With the onset of 2013 comes the debut of new toy ranges from the world's largest licensors and licensees.
The toy expo season is culminating at the U.S.' largest industry event, the American International Toy Fair, sponsored by the Toy Industry Association. Occurring Feb. 10-13 in New York City, the event brings together more than 1,000 exhibitors in a wide range of toy categories, from action figures to games, construction toys to ride-ons, eco-friendly products to plush, seasonal goods to preschool-focused items and many more.
Although U.S. toy sales were mostly flat in 2012, according to research from The NPD Group, toy sales remain a $16-plus billion industry. Last year, sales declined only slightly, from $16.6 billion in 2011 to $16.5 billion in 2012, bolstered in part by a strong year-end finish during the holiday season. Licensed toys accounted for a large portion of these sales, and continue to be a driving force in the business segment.
Predicting trends in the toy arena can be equally as challenging. According to NPD, the categories with the most growth last year were building sets, arts and crafts, dolls and infant/preschool ranges.
"Construction [toys] continued to see double-digit growth from 2012 to 2013, with LEGO Friends successfully expanding construction play to girls," says Tara Hefter, vice president, licensing, Jakks Pacific. "I would expect to see additional girls' construction offerings with licensed brand names appear in 2013."
The licenses that performed strongest in 2012–Warner Bros.'s Batman; Disney's Cars, Disney Princess, Mickey & Friends and now Star Wars; HIT's Thomas & Friends; Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer; and WWE–are mostly well positioned to endure into 2013 thanks to recent acquisitions (Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, Mattel's acquisition of HIT Entertainment, etc.), continued release of content and perennial evergreens. Other trends forthcoming, as predicted by License! Global in the November/December 2012 issue ("Global Toy Trends") are the continued excitement surrounding the superhero genre, thanks to a plethora of films set for 2013 release from Marvel and Warner Bros., the ongoing product support for virtual properties (apps) and the reliance on retro and evergreen programs to fuel retail spending.
Warner Bros. Consumer Products is kicking off 2013 with a roster of global licensees for its portfolio of entertainment properties, led by the upcoming summer release ofMan of Steel, a new telling of the Superman legend from director Zack Snyder. Mattel will unveil a broad range of toys for the property, including action figures, play sets and collectible figures. Other partners tapped to develop product in support of the film include Thinkway Toys for role play, Jakks Pacific for collectibles and novelties and Cardinal Industries for games and puzzles. WBCP will also support its Batman evergreen with a DC Super Friends program from Mattel and Fisher-Price, a range for the Looney Tunes and The Looney Tunes Show properties, product to support the TV comedy "The Big Bang Theory" and the continuation offerings for The Hobbit property.
Under that retro/evergreen umbrella falls multiple properties that will be debuting hot new product on New York's Toy Fair floor.
From Saban's massive Power Rangers Megaforce program comes a wide range of product from licensees Bandai, Mega Bloks and Mattel, which will merge the property with its perennial Hot Wheels property with a car assortment and action set.
Also from Bandai are several new Ben 10 ranges to support the Emmy award-winning Cartoon Network franchise. On deck is the Ben 10 Omni-Net Omnitrix, an i-compatible interactive product that allows kids to integrate the Ben 10 app or video game into physical play; the compact Omnitrix Shuffle, which plays any of the 10 alien voices from the series when attached to a mini-figure; and the Ben 10 Transportation Station play set.
Keeping in the retro theme is a host of Cabbage Patch product from Jakks commemorating the property's 30th anniversary. Jakks is introducing party-themed fashions for girls. Jakks will also debut Cabbage Patch Kids Babyland, an all-new line of mini-figures and play sets.
Getting new life in recent years thanks to a live action/animated film is the Smurfs property. In August 2013, Sony will releaseSmurfs 2 and to complement the film, Jakks will unleash a line of collectible figures, plush, fashion dolls and play sets. Jakks will also introduce a new platform, Smurfs Micro World, which includes a detailed range of 1-inch figures and play sets. Mega Bloks will expand its Smurfs-themed building range as well, with the all-new Smurfette's House, set for a fall release.
Toy maker Basic Fun, in partnership with Fisher-Price, is ready to cash in on all things nostalgic with the expansion of the Fisher-Price Classics line, as well as the re-launch of the 70-year-old View-Master property. Coming in fall, View-Master will get a fresh new look and 3D images for properties including Despicable Me 2, Spider-Man, Star Wars, Hello Kitty and Discovery Kids. From the Classics range, Basic Fun is adding the Fisher-Price play desk; a new range of 16- and 10-inch The Puffalumps plush, a throwback to the mid-1980s; Simon, the electronic memory game, also from the 1980s; Mini Bop it! in a pocket-sized version; as well as mini electronic board games such as Monopoly, Candy Land and Trouble.
From Nelvana Enterprises, the Beyblade phenomenon will continue with the introduction of a new animated series to the franchise, "Beyblade: Shogun Steel." Nelvana, in partnership with d-rights and Hasbro, will launch a new, 360-degree campaign and toy range in support of the product program. Master toy partner Hasbro will launch Beybattle tops and the all-new Beywarrior battlers, a brand new figure-based battling system inspired by the characters in the series. Also forthcoming are the Beywheelz Electro Wheelz assortment and Beyblade Electro Spark battlers, along with Hyperblade tops and a Hyper-Strike battle set. The new series will also receive heavy marketing support from Nelvana, including a refresh of thehttp://Beyblade.com/ website, retail campaigns, multiple QSR promotions and more.
In preparation for Fraggle Rock's 30th anniversary, The Jim Henson Company will roll out the red carpet for the brand with a slew of products to commemorate the year. Partners on board include DRx Romanelli for a range of apparel, Anita Ko and Glamhouse for costume jewelry, Kamibashi for a String Doll Gang line, a music compilation from Bryan Ray Turcotte and Darren Romanelli, a line of DVDs from Gaiam/Vivendi, Heyday for adult sneakers, Farmarama for a Facebook game, Genera for a music app, Jumpin Jammerz for adult footed pajamas and Insight Editions for a collector's book.
HIT Entertainment will also be bringing its classic Thomas & Friends property to Toy Fair, with a range of fresh product from Fisher-Price including a new DVD, "King of the Railway," and an all-new wooden railway train system. HIT will also showcase its Mike the Knight property, which is picking up steam in the U.S. as it debuts its initial range in the region. Fisher-Price will roll out new product to retailers this summer, with worldwide product rolling out in the fall (excluding the U.K. and Japan). Product is geared toward preschool girls and boys, ages 2 and up. The CGI series "Mike the Knight" (a co-production between HIT and Nelvana) airs currently in major global markets.
But do not be mistaken, although retro and tried-and-true properties are continuing to be a source of inspiration for refreshed and renewed product programs, innovative and new properties are easy to find at Toy Fair as well.
Jazwares will support some of the hottest fresh licenses on the market with extensive product, including items for the girls' property Lalaloopsy, teen heartthrobs One Direction, Nicktoons and introduce two new ranges for Yo Gabba Gabba! and So So Happy. The latter toy lines will include figures and plush styles.
Jakks is pushing into new categories with preschool toys based on the Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood property from The Fred Rogers Company. Jakks is also making strong inroads into the Latin American market with an El Chavo product line based on the comedy series that airs in the U.S. and Spanish-speaking countries. The series will get product including figures, plush, dolls, role play, dress up, seasonal toys and more.
From DreamWorks, in partnership with toy partner Spin Master, comes a new How to Train Your Dragon line that includes a realistic-looking fire breathing Toothless figure, along with an action Dragon and mini Dragon assortment.
Mattel has also been tapped as the master toy partner for DreamWorks' upcoming animated release, Turbo.
Animated films continue to be a popular theme on the floor as Universal's forthcoming Despicable Me 2 gets a range of products from Thinkway Toys. The range includes talking figures such as Dave the Minion and Stuart the Minion, Gru and a bedtime Agnes doll.
For the recently launched series "Tickety Toc" from Zodiak Rights, master toy licensees Vivid Imaginations and Just Play will launch toy product this fall and winter. The ranges, which are currently in development, will include a Clockhouse interactive play set, talking plush, collectible figures, vehicles, puzzles and games, along with publishing, apparel and accessories.
Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products has a host of product for its popular properties, such as The Simpsons, New Girl, Sons of Anarchy and its films Ice Age,Rio and Epic. For the Epic property, FCP and master toy partner Dream International will unveil a new toy line that includes figures and plush. The range will hit retail in May. For FCP's newer hit television properties, Maisto will showcase die-cast motorcycle models based on the series "Sons of Anarchy" and Pressman Toy will debut a trivia board game inspired by "New Girl."
Apps, video games and interactive play are still on the radar for many licensors and licensees.
"I believe trends surrounding app-based play will move from accessories that are app-dependent to app-enhanced toys, which allow for more open-ended play and are merchandised in the traditional toy aisle," says Jakks' Hefter.
Jakks recently launched its DreamPlay Toys line at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, which merges physical play with smart device/tablet gaming and learning. Jakks and Disney have paired for the all-new range of DreamPlay toys.
Also from Disney is what it's calling its "most ambitious video game initiative ever." The new Disney Infinity platform will allow players to place real-world interactive figures on a device–the Infinity Base–and activate original, story-driven adventures in a gaming world based on its popular franchises.
Now seemingly "classic" web series "Annoying Orange" from The Collective continues to stake its claim on consumer product dollars, showcasing several new product lines at the Toy Fair expo. The Bridge will build on its 2012 toy line for the property with a new Annoying Orange Talking Target game, while Sakar will debut new SKUs for electronic accessories.
In a similar vein, Internet sensation Domo from Big Tent Entertainment continues its "Domo-nation" with the release of several products from licensees.
License 2 Play will be showcasing Domo plush at Toy Fair, in a new partnership tied to DC Comics. The Domo x DC range will feature the Domo character assuming the role of DC superheroes such as Batman and Superman. Dark Horse Comics is also in on the Domo game, and will broaden the property's reach with the fifth series of Domo Quee mystery box assortments. Plushland will debut its first Domo products for sports and pop culture fans with Domo decked out in logos from the NHL and college teams, as well as with recognizable slogans and sayings. And finally Pangea will unveil its most unique item–the Domo toaster–along with a range of Domo DJ headphones and iPhone covers.
Oregon Scientific will unveil an expanded suite of products building on its MEEP! tablet, which was introduced in fall 2012. An upgraded version of the tablet will debut that includes new design, features, upgraded hardware, new dedicated content and more robust educational elements and community. New MEEP! accessories will also launch.
The Little Mermaid For a New Generation
In honor of Disney's release of The Little Mermaid Diamond Edition blu-ray this fall, Disney Consumer Products is unveiling a slew of merchandise from licensees, including Mattel, Tollytots and CDI, concurrent with the film's re-launch.
"The Little Mermaid and Ariel have long been fan favorites and, in fact, Ariel has consistently been one of the most popular princesses for the Disney Princess brand. I think this ties back to the fun and the music in the film and girls' ability to relate to Ariel's inner qualities of being spirited and adventurous," says Chris Connolly, senior vice president, licensing, DCP. "We anticipate that millennial moms in their mid-20s to early 30s who grew up watching The Little Mermaid will be excited to share our new Little Mermaid product collection with their daughters."
DCP has worked closely with licensees to develop new merchandise that helps children re-create key moments from the film with innovative features and musical elements.
From Mattel, exclusive product includes the Disney Princess Mermaid to Princess Ariel doll, which allows girls to transform the character from a mermaid to a princess and back. Ariel also sings music from the movie as she transforms.
Mattel has also created the Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle play set, a "magical" castle the features rooms for Disney Princess dolls including Ariel, along with other favorites.
Tollytots has developed the Under the Sea doll for toddlers that sings the song "Under the Sea" and speaks phrases. The doll can also be immersed under water, and displays a light show when submerged.
Dress up is a key component for the Disney Princess play pattern, and The Little Mermaid property is no exception. CDI has created a musical Ariel light up dress that plays music from the film and twinkles with motion-activated technology.
"Disney has an extensive Little Mermaid product collection planned across many categories," says Connolly. "Products will be available starting in July in North America and across the world."
Retailers such as Target, Kmart and Walmart will feature these items.