2017: Déjà Vu

The 17 trends that will define brand licensing in 2017.

Tony Lisanti, global editorial director, License Global

Following a year of unprecedented events, 2017 is shaping up to be a similar year for the brand licensing and retail sectors, while an aura of uncertainty permeates as the new administration begins to implement its political agenda. Politics aside, looking ahead to 2017, here are 17 observations that not only reflect key trends, but also indicate how eerily similar this new year will be with a continuation of major trends from 2016.

1. More acquisitions likely. Following the announcement in October that AT&T will acquire Time Warner for a reported $85 billion, the age of the mega merger will likely continue in the entertainment business as content, customers and scale are critical.

2. The China factor. With his bold proclamation last year to own all six Hollywood studios, Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Corp., could continue to execute his plan. The company owns M Time, Legendary and formed a joint venture with Sony last year, so stay tuned for the richest man in China’s next move.

3. Record box office performance. The North American box office generated $11.4 billion in 2016, smashing the previous year's record. And with the number of blockbusters in the pipeline for 2017, another record year is not out of the question.

4. Disney dominance. The Walt Disney Company became the first studio to top $7 billion in box office sales worldwide in 2016 driven by Finding Dory, Star Wars and Captain America: Civil War, the top three performers respectively at the box office in the U.S. Look for more of the same in 2017 with Beauty and the Beast, Gaurdians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Cars 3, Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: Episode VIII, plus others.

5. Superhero genre. In addition to the aforementioned Marvel films, the superhero list includes The LEGO Batman Movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman and Justice League are all in the pipeline, proving that the superhero genre is still incredibly strong, but yet causing concern that might begin to wane.

6. Location-based entertainment. The recent announcement by Viacom that it will build a theme park in China is yet another on a long list of examples that live events of all sorts around the globe are a key strategy among the world’s licensors.

7. '90s retro. Nickelodeon made an impact with its revival of popular 1990s shows such as "Rugrats," and this trend will continue, reinforcing that retro sells.

8. E-sports. More leagues, more teams, more products along with huge fan participation makes this a viable business with strong licensing potential.

9. Shelf space after Disney. With the widespread popularity of Star Wars and numerous other Disney properties, the battle for retail shelf space continues to be a challenge for other licensors. It’s become part of the business of licensing.

10. Hatchimals hope. The incredible popularity of Spin Master’s Hatchimals this past holiday season is another reassuring case study that new brands can break through with consumers and retailers.

11. For e-commerce, the future is now. As Internet retail sales outpace traditional brick-and-mortar, the dynamics of retail merchandising is changing rapidly and creating new opportunities for licensed brands.

12. Executive changes. For various business reasons, major studios have new leadership including Warner Bros., NBCUniversal, Sony, Fox, and realignments have changed the structure of many CP divisions, putting the emphasis on different initiatives from events to international expansion.

13. Virtual reality and augmented realty. The VR experience will continue to evolve, not only for gaming, but also for various events, sports and theme park attractions. "Pokémon Go" set the bar and other similar games will hit the market.

14. Experiential retail. Apple has certainly been doing it, Microsoft has followed suit and now more traditional stores are adopting it, as well. Consumers continue to demand more interactive and better experiences at traditional brick-and-mortar retail stores. Toys 'R' Us is now testing a smaller more interactive store that enhances the overall shopping experience, engages customers and better showcases brands.

15. Celebrity licensing. More and more sports personalities, music artists and television personalities along with traditional celebs, are looking to licensing for brand-name recognition and the growth in e-commerce and mobile commerce is making it easier to sell products to loyal fans.

16. Ambassador for licensing. Now that celebrity licensor and president-elect Donald Trump is moving to the White House, perhaps he would consider appointing a guru of licensing who could address key industry issues including various taxes and counterfeiting.

17. Looking to 2018. There’s a strong case to simply say, as the late sports figure Yogi Berra made part of his vernacular, it will be “déjà vu all over again.”

©License Global, a division of UBM Americas

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