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Multiplying like rabbits

Hong Kong’s Asian Licensing Conference (ALC) and International Licensing Show (HKILS) boasted great numbers and familiar faces plastered on anything that stood still this week.


Among the speakers from screen brands at the ALC were 20th Century Fox Consumer Products’ Rosalind Nowicki, Discovery’s Nicolas Bonard, EA’s Ryan Gagerman and Penguin’s Susan Bolsover.

The big picture
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s ALC and HKILS are Asia’s largest such events, the biggest gathering of licensors and licensees in the region each year, and attendees turned out in impressive numbers for the conference sessions as well as crowding the trade show halls.

Naturally much of what was on offer, screen-related or otherwise, was originated in Asia. As entertainment brands and properties are the highest-earning licensed goods in Asia, it was no surprise that an impressive range of screen property brands from elsewhere was also there, looking to grow into Asia.

Kicking off the conference, the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association’s (LIMA) Charles Riotto offered some perspective about the opportunity, sharing facts and figures on the value of licensed properties both globally and regionally. Worldwide, licensed properties generated US$200 billion of sales in 2013. The US market spent $119 million of that amount. The UK was the world’s third largest territory, driving US$17 billion of sales.

Playing to the Hong Kong home crowd, Riotto offered some Asia-specific figures showing that China (with growth of over 370% in licensed goods retail in the last eight years) would knock Japan out of second spot on the worldwide league table of earners within the next decade. Overtaking Japan will mirror what’s already happened at the global box office.

While many of the UK’s highest-profile licensing brands are internationally-recognised football teams (Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City were all present at HKILS) a $17 billion market allows for smaller and more targeted properties to be born, nurtured and grown into successful brands.

ALC speakers from a number of major US brands seemed caught between a desire to work closely with local partners in overseas territories and an assumption that US tastes and preferences would automatically work internationally.

In the picture
Rosalind Nowicki, whose 20th Century Fox Consumer Products has the two highest-grossing film titles among its stable (Avatar, Titanic). Offering what was as much an extended advert as an informative presentation, she claimed The Simpsons as “the world’s longest running scripted TV show”, with 26 years under its belt. Apparently she’s not heard of Coronation Street, which turns 55 this year.

Nowicki noted the importance of franchises to Fox’s model, noting six US-originated film properties whose box office was over a billion dollars. While Nowicki also referenced Fox productions from India, Malaysia, and elsewhere, there was a tendency among several speakers from beyond the region to address Asia as if it were one market.

Nicolas Bonard

Discovery’s Nicolas Bonard

Both Discovery’s Nicolas Bonard and Click! Licensing Asia’s Marilu Corpus spoke intelligently about the differences across various Asian markets and the potentially expensive implications of not understanding the implications of those differences.

Describing major brands as “great, but too rigid to work for licensing and merchandising exploitation”, Bonard explained that Discovery’s reach into 2.58 billion households across 220 countries put the company firmly in that category of inflexible brands. Last year Discovery and Liberty Global bought the UK’s largest independent production group, All3Media.

The eminently practical Bonard noted that Discovery had taken an equally pragmatic approach by creating a non-channel brand, Discovery Expedition (DX), for its merchandising.

P-pick up a …
Penguin’s Susan Bolsover spoke about the journey of expanding a traditional publishing company into a company that was a licensor as well as a licensee.

Susan Bolsover

Penguin Ventures’ Susan Bolsover

“We are leaving our old neighbourhood and moving to a new one,” was how she described the changes impacting print publishers the world over. Penguin’s four-pronged strategy is now all about IP rather than books: to publish, create, acquire and own it.

Penguin’s most internationally-recognised long-running children’s property is Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. The TV adaptation (now into its second season) arrives on Chinese screens next month, joining a number of international kids TV shows reaching into Asia. That list already includes Pukeko Pictures’ The WotWots.

For the gamers EA’s Ryan Gagerman’s reminded that EA was, in many ways, like Penguin: a company that had built a fair amount of its success on being a licensee. Its sports portfolio of games, including the world’s #1 sports game franchise FIFA, for a healthy amount of the company’s income.

Ryan Gagerman

Electronic Arts’ Ryan Gagerman

EA turns over US$4 billion annually, with half its income from digital sales. Its online games clock up a combined 3000 years of gameplay each day.

The company has been involved with the games for plenty of successful screen properties, including Star Wars and Harry Potter. Last year its game property Need for Speed travelled the other way, releasing as a film title. The film did more business in China than anywhere else.

Despite internet penetration averaging only 28% across Asia, the region is the biggest market for online/mobile gaming, generating US$27 billion in 2013 – a billion dollars ahead of the US, where internet penetration is above 80%.

Having previously worked for the BBC, DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures, Penguin’s Bolsover also has considerable experience developing licensing properties and programmes from screen content, that wasn’t true of the bulk of Penguin’s team when she arrived. The company returned the rights for a number of properties to concentrate on building its licensing business around established properties.

Peter Rabbit is possibly the oldest licensed property in UK childrens’ fiction. Potter herself patented doll and board game designs with a year of the 1902 publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She also turned down an offer for the feature film rights from Walt Disney in 1936, showing considerably better judgment than the rights holders for Winnie the Pooh some 30 years later.

Over 110 years after publication, a copy of The Tales of Peter Rabbit is still sold somewhere in the world every 15 seconds. As Bolsover acknowledged, with a great brand comes a great responsibility. Bolsover made the point that seeking out partners with expertise was important.

Despite being an investing partner on the TV adaptation of Peter Rabbit, rather than simply the licensor, Penguin partnered with established producers to exploit the TV rights for Peter Rabbit.

Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit

For its Puffin Rock TV show, Penguin has partnered with Irish studio, Cartoon Saloon, whose Fabian Erlinghauser presented at Animfx late last year on the art of the co-production, using Cartoon’s Saloon’s latest feature Song of the Sea as an example. The film was today named one of five titles nominated for the Animated Feature Oscar.

The Hong Kong International Licensing Show ran 12-14 January, the Asian Licensing Conference 12-13 January.

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