There appears to be a trend here that might disturb studios that released family films with the expectation of seeing a windfall from licensed merchandise sales. The new pre-holiday recommendations from Toys ‘R Us (it lists its “Fabulous 15″) and Walmart (it has 23 items it says were “Chosen by Kids”) feature TV characters including Disney Junior’s Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins, Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Sesame Street’s Elmo.
But when it comes to films, Toys ‘R Us suggests one from Universal’s Despicable Me 2, and Walmart has something from Disney’s Planes — but there’s nothing from DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo, Fox’s Epic, Pixar’s Monsters University, or Sony’s Smurfs 2. It’s a sign of a larger trend says International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association SVP Marty Brochstein. “TV seems to be grabbing more of the attention and shelf space,” he says. Some film properties were hurt by the summer’s animation glut.
Planes' merchandising bonanza is hardly a surprise. The picture continues where the Cars franchise left off, and the two Pixar features sold a HUGE number of toys.
It's also not very startling that non-sequels which under-performed at the box office (Epic, Turbo) didn't get a lot of traction in the merchandise department. Word around DreamWorks Animation was that DWA management expected to move a lot of toy race cars because that was a major tie-in, but maybe the lead character Turbo got a teensy bit in the way. ("Gee thanks Mom and Dad! A rubber snail! Neato!")
But TV cartoons as advertisements for kiddy merchandise is a natural. It's been going on since the days of black-and-white Philcos, when Disney was selling millions of coonskin hats to eight-year-old worshippers of Davy Crockett. Hit shows are seen by children week after week, so why wouldn't the demand for Princess dolls and battling turtles be high? It's probably a disappointment to producers of some of the summer's theatrical features that their projects didn't generate big sales of games, action figures, and mobile apps (I'm surprised a hit sequel like Monsters University didn't move more product, but there you are.) I guess not every project activates secondary markets.
But good management adapts to new market realities. If TV is what excites the customers of Toys R Us, then TV is where the corporate push will be. (It's not for nothing that DreamWorks Animation is getting into television in a big way. There's gold in all those plush toys.)