From the skyrocketing success of digital-first properties to major shifts in the television landscape to big name brand acquisitions, here is the news that shaped 2013.
The licensing sector saw a lot of changes in 2013, but perhaps the most significant transformation took place at DreamWorks, making the June cover story "New Team, New Dream" our top story of the year.
In addition to completely re-organizing and re-focusing its consumer products division, DreamWorks made a series of acquisitions (Trolls, the AwesomenessTV YouTube network and the Chapman Entertainment library) that will shape the studio for years to come.
The AwesomenessTV purchase in particular shed light on the company's future plans, with chief executive officer Jeffrey Katzenberg saying: "AwesomenessTV is one of the fastest-growing content channels on the Internet today, and our acquisition of this groundbreaking venture will bring incredible momentum to our digital strategy. [Founder] Brian Robbins has an extraordinary track record in creating family content both for traditional and new platforms, and his expertise in the TV arena will be invaluable as we grow our presence in that space."
DreamWorks wasn't the only company that made some big buys in 2013.
Brand conglomerates Authentic Brands Group and Sequential Brands Group both completed a series of high-level acquisitions, with ABG adding Juicy Couture, Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley and the Spyder ski brand to its portfolio and Sequential picking up the Ellen Tracy, Caribbean Joe and Franklin Mint brands.
Entertainment One bought the licensing agency Art Impressions, owner of brands such as So So Happy and Skelanimals. The move was less a brand acquisition and more a merger, designed to expand both companies' reach into new regions, genres and categories. In fact, Art Impressions is now spearheading all of eOne's lifestyle licensing in North America and Japan, and eOne is looking to So So Happy and Skelanimals to gain a foothold in the teen market.
One of the biggest acquisitions of 2013, came toward the end of the year when William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and the technology investing firm Silver Lake bought IMG Worldwide, home to the world's largest licensing agency, IMG Licensing. In addition to representing clients such as Ferrari, Rolling Stone and Manchester United, IMG's licensing division also includes the Collegiate Licensing Company and Licensing Partners International. The combination of WME and IMG created the largest talent agency in the world, and what will likely continue to be the largest licensing agency, as well.
Other companies saw big realignments last year, not the least of which was JCPenney, which reinstated its former chief executive officer Myron Ullman after Ron Johnson (of Apple Store fame) failed to win over consumers with his plans to re-invent the retailer. Adding to JCP's woes was a prolonged (and still continuing) court battle with Macy's over the rights to the Martha Stewart home brand.
Other organizational shifts in 2013 were less sensational but equally significant.
FremantleMedia replaced its Enterprises arm with a new, stand-alone division focused on distribution and kids and family entertainment and created the new Digital & Branded Entertainment Group.
Mattel branched out, forming a new division dedicated to developing multi-platform content for its brands, Playground Productions. The toy maker also restructured its European consumer products team to align its licensing strategy across the region.
Saban merged its domestic and international licensing teams into a new global consumer products division and expanded its operations into Europe with the opening of a London office, its first international location.
One of the biggest stories in the digital world last year was the phenomenal growth of Activision's revolutionary property Skylanders, which combines physical toys with digital gaming. The brand, which won Best Licensing Program of the year at the LIMA International Licensing Excellence Awards, inspired a number of competitive systems in 2013. Disney launched the Infinity gaming console centered on the same concept, and Hasbro debuted a line of virtual toys called Telepods that "come to life" on tablets.
The poster child for digital-first success, Rovio Entertainment's Angry Birds, added another feather to its cap in 2013 when Sony Pictures Entertainment won a bidding war for the brand's first animated feature film. The 3D movie, which is being developed, produced and financed by Rovio, is slated to hit theaters in 2016.
In response to this explosive growth in the digital arena, Beanstalk, the fifth largest licensing agency in the world, launched a digital division specifically designed to focus on such properties.
And the enthusiasm for digital content shows no sign of waning. Americans spent $3.4 billion on gaming content in the third quarter of 2013 (a 17 percent increase from 2012), according to the NPD Group. In the December story "Get in the Game," License! Global predicted that the success of properties like Skylanders as well as the introduction of new consoles in 2013 (i.e. Sony's PlayStation4 and Microsoft's Xbox One) will continue to drive growth in the category.
A Changing TV Landscape
2013 saw the beginnings of a major shift in audiences' expectations for television, not necessarily in the content itself but in the way it is delivered.
Netflix broke new ground in this arena when it debuted two original series ("House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black") exclusively online and made the entire season available at one time. The gamble paid off, with major studios including Marvel and DreamWorks signing on to have new series debut exclusively on the web-based service. A big win, considering that the company was on the brink of extinction just a year earlier.
The pioneer of web videos, YouTube, also made a huge move in 2013 when it launched subscription channels with some of the world's top content providers including Sesame Workshop, UFC and National Geographic Kids.
On the network front, BBC Worldwide's "Doctor Who" made headlines with its global simulcast of the show's 50th anniversary episode, breaking not only ratings records, but a Guinness World record, as well. The episode aired in 94 countries across six continents at the same time.
Sanrio's Hello Kitty had quite a year with a series of unique brand extensions that included crossovers with Warner Bros. Consumer Products DC superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Pretty Ugly's Uglydoll brand, as well as a fully branded international airliner.
The Hello Kitty airplane, developed by Sanrio and the Taiwanese airline Eva Air, made its first international flight last September. The plane is part of a fleet of Hello Kitty jets that, until last year, only traveled within Asia and is outfitted from stem to stern with more than 100 branded service items, including toilet paper.
Hasbro reinvented its classic board game Monopoly with the launch of Monopoly Empires, which in addition to only lasting about 30-minutes, features 22 brands that players compete to collect. Among the brands included were Coca-Cola, Fender, Nestlé, McDonald's and Paramount Pictures.
In one of the most unique brand extensions of the year, the Campbell Soup Company teamed with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to create a line of Campbell's soups that could be prepared in Keurig coffee machines.
A number of well-known brands made their first forays into licensing in 2013, as well. Brand Central signed on to build programs for both Krispy Kreme and the Cronut, CPLG launched the Michelangelo Collection based on the famous artist's private work, the classic RV brand Winnebago teamed up with Brandgenuity, Wolfgang Puck started cooking up something new with the help of Beanstalk, the Hershey Company tapped The Licensing Company to build its brands beyond the candy aisle, the Joester Loria Group got ready to clean up with Clorox and the Seltzer Licensing Company signed up to develop the Nautilus exercise brand and Scotts Miracle-Gro.
- The BBC's "Doctor Who" celebrated 50 years on the air to great fanfare around the world, alongside a huge selection of licensed merchandise.
- Disney unveiled the first details of its plans for Star Wars, following its purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012. In addition to making Episodes VII, VIII and IX (Episode VII is slated for Dec. 18, 2015), the studio is also planning a series of spin-offs including two standalone films and the TV series "Star Wars Rebels," which will premiere this fall.
- TV phenom "Duck Dynasty" (represented by Brandgenuity) really took off in 2013 with a whole flock of brand extensions. The bearded stars of the A+E reality series also topped the list of most popular Halloween costumes of the year.
- The SyFy channel's so-bad-it-was-good TV movie Sharknado took the U.S. by storm, prompting not only a sequel but also a full product line that was developed by licensing agency Earthbound.
- Gwyneth Paltrow made headlines when she gave the keynote address at Licensing Expo 2013, where she talked about plans to expand her lifestyle brand globally.
- Two major U.S. TV series–"The Office" and "Breaking Bad"–finished their runs in 2013, but will continue to live on through licensing. Sony Pictures Televisions launched a Breaking Bad e-store, and NBCUniversal announced that Dunder Mifflin-branded office products (a deal brokered by the Joy Tashjian Marketing Group) would continue even after the fictitious company closed its doors.