Retailers Take Licensed Deals Off the Rack

TV shows may not be the master mover in selling t-shirts, action toys, books, and video games, but it can pitch a lot of apathy.

Recent stories from last week's Licensing Show in New York City suggest TV shows this year may not be big promoters of spinning licenses for retail sales. Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants" was a big hit three years ago, as was Komani's "Yu-Gi-Oh." But now, TV can't seem to find a way to develop the next big hit.

Over the last few years, products from many big TV shows have glutted retailer's shelves - only to disappear for lack of big-time interest. Years ago, executives called this a glut. Maybe it was a glut of the mediocre.

But there is more to the story. What some news business stories didn't discuss in detail was shelf space and retailing issues of entertainment properties.

For the past several years, film-related merchandise - franchises such as "Spider-Man," "Shrek" and this year, "Batman" and "Star Wars" -- have taken control of retail shelves. Increasingly, the nation's retailers are getting sophisticated and want a surer bet. New TV shows aren't making the big mark, at least in establishing long-term franchises.



Virtually all of the big bucks from licensed deals on TV shows come from kids and teen programming. Nickelodeon - masters of the planned approach to kid properties - still does retail business, but is more measured in its ventures. Others are avoiding TV altogether.

DIC Entertainment's Andy Heyward says he isn't going to launch TV shows for his successful "Strawberry Shortcake" and his upcoming "Trollz" for fear of overexposure.

Scratch your head, if you like.

Isn't that what retailers want - some high-level TV marketing support in the form of a TV show? Perhaps Heyward has inside knowledge. Nickelodeon controls the life of its kid properties because - unlike other kids TV producers and property owners -- it owns a big cable TV distribution system (as does Cartoon Network) also known as a TV network. Cable networks can guarantee great promotion of kid properties to their licensees.

And for Heyward? His company has an early morning, small, syndicated DIC kids network that runs on FCC-friendly, educational-necessary TV shows. But it is nowhere near the size of a cable network. Still, why not go with what you have?

TV distribution is not the only answer. A contraction in retail business hit the industry over the last few years and fiscal restraint has resulted in fewer retailers willing to take a flyer on any new properties.

With these conditions, licensing executives don't expect too many big-hit surprises in the upcoming years. That sounds horrible -- fewer toys for kids to play with, fewer bad t-shirts and video games to buy. How will they live? Could it be that kids have too much to choose from - or not enough good stuff to choose from?

Don't worry. Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys 'R' Us executives will make the right decisions.

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