The Hong Kong International Licensing Show ran last week, with exhibitors offering opportunities to partner with well-known properties and brands from all over the world.
Friends of the National Party Warner Bros. had the prime spot on the exhibition floor, an elevated stand bursting with promotional material for its biggest and brightest properties.
The Hobbit had a small spot in the display. Despite doing decent box office in the region, it’s not the most attractive merchandising opportunity for Warners in Asia. That’s nothing to do with it not being Asian in origin, more to do with its literary nature and using plenty of names that are a pain to get one’s tongue around even for native English speakers.
Opportunities around Warners’ Harry Potter franchise are now fading, although they get occasional boosts around the opening of theme park rides. Bianca Lee, Warner Bros Consumer Products’ MD for China, SE Asia & India, expects that there’ll be a revival of interest in those opportunities when the films from the upcoming Hogwarts-related trilogy Fantastic Beasts hit next year.
Warners’ Justice League from DC Comics is the most popular of its brands in Asia. As well as being a winner at the bank, it also picked up a gong at the LIMA-sponsored Asian Licensing Awards, handed out on the show’s first evening.
The SM Store took the Retailer of the Year award for its Justice League promotions. Warners took the Entertainment Property of the Year gong for the 75th Anniversary of Batman.
A third screen property was also a winner, with Hong Kong manufacturer Hot Toys winning the Licensee of the Year award for its collectibles for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In 2014 Hot Toys tied for the same award with its Iron Man 3 collectible figure series, sharing the win with Vinda International (for SpongeBob SquarePants tissue products).
Beyond the easily-recognisable (mostly American) screen properties, the HKILS also featured a lot of Asia-originated character brands, some with screen components, some not. Many were accompanied by mascots, especially good at blocking the show’s aisles as they posed for and with trade show visitors. Heaven for furries, the range of mascots was mildly entertaining (on day one, at least) for everyone else.
Among the exhibitors, the Philippines’ Empire MultiMedia Group was offering opportunities around a number of entertainment properties, including game Fruit Ninja from Australian developer HalfBrick, whose Jason Harwood was a presenter at NZGDC in 2013.
The range of products seemed based on Angry Birds merchandising, including lollies, clothing and accessories, plus plenty of soft toys of sliced and diced fruit salad.
EA-owned PopCap Games’ Plants vs Zombies was also represented on more than one stand. At Animfx’s February 2014 edition PopCap’s James Gwertzman presented on the work of the Shanghai-based to localise and culturalise Plants vs Zombies, as well as change it from a premium to freemium model. Plants vs Zombies: Great Wall Edition has since become EA`s most profitable game in the Chinese market, and the size of the stands promoting opportunities around it at HKILS paid testament to that.
In his presentation at the accompanying Asian Licensing Conference, EA’s Ryan Gagerman gave a potted version of Gwertman’s presentation. Very numbers-focused, Gagerman noted that the changes made to Plants vs Zombies resulted in 178 million downloads of a game which had previously not made any real impression in the Chinese market.
Gagerman described EA’s subsequent discovery of pirated PvZ goods in China as a both a problem and an opportunity. Despite the harm to the IP, it alerted EA to the potential.
“It meant players wanted to spend on merchandising.” Which is something EA has since been happy to help them do, rolling out merchandising deals.
Gagerman also noted that Asia is the biggest market for merchandising around game properties (US$27 billion) despite having an average 28% internet penetration across the region. As playing games is how people spend a third of their time on mobile, the opportunities are plenty. The most popular mobile accessory in Hong Kong is not some dangly bit of bling (although there are plenty of those) but a plug-in battery pack so one can keep playing – or possibly even answer a call.Also present at the show were plenty of entertaining diversions that didn’t involve screens, such as Yuansheng Toys Plastic Factory’s Toilet Golf (marketed as Potty Putter in the US) and variations on a theme including Toilet Football and, possibly a step too far, Toilet Fishing.
Not present at the show, but already with relationships in the region are NZ pre-school entertainment brands Buzzy Bee from Lion Rock and, more recently, Pukeko Pictures’ The WotWots.
Pukeko’s Thunderbirds Are Go!, arriving on screens this year, has done licensing deals with UK-headquartered Vivid which has offices in Hong Kong. Vivid will produce a range of Thunderbirds are Go! merchandise including figurines and vehicles; die cast models; role play/dress up toys (for kids only, which will disappoint some) and other goods. Vivid also manufactures merchandising for other screen properties including The Hobbit.