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In Tough Times, Licensing Biz Sticks to Sure Things

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The nerdy high school crooners on Fox’s surprise hit, Glee, may or may not win their regional singing contest during this week’s season finale. But one thing’s for sure: Fans will be able to get their hands on the first Glee products in time for the season 2 launch in the fall.

Glee—which is planning to affix its name to musical greeting cards and pajamas, among other items—is just one of the thousands of properties on display at this week’s Licensing International Expo 2010 in Las Vegas. It’s also part of what may be this year’s hottest industry trend: the deep dive of proven brands, from adult-targeted TV shows to restaurants and musical artists, into licensing.

The licensing push is part natural progression for media companies—magazines and other publishers are also accelerating their merchandising forays—as well as a sign of these recession-racked times. When the major source of income stagnates, property owners look for other ways to cash in.

“People are saying, I’ve created this brand equity with a loyal fan base, now how do I capitalize on it?” said Michael Stone, president and CEO of the Beanstalk Group, who represents HGTV, a network whose shows are also jumping into licensing.

Retailers, who have been hesitant to try out new products, are also more willing to stock shelves with products associated with proven brands. Licensing suffered an across-the-board 11.5 percent drop in domestic retail sales in 2009 versus 2008 to $92.5 billion, according to The Licensing Letter. Retailers were loathe to try new products, said TLL publisher Ira Mayer, and stocked their shelves judiciously.  “They kept it close to the bone and that was a change in the business,” Mayer said.

Fox’s licensing arm has signed about a dozen Glee licensees in categories ranging from games to karaoke machines. Deals will also put Glee clothing in Macy’s and accessories in Claire’s during the busy back-to-school period. In all, there will be nearly 100 products, including books, bedding and cosmetics.

“We held back in order to find the right categories, the right creative and the right retail partners,” said Robert Marick, evp of Fox Licensing and Merchandising.

New entrants also include HGTV, WE TV and its sibling, Wedding Central. The former is developing HGTV Home, which already has a Serta mattress line, and WE TV is looking for consumer goods partnerships for popular shows like Bridezillas, My Fair Wedding and Raising Sextuplets.

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