Felix the Cat, created in 1919, is “known everywhere” and is “especially popular in Asia,” CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told the Licensing Expo in his keynote address today. And the feline character “goes beyond evergreen status and rises to something even more uncommon, as he is a true icon. We plan to make him one of the most desired fashion brands in the world.”
He also disclosed his plans for “DreamWorks’ DreamHouse,” a location-based entertainment initiative scheduled to begin this holiday season. Shoppers “will be treated to a fully immersive story that will appeal to parents as well as kids,” Katzenberg says. “It will be hosted by our characters and will include a thrilling four-minute flight on Santa’s sleigh to visit the big guy in his home at the North Pole.” The studio is already talking to mall owners to cut deals for them to offer what the CEO calls “a complete overhaul of the Santa experience, utilizing all of the high-tech gadgetry in our storytelling toolbox.”
Katzenberg’s announcements buttressed a larger point about his belief in brands and retailing — where brick-and-mortar store owners have been struggling to compete with online rivals. Although the Internet “has added a whole new dimension to shopping,” the DreamWorks Animation chief adds that “the cyber experience is limited. You can’t try on the clothes, you can’t interact with people … you can’t meet Santa.” He says that the “Chicken Littles who have predicted that online shopping will destroy retail remind me of the doomsdayers who, time and again, have predicted the demise of moviegoing.” They were wrong because “People like to get out of their homes and, equally important, theater owners have continually upgraded the experience with enhancements like digital projection, 3D, great sound as well as quality food and beverage offerings. In much the same way, retail will continue to flourish … because people enjoy getting out and interacting with their world, and because you continue to make the shopping experience more inviting and dynamic.”
He also used the occasion to talk up DWA’s efforts to diversify, adding TV, online, print, and licensed merchandise to its core film business. They provide platforms to profit from what he calls the company’s “six particularly strong franchises”: Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Puss in Boots, The Croods and How to Train Your Dragon. Katzenberg says the franchise “got a big boost from the strong opening of the second film in the series” this past weekend. Investors had a different view of the $50M domestic box office, and drove DreamWorks shares down 11%.
The company is high on location-based ventures, which “wouldn’t be possible if DreamWorks were not a brand.” He noted DWA’s partnerships with Merlin Entertainments, Gaylord Hotels and Royal Caribbean and added that it has a touring arena show in the U.S. and Australia for How To Train Your Dragon that will open this month next to Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing.
But Katzenberg told the audience of merchandise makers and retailers that “without question, one of our biggest and most important diversification strategies is … you.” DWA made its first big appearance at the Expo last year, and “wanted to make clear that we were serious about becoming a much more significant player in licensing and retail.” The company’s other diversification efforts give it ” a very powerful engine to drive Consumer Products with a 52-week supply of broadcast TV, Netflix shows, online entertainment and location-based entertainment.”