Within a year of its 1954 debut, Walt Disney’s “Davy Crockett” TV series moved more than $300 million dollars in licensed merchandise in the U.S., from coonskin caps to rifles. Today, TV series and movies are just as likely to be licensed products inspired by toy lines, designed to spur further merchandise sales, which, in the case of Disney, hit a record $40.9 billion globally in 2013.
Increasingly, the outlets for that programming are online platforms such as YouTube, where all manner of branded toy content can be found, to Netflix, which has greenlit shows inspired by the classic Hasbro toy Stretch Armstrong, and the Lalaoopsy doll line from MGA Entertainment (the maker of Bratz dolls).
The subject was one of the topics of discussion at this morning’s “Toys to Content: Where Do We Go From Here?” panel at the Licensing Expo 2016 in Las Vegas, sponsored by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA)
“If kids are watching [online] and kids are the primary consumer of toys, then you have to be where they are,” said Marty Brochstein, SVP of industry relations and information, who moderated the panel.
Today, creating media content to accompany a product line is considered almost a mandatory move in the toy manufacturer playbook.
“Entertainment-backed product outstrips non-entertainment product in our segment, and the reason is emotional engagement and connectivity,” said Simon Waters, GM and SVP of entertainment and consumer products for Hasbro, who appeared on the panel along with representatives from Mattel and Jazwares.
To foster the egagemnt, Hasbro pursues what it calls an “omni-screen strategy,” distributing its content in different forms across digital and linear TV platforms in 200 markets worldwide, as well as “between the screens” via comics and other print media, where more expansive spin-off stories can be told.
For its commercials and short-form content, Hasbro uses its in-house creative studio, Rhode Island-based Cake Mix Studio, along with outside agencies. For its long-form film and TV projects, it has Hasbro Studios and AllSpark Pictures, a new division launched it partnership with Paramount Pictures that will produce films based on its G.I. Joe, Micronauts, Visionairies, M.A.S.K. and Rom properties.
“It’s not a one size fits all,” said Waters. “Some content works brilliantly when it’s cut down into short-form. You can take an 11-minute story and tell multiple stories with it. Sometimes we’ll create a music video by cutting scenes to music, which is super-entertaining, especially for our younger kids.”
Increasingly, toy companies are looking to digital creators, both amateur and pro, to create the short-form content, whether it be videos of action figure play, Nerf Blaster battles or toy unboxings.
The potential for unboxing videos was demonstrated by Disney’s global live-streamed toy unboxing event last September for new consumer products line for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” featuring top digital stars from Disney owned Maker Studios’s newtwork including kids (EvanTubeHD), families (Bratayley), lifehack specialists (Bratayley), gamers (AlexBy11) and “Star Wars” fans (AlexBy11).
“When you think about how big a franchise that was already and then you add the Disney marketing savvy, it was like two plus two equals 53,” Brochstein said.
While content streams out to an ever-expanding array of new platforms, in some ways, it’s a case of as much as things change, they stay the same, according to Waters.
“Whether they’re be 30-second stories, three-minute stories, 11-minute or 22-minute, the reality is that great quality stories with strong production values will continue to rule the day,” he said.