-air in Korea and Pan- Asia. The TV rollout is accompanied by merchandise anchored by Hasbro in the U.S. (first product will debut in January), as well as additional products from licensees such as World Trade Jewelers, Isaac Morris, Radz Brands, Topps Company, Cortina Leomil, Franco, Northwest Company, Acco Brands, Brown Trout Publishers, Panini America, Pyramid, Bridge Direct, Cra- ZArt, Just Toys, Little Buddy, MB Wolverine, Rubie's, Underground Toys and Hori. 

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