Say ‘zeitgeist’ one more time…it’s the Vegas Blog!

Published on: 25th May 2018

The Licensing Expo is over for another year, and a fascinating event it has been. If it was perhaps quieter than usual and the mood slightly more subdued, that was arguably to be expected, given the headwinds in the global retail market, which licensing certainly isn’t immune from. I suspect a few UK companies sent smaller teams than they have in the past and, overall, maybe there were less retail attendees (including a couple of inevitable absentees), but the UK contingent allegedly accounts for almost a third of visitors, so collectively we’re still a very important bloc for the event.

Speaking to a number of licensees, there seemed to be a trend towards show meetings involving the restructuring of licensing deals where properties haven’t quite delivered on expectations…the licensing equivalent of the current glut of retail CVA discussions. Interestingly, I gather that quite a few licensors have proved to be accommodating and understanding; perhaps a new sense of reality is dawning in some quarters. I am sure those flexible licensors will reap the benefits over the coming years.

However, unsurprisingly, in other quarters it was very much business as usual: one major licensing company is apparently seeking additional ‘donations’ to its CMF (Central Marketing Fund for the blissfully uninitiated, although some licensees have a less polite acronym for the process). The new tariffs allegedly add anything between 1-3% to the already heavy cost of doing business with the licensor in question. As one licensee put it: “WTF? Or more accurately, WFM??” (whereby the M stands for marketing…you can probably work out the rest). I’m sure most of you could take a wild stab at which licensor I’m referring to.

After last week’s hokey-cokey themed Blog, I didn’t think I’d be returning to the analogy so soon, yet it appears that Licensing Expo felt it was missing out and wants to perform its own party dance. So, it might be worth noting that next year’s show will be slipping back two weeks in the calendar, when it will be taking place from 4th – 6th June. Intriguingly, I understand that the following year, the show will revert back to its current slot in the third week of May. Maybe they will even reintroduce the aisle seating, which has been inexplicably removed this year – that would be a popular move with just about everyone I’ve spoken to this week.

A special thank you to Nickelodeon – and in particular to Mark and Marianne – for making sure that selected trade press partners were invited to the company’s showcase on Tuesday. The event itself was slick, informative and hugely enjoyable, with guest appearances from Jo Jo Siwa, John Cena and Pauly D from Jersey Shore alongside the Nickelodeon licensing A-team. Licensee feedback on Nickelodeon and its properties has been positive all week, the company is clearly set for another strong year in 2019.

It still perplexes me why other licensors don’t extend invitations to members of the press for their summits; we don’t bite (well, not unless we’re provoked). Maybe American licensors have different relationships with their trade press contacts, or maybe they’ve singularly failed to grasp the very real difference between consumer journalists and their trade counterparts. At least it’s nice to see that some licensors not only value their long-term partnerships with the press, but also trust us.

Gossip has been fairly thin on the ground, although I’m pleased to hear that former TRU buyer Anna Waite has picked up a short-term marketing role at Mattel, which is a great move for all concerned. And can it really be true that the organisers are contemplating relocating BLE from Olympia to Excel next year? Hmmm…those of us who experienced Toy Fair’s ill-fated dalliance with the venue might have an interesting perspective to offer on that particular move.

Back in the UK, the biggest news of the week has been the announcement that Tesco is to close its Direct operation in July. The news certainly took many people by surprise, including The Entertainer team; the retailer has been using the marketplace heavily, and even former Tesco doyen John Driscoll admitted that he hadn’t seen it coming. Perhaps Tesco has reached the conclusion that it is folly to compete with Amazon, and there were certainly issues with both profitability and also with small online retailers using the site to under-cut Tesco. In that respect alone, you can see why it makes sense for Tesco to refocus on its own website. The big question is whether all the merchandise currently offered by Tesco via the Direct operation will automatically migrate over to the Tesco website; rumour has it that may not be the case. I’m hearing instances of FOB orders placed months ago being cancelled with immediate effect, and even the suggestion that if suppliers don’t accept the cancellation, there is the implication (threat, some might say…) that Tesco will simply trash the price. If that is true, it strikes me as a relatively dangerous game to play on any number of levels. And while it will be a nuisance to many small online retailers and some suppliers, it surely opens up opportunities for other marketplaces such as OnBuy and online operators like Groupon.

Although I wasn’t invited to attend the Monday summits, I did enjoy a spreadsheet which cropped up on twitter later that evening; it detailed what each event offered in the way of creature comforts (water, tea/coffee, crisps, pastries) and added extras (free stuff, dry ice). It made interesting reading for all those who, like me, were curious to know what they missed (or, in some cases, didn’t miss). Let’s just say that some licensors came out better than others. Licensors – if you don’t believe that licensees and retailers are judging you on these sorts of criteria and the number of times you say ‘zeitgeist’ and ‘powerhouse’, I have news for you…

Finally, I’ll leave you with the latest introduction from Green Elephant, which may well be paying homage to the Las Vegas watering hole of choice for many licensing people. If the next release is called Voodoo Lounge, we’ll detect a pattern emerging…