It’s appropriate that makers and sellers of toys, clothing, games and other goods built around licensed identities are headed to Las Vegas for this week’s Licensing Expo, the annual industry confab. They always gamble when they decide how much to invest in properties tied to entertainment characters.
And this year will be especially risky: The number of movie franchises and TV characters keeps growing, especially when you include streaming services led by Netflix and emerging YouTube celebrities including Bethany Mota and Michelle Phan. “There are only a finite number of consumer dollars out there,” says Marty Brochstein of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association, known as LIMA.
A bad bet can result in warehouses filled with unsold goods or a missed opportunity to profit from a hot trend.
If anyone wonders whether it’s worth the frustration, LIMA has an answer from its first global study of the licensed merchandise business. Entertainment characters accounted for $107.2 billion in global retail sales in 2014 (44.4% of the $241.5 billion total) including $6.2 billion in royalties (46.3% of the $13.4 billion total).
How does that compare with previous years? LIMA can’t say: The organization changed its methodology for this year’s report. It also didn’t break down categories by country or continent. (In case you’re curious, stores in the U.S. and Canada sold $51.4 billion in entertainment-related merchandise in 2013, LIMA reported last year, including licensing revenues of $2.7 billion.)
“We decided it was high time, and probably late for us” to switch to a global study, Brochstein says. “More than half of our membership is outside of the U.S.”
Still, the new study shows that North America accounted for $144.3 billion in retail sales last year, or 59.8% of the total across all categories which also include art, collegiate, corporate brands, fashion, music and sports. The next biggest markets were Northern Europe (12.8%), Southern Europe (6.7%), Northern Asia (5.5%), Southeast Asia (4%), Eastern Europe (3.7%), the Middle East and Africa (3.7%) and Latin America (3.5%).
Apparel accounted for 16.3% of the world’s licensed merchandise sales. It was followed by toys (12.3%), accessories (11.4%), home decor and furniture (7.7%), software and video games (6.6%) and food and beverage (6.1%).
Disney likely will continue to dominate conversations at this year’s confab with products tied to hit properties including The Avengers, Frozen and — of course — Star Wars. In addition, there’ll be a big sales effort around next year’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. And The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel “is having a resurgence,” says Lisa Harper, CEO of accessories retailer Hot Topic.
Indeed, young buyers are turing away from corporate logos and toward properties with vintage or evergreen characters including as Marilyn Monroe — and The Breakfast Club, which came out 30 years ago. “These licensed properties are the brands of their generation,” the CEO says.
As a result, “while we love blockbusters and studios, we have so much content out there, and we need a breadth of product,” Harper says.
Most manufactuirers and retailers already have made their bets for the 2015 holiday shopping season. This week “they’re looking at 2016 and 2017, and beyond,” Brochstein says.