Newspaper article International New York Times

Hitching a Toy to a Star: An Industry on the Hunt for the Next Best Seller

Newspaper article International New York Times

Hitching a Toy to a Star: An Industry on the Hunt for the Next Best Seller

Article excerpt

As moviegoers salivate over superhero movies, some experts question whether the toy industry can accommodate a glut of new products.

Superheroes wage some of their deadliest fights on the big screen.

But this year, the toy aisle may be the bloodiest battlefield.

Captain America, Darth Vader and even Cinderella will all battle for shelf space, along with myriad other toys based on big Hollywood films coming out this year. Among the anticipated movies with toy tie-ins are "Jurassic World," the fourth installment of the Universal Studios series; "Cinderella," a live-action take on Disney's classic princess; and "Avengers: Age of Ultron," based on Marvel's comic book franchise.

Toymakers have been salivating over the next "Star Wars" film, "The Force Awakens," the piece de resistance in a year packed with plenty of heroes, action figures and animated monsters. But absent from this year's Toy Fair 2015, which begins Saturday in New York, are some "Star Wars" toys specifically tied to the next movie, because Disney presumably wants to keep the suspense going until closer to the film's release in December.

All of these movies -- and others -- represent potentially record- breaking licensing opportunities for toymakers. But some experts question whether the $22 billion toy industry can expand enough to accommodate what could be a glut of new products.

"It's always a challenge when you have this many big films," said Marty Brochstein, senior vice president of industry relations and information for the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. "Everybody's trying to stand out, and it's a very tough thing."

Licensing was simpler when "Return of the Jedi" came out in 1983, or even when George Lucas's first prequel came out more than a decade later. Technology had not yet spawned a whole new category of digital games. Movie studios were also not as dependent on the next line of lunchboxes and backpacks, or carving up licensing rights into smaller and smaller pieces.

But as newer, often nimbler toymakers emerge to compete with giants like Mattel and Hasbro, Disney and others saw an opportunity: Sell rights to the best product, no matter how obscure or specific it might be.

Jakks Pacific, for example, made a name for itself by creating oversize dolls and action figures, something other toymakers had hesitated to do until the company's 31-inch Darth Vader established a presence. Its large-scale Cinderella dolls, Minions figures and "Star Wars" action figures will appear in toy stores this year around the films' releases.

"It's really being creative and finding that category where you can get an available license," said Tara Hefter, the vice president of licensing at Jakks Pacific. "We'll take more risks with technology or new categories."

With a broad assortment of toymakers claiming niche corners of the toy business, the rights to make "Avengers" role-playing games, board games and digital games, for example, could all be split among competitors.

That means a wider selection for consumers, and more competition for their attention. …

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