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ISSUE 203

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No. 203 | March 2019

Amazon's counter strike is so... Amazon

Editor Robert Hutchins robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk

Sales Manager Rob Baker Rob.Baker@biz-media.co.uk

Designer Mandie Johnson mandie.johnson@biz-media.co.uk

Follow us @toynews online

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mazon has been rather active this past month, having finally kickstarted its Project Zero initiative to tackle its counterfeits problem, albeit in a wholly Amazon kind of way. It’s no secret that counterfeiting has been a growing issue upon the online giant’s open market platform in the last few years, and one that hit a new low in December 2018 when a child was hospitalised and subjected to life altering surgery at the hands of one fake toy. Amazon’s response had to come swiftly. It could just be that we are now at the vanguard of an ultimate step-change from the retailer with the launch of Project Zero - a platform that gives associated companies the power to remove counterfeit goods themselves. Almost as soon as they spot them. The clause is, of course, that this is an invite-only initiative meaning that only Amazon chosen brands will be given entry to the programme, stating that brands must "maintain a high bar for accuracy to maintain their Project Zero privileges." Reading into the finer details, there’s still a lot of work to be put in on the part of the brand owner - and most vulgar of all, at a cost, too in order to receive its premium service. Presumably, there’s a fair bit of money to be made in keeping children out of hospital... Robert Hutchins, Editor Robert.Hutchins@biz-media.co.uk

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COVER STORY LET'S GO OUTSIDE P35

Contents March 2019 Features

Regulars

BIG IMAGINATIONS ToyNews talks to Vivid's Nick Thomas and Emma Weber about business with Goliath

Opinion 06 Greg Lansdowne 07 Jacks Thomas 08 Francis Cain 09 Helena Mansell-Stopher

10 14

GREAT TECHSPECTATIONS With more explosive action happening onscreen, are we demanding more from our toys?

Market Data 32 Kids Insights 34 Generation Media

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Sector Guides 41 Outdoor Toys 46 Colleectables

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Back pages 56 Industry Moves 58 Bossing It...

HISTORY CHANNELLED Our exclusive interview with Horrible Histories author Terry Deary uncovers the truth...

THE GREAT OUTDOORS? Green spaces for children are in decline, luckily there are those fighting for a better tomorrow

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Opinion

Stick it in the box: Is it game on for Panini and Topps this football season? By Greg Lansdowne

It’s a big year that lies ahead in the world of collectable trading card and stickers but for all the talk of a digital takeover, with esports collaborations and Cryptocards, what has the industry - and collectors - most in thrall is Panini’s upcoming accession to the English Premier League throne. While Topps (or initially Merlin, who were bought out by the American company in 1995) has held the EPL collectables license since its inception, there is a new sheriff in town, from 2019-2020. Panini will need no introduction to football sticker/ card collectors young and old as they dominated the UK market from the late 70s to the early 90s, before enjoying a revival with its World Cup and Euro output over the last decade. Finer details are still under wraps but expect to see Panini’s Adrenalyn XL Trading Cards and a revitalised sticker album to flood the market from the early months of next season. You can also bank on Topps to come out fighting with the Match Attax brand - presently the world’s best-selling sports trading

card game - enduring in the market via its very popular UEFA Champions League license. But it’s not as if it’s all about sport this year… Panini has also recently signed a deal with online video game Fortnite while LOL Surprise and Disney are among other key licenses. Topps, on the other hand, can bring out the WWE and Star Wars big guns. But my ‘one to watch’ for this year would be Panini’s FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 collectables range (especially the sticker album). According to NPD research, of the Top 10 licensed toys in the UK from January to June 2018, four were Panini FIFA World Cup 2018 products. There may not be as strong a heritage for collecting women’s sport stickers or trading cards, but momentum is gathering apace (the Australian company Tap ‘N’ Play launched the first large-scale Trading Card collection dedicated to women’s sport with 2018 Suncorp Super Netball) and distribution for the next Women’s World Cup album is likely to be more wide-reaching than any previous such releases. In fact, whether you like it or not, it will be hard to avoid the Panini brand as the year 2019 goes on. As a child of the 80s, and if you can't tell by now, a bit of a collector, I for one, say bring it on.

"Panini's accession to the English Premier League throne has us all in thrall." Greg Lansdowne is a freelance writer and communications professional, specialising in the collectables industry. An avid collector, his professional interest began when he wrote Stuck on You - The Rise and Fall of Panini Stickers in 2014.

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Magnum shopus: Literature is continuing to inform the evolving toy industry By Jacks Thomas

It is a truth universally acknowledged that children’s book publishing is booming, creating a wealth of new opportunities for publishers, toy developers, TV and film producers, game designers and all those beyond. Children’s book characters have the unique potential to be passed from one generation to the next, while being brought to life beyond the page across multiple media; and the sheer number of anniversaries we are making this year alone, demonstrates just that. Matilda turned 30 last year, Paddington is turning 60, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has munched his way to 50, Horrid Henry is still horrid at 25, and Elmer the Patchwork Elephant is in its third decade. Age is certainly just a number when it comes to the energy behind these iconic characters. At the London Book Fair (March 12th to 14th) we will be celebrating the strength in these children’s brands with Elmer’s creator David McKee, who is our illustrator of the Fair, and Usborne Books marking the

Farmyard Tales’ 40th birthday with a specially curated experience you'll only find at the show. Each year, we see licensees and brand owners create new and exciting opportunities for these characters to live in new media. Not only is Elmer on a UK-wide tour, he is now available on the XPLORA watch phone app. And The World of Eric Carle, home of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has just partnered with KidKraft to bring out a new collection of toys. At the London Book Fair, we love seeing toy developers and publishers work together to give new life to a brand - whether a cherished character or a new friend. Last year saw a partnership between Oi - a huge publishing success - and Fiesta Crafts, with activity toys to support literacy development through play while offering children and parents something more. The London Book Fair has seen huge growth in the number of toy industry professionals attending the Fair, including licensees, retailers and partners. We are hugely excited to see the partnerships being forged at this year’s Fair as the children’s characters of the future take their first steps into new formats, and the characters we all know and love so well find new ways to engage children around the world. Watch this space.

"London Book Fair has seen huge growth in toy industry pros." Jacks Thomas is the director of the London Book Fair, an industry event for th book trade that will be running from March 12th to 14th at London Olympia this yea

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Opinion

A history of silence: Conversation around family is key to combating mental health By Francis Cain

I remember when my children were wee little sprogs and I would hear the odd muttering among some parents about this thing called Facebook… too much ‘screen time’ in those days consisted of too much Little Bear or Power Rangers Ninja Storm. Things have changed drastically in the last 20 years, Screens are increasingly a part of children’s everyday lives and the basic swipe up and double tap move is already hardwired into their brains. According to GrowingWireless, 38 per cent of children under the age of two use mobiles for media, 21 per cent aged eight years or younger use a smartphone and 60 per cent of families have provided a mobile phone for their kids between the ages of eight and ten. It’s a fact that children are growing up amid increased access to tech and exposed to all the social pressures and influences associated with it. Children’s mental health disorders are growing, with one in six children suffering from mental, behavioural or developmental disorders according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Social media and excessive screen time are being blamed, in part, for the increase in anxiety issues amongst the young.

There is something that we as parents can do, and it is as easy as talking. US research has shown that children who know more about their family stories show better well-being on multiple levels, including self-esteem, academic and social competence and fewer behavioural problems. Conversations and sharing stories can be found at the centre of these results. There are lots of toys that can help with storytelling, and dolls are one of the most natural and organic ways of telling a relatable story. The benefits of doll play have long been documented; empathy, compassion, the safe exploration of emotions, and when storytelling doesn’t come naturally to a family, a doll is the perfect storytelling prop. Build your own family tree, explore your child’s friendship groups, discuss the history of your family. All these will aid a child’s understanding of family and ultimately build their own story. In this industry, we have a great opportunity to impact on children’s mental health and well being in the most positive way, through the products we create, market and sell. It’s becoming more and more apparent that adult mental health issues are often rooted in childhood, and by creating accessible, fun and easy to understand toys that encourage conversation, we can help combat some of these issues from early on.

"We have a chance to impact on children's mental health in most positive ways." Frances Cain owns A Girl for All Time, a unique range of dolls and stories that follow the fictional Marchmont family through 500 years of adventure. The range includes family trees, crafts, treasure hunts and more to get the conversation started around family history.

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Adventure play ground: How play is inspiring our next generation of explorers By Helena Mansell Stopher and Maria Maranesi

At The National Geographic, we don’t believe that science and entertainment are mutually exclusive and that the ambition should always be to educate through play. Brands can and should bring additional content to toys for the basic reason that it inspires children, addsvalue, and improves the quality of play. Selling a branded or supported toy is about more than just putting your logo on something and offering some operating instructions. If a brand can inspire kids by creating edutainment content to go alongside the product, the chances are they will have a much better experience of play and develop new levels of understanding. The National Geographic Magazine was first published 131 years ago as a scientific journal to diffuse geographical knowledge and document discoveries made within the field of exploration. We have come a long way since then, to become a leading global media brand with a thriving publishing business, a TV channel that broadcasts all over the world and produces BAFTA and Oscar award-winning documentaries, and most recently a thriving licensing business.

But wherever National Geographic’s journey has taken the brand over the years, one thing has never changed: we tell great stories. And those stories we create for children through the Nat Geo Kids brand, whether in the realms of fact or fiction, always have one thing in common in that we try to teach children about the world and the people, animal and places within it. This Edu-tainment strategy can provide real additional value when run in conjunction with a toy, and can have a number of benefits that can increase sales and enhance play experience. There’s our collaboration with Mattel’s Barbie for instance; centred around women in exploration, science, conservation and research. Our ambition is to educate through play. Look again, at our Bandai digging kits and volcanoes, as well as the Bresser telescope and microscope range, or the Nat Geo Kids partnership with LEGO that saw the production of a series of short form videos with one of our Nat Geo explorers. As a brand associated with science and exploration, we have access to expertise and the consumer expectation that National Geographic will go further and offer more value-add experiences. Given our mission, if our toys and content encourage children to go out into the world and become the next generation of explorers and scientists, there’s no better way to continue our story for years to come.

"National Geographic has 130 years of telling great stories." Helena Mansell-Stoper and Maria Maranesi are director of UK licensing and vice president of consumer products and publishing at The National Geographic, respectively. National Geographic has a 131 history of exploring and informing about the world around us.

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Interview

GIANT THRILLERS Following the acquisition of Vivid by Goliath late last year, the UK operation has got in league with the industry’s titans. But just what is this going to look like as the firm carves into 2019 with a burgeoning portfolio of new offerings. General manager Nick Thomas and marketing director Emma Weber tell ToyNews all about it…

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hen the UK operation, Vivid, was launched onto the global stage at the end of last year through the acquisition by Goliath Games, it was prepared to answer a lot of questions. What will this mean for the company structure? What changes will customers see to its portfolio of products? Just what on earth has happened to Tiana of Toys

andMe? Resultantly, the fallout from the takeover by the US and EU giant has been rather minimal and the impact upon Vivid’s firmly established network of UK customers, ‘barely noticeable.’ Yes, there’s been a shake-up in the personnel at the company, but the benefits, according to Vivid’s now general manager Nick Thomas, came thick and fast. Overnight, Vivid was transformed from

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looking set to be one hell of a headbanging year ahead for the company, taking this year’s show as the opportunity to launch the outlook “for the whole new company,” and its even newer range. “If you look at our business, we have three big areas,” continues Thomas. “We have toys, games and Crayola. And on toys, we have had a phenomenal start to the year with a range called Ryan’s World, the seven year old YouTube phenomenon.” Hold on a minute, YouTube star? That certainly has a ring of familiarity about it - it was only last year that Vivid was banging the drum for Tiana the star of the YouTube channel Toys andMe, and her own unboxing toy range… what happened there then?

Nick Thomas

a national heavyweight to a world titan with the might of Goliath’s global banner behind it, a wholly expanded family games division and access to one of the hottest licenses in the kids’ space of the moment. Conversely, in Vivid, Goliath has finally got its hands on a prize it has been circling for some time, now - a direct in road into the UK market. The business Make no mistake, on a global scale, companies don’t get much larger than Goliath. Internationally, it is a top ten company and currently the number three games manufacturer in the US. In France it is number two. However, it was right up until the point of its acquisition of Vivid that Goliath had no direct access to the UK’s many and varied toy retailer. Yes it had operations in 13 different markets and a distribution deal of a smattering of some of its lines here, but unbridled access was what it really desired. “And it has transpired to be a really positive transition for us to put our Vivid business under the Goliath family banner,” GM Nick Thomas tells ToyNews. “The fit is perfect; Vivid is a company with a great reputation in the UK with distribution partners, licensees, licensors and retail partners all to our name and with us Goliath has a great footing for the UK market. “Conversely, we have a very strong parent company with a huge, strong portfolio

and it affords us the opportunity to become global players with a combined power and bigger clout to talk to people on a bigger, global stage. “Both myself and our marketing director, Emma Weber will be focused on the UK, we will be the sales and marketing business for the UK. It gives us the best of both worlds: an international, global presence with a local touch and our fingers on the pulse of the local market.” If the acquisition was the note that Vivid ended 2018 on, it was Toy Fair at which it played the opening power chord of what is

Childhood celebrity The biggest problem with child stars - rider demands for blue M&Ms and the correctly stirred milkshake aside - is that they have to grow up. It probably came as little surprise to the industry - and least of all Vivid when Tiana announced her departure from the toy industry as she embarked on her journey into adolescence. By Vivid’s own admission, its toy range skewed too higher an age range for any real longevity in the market, based on a subject who was about to enter secondary school. Tiana chose a life outside of toys and left a gap in the market for an internationally

Emma Weber

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Thomas, “but it could be a ten year brand. There are plans to use Ryan’s huge audience to move up the audience age group and encourage retailers to move to that older child. “With Ryan, we have a younger kid at the start of their career. Yes, unfortunately we are in the business of trends and this is an interesting new phenomena in terms of how a trend is born and established.”

famous youTube star with an audience of millions to fill. That star appeared in the form of Ryan’s World, the seven year old star of a YouTube channel boasting eight billion hits and an international appeal to mirror the global stage Vivid itself now operates upon. Consider for a start that in the US alone, Ryan’s World has hit sales figures of $35 million, and you can understand Vivid’s excitement around the range. “We have seen incredible sales so far,” explains Thomas. “From the sales figures I have seen already, it has translated as strongly, if not stronger than in the US here in the UK…” Of course, its run with the Tiana brand has given Vivid experience of this brave new world of YouTuber stardom, lending it an expertise in handling this field of entertainment. Vivid understands viewing figures, and importantly, it recognises that YouTuber fandom itself is now skewing younger than it ever has done before. “Ryan’s World has got over eight billion YouTube hits, which is more than Disney and Nickelodeon have to their entire portfolio,” he explains. “Kids come home and look for Ryan’s World on YouTube - not switch on the TV.” “What this shows,” adds Vivid’s marketing director, Emma Weber, “is that even at pre-school ages, kids enjoy watching relatable YouTube stars and what they

get up to. We talk about disruption in the market, we never thought it would happen as young as pre-school, but this certainly could be the case for Ryan’s World.” YouTube numbers aside, what’s more intriguing about the property is this age range it lands with. It’s a small window the child star often operates within, so the younger aged star affords potential for greater longevity in the market… you know, before he gets into girls and emo music.... “No, it’s not going to be around forever,” admits

On trend 2019 certainly won’t be short of trends, and Vivid will most definitely not find itself caught out if its Toy Fair showcase was anything to go by. Innovation is high on the agenda at the toy company this year, even if that comes in the form of a gestating creature ready to give birth to twins in front of your very eyes. “Nestlings is an interactive pet that arrives expecting two little babies that are kept inside of it,” says Thomas with a straight face. “You nurture and play and then after 20 minutes of play, the Nestling sits on her nest and delivers her baby. Five minutes later, baby number two arrives. The two babies will then interact with their mother.” It’s innovation at its finest. But it’s not al the company has to offer in a portfolio of tech-infused toys that includes Scoot and Lizzie, two lifelike, interactive puppies, the firm’s range of Squeezamals and of course, Pookie: a puppy with the ability to display 57,000 different expressions and emotions. It’s Vivid’s way to stamp its presence on the tech toy market for the year ahead. ‘There are a lot of options available for kids in the tech toy space today, so you have really got to have a lot of innovation to stand out from the crowd,” says Thomas. “If you look at something like Nestlings: I don’t think kids even looks at this kind of thing like tech anymore, they just buy a product and expect innovation. Innovation is normal, so that is what we are trying to

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produce with innovation for what kids are looking for in experiences.” And Vivid isn’t stopping short, but continuing the journey from tech into STEM with a new distribution deal with Science 4 U, a range the business only started distributing last year but following its success, has backed fully for 2019, too. It’s been highlighted as an area of particular growth, not just for the company, but for the industry. “It’s an area we were really looking to get into,” explains Thomas. “The association with Science 4 U meant that we could get into it in a big way, straight away, allowing us to launch right into having a whole range that covers all aspects of the STEM sector. It’s an important aspect in order to be credible in this market…” If we’re counting those of Vivid’s new launches for the year ahead that look set to do quite the number, we may be pushed for pages. Suffice to say, the Goliath acquisition is bringing a little more than the clout of a big name, but with it a portfolio of products not yet seen on UK shores. Among them, Boomtricks could be about to redefine the traditional marble run concept, while a line up of 20 new games titles is going to shakeup and reinvigorate the children’s and family games’ market for a good while. “We were always a big-sized games company and we did run four or five titles from Goliath anyway,” says Emma Weber, marketing director, “but now we have the full Goliath portfolio and are going to launch with over 20 new games, we are setting ourselves up to become a big, big games specialist. “In pre-school some of our key titles are magic Tooth Fairy, Shark Bite and Lucky Ducks or Early Bird, then we have Wordsearch - which is a strong seller always in the top 50 games, Gator Golf, Dragon Snacks and for adults, we have Ice Mask.” That’s just to name a few. It’s a burgeoning portfolio of titles that Vivid boasts this year, made up of classic titles, returning favourites and titles that have not yet been played by UK gamers to date. “The reaction from the trade has been fantastic,”

says Weber. “We are producing new titles which the games sector needs, bringing proven best-sellers like Sequence in and we are committed to running strong promotional support on all the games in order to establish them. “It’s just what the games sector needs and the portfolio has gone down very well. Retailers probably felt concerned there was 20 new games coming through, but actually when we talked them through it all and the marketing plans, they ended up agreeing why there were that many… Each one has a positioning, it works, it has TV and it has

history and a proven track record… so there is a logic to doing that.” Now, this is all before we even look at the Crayola brand, that according to Thomas has gone from strength to strength in the past 12 months alone to have a phenomenal last year as it continues to ride a wave of “parental kickback against screentime,” which itself is presenting an attractive growth opportunity for Vivid. On top of this, Vivid has positioned Crayola as one of the most desirable collaboration partners in the arts and crafts sector for big names licenses, the likes of which include Frozen, Ryan’s World, PAW Patrol and PJ Masks for the year ahead. “A silly stat we have here at Vivid is that you could circle the English coastline twice with the volume of Supertips we sold last year," recounts Thomas majestically. “I don’t know who has had the time to count that, perhaps we put an intern to the task, but there you go… It highlights that business here is not just about toys, but stationery, back to school and the arts and crafts market that is just soaring.” Soaring couldn't be a better placed word, and under the wings of a giant in Goliath; it’s no wonder Vivid is eyeing a monumental year ahead from a totally new perspective. March 2019 | toy news | 13

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CHARMS RACE Films today have become a battleground for technology and explosive entertainment, and with that has come a greater expectation from the toys that tie it all together. Robert Hutchins takes a look at how tech is fast becoming the lead character in today’s movie toy launches 14 | toy news |March 2019

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e’ve seen a huge resurgence of the Harry Potter franchise of late,” Richard North, CEO and founder of the UK outfit, Wow! Stuff tells ToyNews over a chorus of laughter and clinking glasses. We’re at the opening night Toy of the Year Awards at the North American International Toy Fair in New York City. North is dressed in a three piece suit complete with a bow tie, cutting a fine - if excitable - figure of a man up for an award in the innovation category.

“It seems to not only be coming from the popularity of the Fantastic Beasts franchise and the latest film to have landed, but there’s a real renewed love for the original Harry Potter coming through,” he adds. Should he ask some of the people I have encountered in this job, it’s arguable that this $25bn franchise never really went away. It was only the other day that I had been introduced to the President of the Harry Potter Society at Edinburgh University, via a mutual friend, of course. “You’re joking…” responds North. I

admit that I am, she was actually the Head of Slytherin. But that aside, there has been a recent step change in the level of innovation and thought gone into the toys surrounding this global license. This is the man that has, afterall, brought us the Mystery Flying Snitch. And have you seen what can be done with his wand?... You can write your name in light and summon a Petronus, for a start. It’s all enough to win North and his toy making outfit an award. In fact, it already has; several of them. March 2019 | toy news | 15

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And it could truly be said that Wow! Stuff has managed to inject real innovation into a franchise that until now, has been largely plush and LEGO sets. And this was all before North had even showed me what was on his phone. “It’s meant to be a secret, but I have been telling everyone,” he laughs as he swipes the screen and plays me a video. I recognise the face in the video as that of North, but his head is bodiless as it floats to and fro before a backdrop of Harry Potter graphics. Suddenly North’s body begins to peel into view as he sheds a cloak. He stands beaming at me. “It’s green screen technology, just like they used in the film to create the invisibility cloak, but in a toy and an Augmented Reality app. It’s going to change the whole game.”

“It's almost become expected today that the toys children play with, having watched these characters perform in these blockbuster movies, offer them the same level of entertainment as they get from seeing them on-screen." Darran Garnham, Thinkway Toys

It really is. From the video I am watching and subsequently the many times I had a go with it myself over the course of the New York Toy Fair, the technology is seamless. It’s been a long time coming that toy firms started seeing real return on the investment made in tech like augmented reality in achieving real spectacle, and with Wow! Stuff’s Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak, it seems the time has arrived. Then again, toy and tech developers have little choice but to make it work. 30 per cent of toy sales in the US are now licensed items, and with the exception of those such as Fortnite or LOL Surprise, much of that is driven by movies. Meanwhile, the films that families and children are watching today are becoming better advanced in technology and spectacle.

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In fact it’s even born a new super-category in Explosive Entertainment, something highlighted by New York Toy Fair’s own team of trend hunters this year. “It’s almost become expected that the toys children play with having watched the movie with these characters in, offer them the same level of entertainment as they get from watching them on screen,” says Darran Garnham, CEO of Thinkway’s UK distributor, MTW Toys, the team behind a new range of Disney-Pixar Toy Story 4 toys. “Our engineers had a lot of fun bringing the new characters from Toy Story 4 to life and developing new ways to play. They have really come into their own, and they are going to get a lot of kudos for what they have achieved here.” What they have achieved was first unveiled to visitors to London Toy Fair back in January during a showcase of the newest Toy Story products to be hitting shelves this year. Forky was first out of the block, a gangly fork-like character that can dance to any tune played to it and interact with a new level of sophistication, with its child user. It was followed by the piece de resistance, a hero Woody and a hero Buzz. The pair can operate in play mode, engaging in conversation with their child user before collapsing to the floor on command and shift into toy mode. “I think the tech that we have put into this product is at a level where kids will think it is just magical, and the older you are, you will think, actually, this is just brilliant,” continues Garnham. ‘We have kept it at a level where the older consumer would love them and the younger consumer would be in awe of them. There was other stuff that we did initially build into these products that did feel a bit ‘tech for tech’s sake’ or that we decided to hold back, because this is a continuous license for us, and we have time to take that journey with the product and the characters.” Thinkway has been attached to the Toy Story franchise since the idea was first hatched in 1995, when the original film became the first fully CG animated movie to hit theatres and bring home an impressive $361m at the box office. 25 years later and

with the launch of the fourth instalment in the franchise, Thinkway is still a working partner with Disney. “There are obviously other companies working in the franchise, but we like to think of ourselves as much as the master toy partner as possible,” suggests Garnham. While the range Thinkway presents has been a long time on the making, Garnham admits that there is a “lot more in the cupboard to come.” In fact, it is under the watchful eye of

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Movies and Toys

Disney’s PR and licensing executives that Garnham is stopped short of giving the entire game away. “This license is very, very precious to us,” he suffices to tell me. “Certainly over the coming weeks and months, there will be more to reveal.” Toy Story 4 won’t be the only Disney film to land this year, in fact many a licensee has already proclaimed the 2019 box office to belong to the studio who will sweep the next 10 months with a run of eight big titles, including Frozen 2, a live action remake of Dumbo, Aladdin and Lion King, the recently released Captain Marvel, Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame and finally, Star Wars Episode IX. “I am thinking it’s Disney’s year this year, license wise…” muses Phil Ratcliffe, MD of MV Sports, a firm renowned not only for its outdoor toy lines but also its affinity to the licensing game with an array of top-selling licensed ride-ons and scooters. “The ones that it seems everyone will be coalescing around will be Avengers: End game, Toy Story 4, and Frozen 2.” And that’s even amid the speculation or trepidation that the six year interstice between 2013’s mega blockbusting hit, Frozen and the subsequent phenomena that circled its merchandising programme, and this year’s sequel, has been too long a wait for the fanbase with whom it struck a chord the first time around. “There’s the old adage that lightning doesn’t strike twice, and I think in licensing, the books will tell you that you’re lucky to see it strike the first time around. But you really don’t know, and what you have

got to remember is that Frozen was such a massive property, that even if it did a percentage of what it did before, it will still be bigger than anything else this year.” A major player in the licensing space and a formidable and savvy licensee, Ratcliffe has turned quite the business out of popular IP, the majority of which has this year been through the pre-school market and the likes of LOL Surprise, Peppa Pig and PAW Patrol that all ‘held really well’ for the company. “It’s been well documented that last year wasn’t a fantastic year for licenses,” continues Ratcliffe. “There wasn’t many superstar licenses - with one exception to the rule in LOL - but film wise, it was quite a flat year…” So does 2019 present itself as the year of golden opportunity, given the upcoming slate from Disney and the number of new children and family-focused titles landing over the course of the next 12 months? While Steve Pasierb, the president and CEO of The Toy Association in the US - a nation known for its embrace of the movie license - believes it very much will be, with sales of action figures helping to drive it, opinion is very much divided. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part landed in cinemas last month,

“There's the old adage that lightning doesn't strike twice. I think when it comes to licensing, the books will tell you that you are lucky enough to see it strike the first time around.” Phil Ratcliffe, MV Sports not to the record-breaking numbers its 2014 counterpart did when it ended its run at nearly $500m in global box office takings, but to rather more of a wet weekend. At $72million in takings so far, it will undoubtedly make its money, but the slow start has prompted some in the toy industry to question the demand for toy-movies among today’s audience; those supposedly too preoccupied by social media and YouTube. MGA’s CEO, Isaac Larian didn’t miss the chance to promote LOL Surprise amid LEGO’s sequel movie’s

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Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

Movies and Toys

opening weekend, suggesting that the time for the toy movie was at an end. However, there are those, like Spin Master, who would disagree with the sentiments, having heavily backed Universal DreamWorks’ popular How To Train Your Dragon series with an innovative toy line inspired by its 2019 title, The Hidden World. It even features a smoke-breathing Toothless, reinforcing the concept that innovation has become a key driver in the movie tie-in space.

Meanwhile, the recent string of Oscar wins for Marvel’s Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse have made history for populism cinema and pop culture. Black Panther will now go down in history as the first of Marvel’s billion dollar blockbusters to bring home not just one, but three awards - reigniting the conversation that if only Disney and Hasbro could have foreseen the extent to which the demand for this title would reach, they could have capitalised on that latent want.

“Black Panther did very well in terms of toy sales and in the action figure category in particular,” states The Toy Association’s Pasierb, “but I don’t think it was really capitalised on in terms of just how much demand there was for it…” An opportunity missed? Perhaps. But with sequels in the works and Captain Marvel making her own history this year, perhaps there’s still time for redemption? The action figure category provides a fair chunk of muscle to a space in the toy industry that is increasingly being taken over by tech innovation, and if anything proves that traditional play can still hold its own in movie tie-in toys, let it be the very fact that last year Universal's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom took a 41 per cent share of the total number of dinosaur toys sold, lead by Mattel's range of dinosaur figurines. That said, tech innovation is not in the process of slowing down, rather finding itself being better developed and put to better use by the toymakers and their film studio partnerships. Spin Master's Toothless breathes actual smoke, Thinkway's Buzz Lightyear can fall to the floor on command, and if you cast your eyes to the left, you'll see that Richard North's head really does float. March 2019 | toy news | 17

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Photo courtesy of Port of Tyne

Terry Deary

THE HISTORY BOYS Terry Deary doesn’t like history… at least, not in the way most tell it. For the author of the 20 year old Horrible Histories book series, it’s all about the people behind the history. It’s that that Deary believes makes Horrible Histories such a successful book brand in the kids’ entertainment space. Here, he explains…

H

orrible Histories isn’t my life’s work, because I am not dead yet,” refutes the venerable children’s author, Terry Deary to the utter impertinence of my insinuation that it should be. I’ve pictured him furiously tapping out his reply to my questions in a smoke-filled room, surrounded by piles of leather-bound history books; scripts and comedy sketches spilling from their shelves, every inch of the image of the author I and many others hav grown up with over the last 20 years. The reality is more likely to be a hurried call to an agent as he flits from meeting to meeting, while turning over any number of

upcoming project ideas in his head; but I like to maintain my romantic vision of the modern scribe. Deary’s recognisable humour, something that invigorated the history lessons of my own youth, runs through his written responses to my questions. “...I’m not dead yet. (At least I wasn’t the last time I looked),” he writes. Reading through his answers, he has already admitted to finding history dull at school and to the fact that how 95 per cent of his time is spent writing has left him feeling “a bit of a failure.” Oh, you may not have known that Terry Deary, the author of works like Awesome

Egyptians and The Terrible Tudors, is a professional actor. Writing was never meant to be the career he was best-known for by so many, but having drifted into writing plays for his acting troupe, it wasn’t long before the characters and stories he penned soon found themselves living within the pages of his literature. “When the play tours finished, and the costumes were packed away, my characters and their stories disappeared, so I began turning them into books,” he tells me. “History was not my choice of topic. It was a commission from a publisher and I wrote to order. I was never inspired by history, In fact school history made me think

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Terry Deary

industry’s own Paul Lamond Games, Winning Moves, Ancestors and Smiffys. Meanwhile, Rocket Licensing has made no secret of the surge it expects to see for the Horrible Histories brand when the movie lands this July. So what is it about Horrible Histories IP and its heritage in the book market that has it resonating with readers and consumers in the way that it does? It’s a question best posed to the author… “My drama teacher once said that ‘the aim of drama is to explore the question: why do people behave the way they do?,’ recounts Deary. “I apply that to my fiction and non-fiction. Horrible Histories are not books about ‘history’ - they are books about people, and their stories. “Children and adults are 73 times

it was the dullest subject in the universe, (well, the solar system. It’s dull from Saturn to Pluto, trust me…)” For a topic of no particular interest to Deary initially, he certainly managed to carve quite the corpus out of the Horrible Histories name. 23 titles sit in the original Horrible Histories series, a run first published in 1993. By 2013, at the announcement that Deary would no longer write the books, the series had hit 60 titles. That was a full 20 years Deary had spent in the company of Horrible Histories and its cast of many a Rotten Roman or Vile Victorian; a lifetime sentence for someone who grew up ‘avoiding reading,’ but time enough for him to fall in love with the characters he had created through recounting the stories and tales - the best bits of course - that litter the bloodies and fascinating course of human history. This summer, Deary will see the world he dedicated his penmanship to for so long a time emerge on the big screen with its first Horrible Histories film, welcoming a cast that stars the likes of Nick Frost, Kim Cattrall and Warwick Davis to the comedic trope it has become so well-known for. This isn’t the first adaptation of the book series for Deary. For a number of years now, Horrible Histories has both been an award-winning children’s TV series and a successful run of live stage shows, both of which have been - in some capacity

“Children and adults are 73 times more interested in people and their stories than they are in dates, battles, kings and conquerors. I apply that to my work." Terry Deary, author or another - written by Deary himself. On top of this, the author-actor-playwrite-screenwriter can add businessman to the CV, having moulded a successful licensing programme from the book brand, when he handed the merchandising reins over to Rocket Licensing. “Handing over the [Horrible Histories] brand to merchandising involves a lot of trust,” Deary explains. “They are the experts in their fields - I am not… “A writer has to hand over their work like a parent hands a baby over to a nursery. And trust they know what they’re doing. I generally advise licensees when asked. I always want Horrible Histories partners to keep going back to the books for facts and ideas to make their products really horrible.” The number of licensees now working with the Horrible Histories IP is today, plentiful, among them being the toy March 2019 | toy news |21

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more interested in people than they are in dates, battles, kings and conquerors. Why do people behave the way they do leads to the most important question of all… ‘why do I behave the way I do?,’ understanding that is the key to solving the problems of the human world.” It’s towards the Man Who Was Thursday and Father Brown creator, GK Chesterton that we can direct thanks for inspiring Deary into the literary - and somewhat philosophical - world, and not the classics of Thomas Hardy that were forced upon him at school. “My family had no interest in books and my primary school had no money for books,” Deary remembers. “I was introduced to books in school at about the age of 13, when we were forced to read the most awful novels (for a 13 year old). Things like Thomas Hardy were really not suitable and wouldn’t influence my pet goldfish to take up reading… “At 16 I discovered GK Chesterton books and only then was I influenced and inspired into reading.” A long and arduous journey into reading for a writer that has become so synony-

mous with children’s books himself, it all leads to the question of what Deary thinks of children’s literature today… would it have passed 13 year old Deary’s palette? “I am not a child, so I don’t keep up to date with children’s literature,” he says. “It wouldn’t be fair for me to offer an opinion on children’s literature at the moment. Better to ask an expert - a child. The only measure I can apply is sales figures, so JK Rowling, David Walliams, Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson are clearly massively talented people. “Horrible Histories continue to sell

because no one has successfully imitated them (though many have tried). ‘There is a secret to the Horrible Histories books, but I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. Maybe then, Deary could tell us what is next on his list for success stories - a script advisor, a playwrite and an actor making guest appearances in live performances of the Horrible Histories stage plays, are already part of his repertoire and highlight his palette of skills in the world of entertainment - afterall. “I want to be shaking up the ‘heritage’ industry and getting museums away from the obsession with ‘objects’,” he says. “It’s the people and the stories behind the artefacts that matter, not the dead, dry artefacts in glass cases. “I don’t want to influence the mausoleums they call museums - I want to revolutionise them, So watch this space.”

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Authors & Books

ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND The relationship between children’s books and the toy sector has gone far beyond World Book Day and today, best-selling titles in children’s literature are lining the shelves of toy retailers across the UK, be it in books, toys or through licensing

I

n the products space, Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories has translated very well. Its licensing programme has already spun out a successful TV series and stage show, so it’s little surprise that licensees like Paul Lamond are finding success in what has become a modern evergreen for the children’s market. “We have had a tremendous response to Horrible Histories, and it surprised even me, the level of interest we saw in it at toy fair earlier this year,” Richard Wells, March 2019 | toy news | 23

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managing director at Paul Lamond tells ToyNews. “We only had the puzzles to start with, but I was surprised by how strong a response we had to the range, so I took the opportunity to expand the license into board games - simply because of this major interest that we have been seeing.” The fact that there is indeed a film planned for release this summer will certainly help matters further for the property that Wells insists is a 'perfect fit the board gaming sector.' “When you look at it, board games - the good ones, that is - are usually an extension of storytelling themselves, which is why so often book adaptations in the space work so well,” he continues. “Horrible Histories is such a classic book license and when you have a classic book license like that, you know that they are understood because children, parents, grandparents; they all read them.” In fact, the licensing of book IP is an incredibly lucrative business and recent years have indeed seen somewhat of an “explosion in the space” for it to become a major factor of the entire publishing industry. “It’s currently worth upwards of £407 million to the UK publishing industry,” Jacks Thomas, director at The London Book Fair informs. “Licensing has always been important to the children’s book market, but there is something about the evolution of technology today that has facilitated a real explosion in the space - which is fantastic to see, not just for the publishing industry, but those it weaves into.

“Take a look at some of the licensed brands emerging from the likes of Scholastic, Egmont, Disney… you have Dr Suess, the likes of Elmer - who is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the London Book Fair this year, then you have Usborne Publishing and the whole That’s Not My… phenomenon that is growing a pace in terms of its book and licensing roll out. Even the Beano, which is a very interesting licensing story in itself to have emerged from comics, into annuals, then into books and TV and digital. “I think at the heart of it all is storytelling. If there is a story to it, there is an opportunity to bring that story into licensing and ultimately, continue to tell that story through the toys that children play with.” A book and publishing expert with the London Book Fair team for the past six years and with an enviable CV in the world of books before that, Thomas has a keen eye on the industry. And it’s no surprise to learn that her perspective on the UK publishing industry’s relationship with the toy space is one being mirrored on the global stage, too. Wizards of the Coast is the gaming company behind the roleplaying tabletop game, Dungeon and Dragons, and the very successful card game Magic: The Gathering. Founded in 1990, Wizards of the Coast was acquired by Hasbro in 1999 for around

$325million. The acquisition gave Hasbro a strong footing in the tabletop space that was about to enter a decade of growth. But on top of leading the charge in a tabletop gaming resurgence of late, Wizards of the Coast is currently dominating print book sales online. In fact, according to the publishing industry data service Bookstat, Wizards of the Coast’s online sales rose 53 per cent year on year between May 2017 and October 2018. Is this drive in sales to be put down to the current demand for retro and nostalgia among pop culture fans? Or is it a kick back against the current screen time zeitgeist? Or rather, is it simply that the “David Wal-

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“At the heart of it all is storytelling; if there is a good and engaging story to tell, it's a property that tends to do well in licensing, in toys and children's products beyond.“ Jacks Thomas, The London Book Fair

liams effect” that has so fuelled the growth in the YA and children’s literature sector has filtered down (or is it upwards?) into the older categories, too? It was halfway through last year that the author Will Self divided book lovers by bemoaning the Harry Potter effect for “ushering in the dumb kidult era we are currently having to endure.” It’s clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, yet it is an effect that has successfully spurred a stark upwards curve in children’s and young adult book sales, whatever genre tickles your fancy. But more than this, it also welcomed in a new era of fandom. Readers of the JK Rowling phenomena want to celebrate their fandom for the Harry Potter franchise just as much as comic book nerds want to dress as their heroes at the likes of ComicCon, or self-anointed intellectuals want to celebrate their own drivel by attacking current populism… (yes, Will Self irked me…) We are in an era of franchising, of that there is no doubt. But that’s not to say there’s a lack of thought behind the trends its spurs. Afterall, can you really denigrate a movement that has inspired a population of children to read? “There has been a huge growth in sales in YA literature not just in fiction, but nonfiction titles too, and those sales have primarily been in print,” continues Thomas. “To the point where 94 per cent of children’s sales came from physical books last year, and at least half of the top ten publishers recorded growth in physical books. “You can’t ignore the David Walliams effect, the effect that when you see a best-seller in a sector, you find a pick up in the sector in general. It tends to re-energise the category and encourages shoppers to go into books stores and start looking more closely at other titles.”

That impact is also felt in what it is delivering in licensing terms. The place for children’s books in the toy retail space has gone far beyond the window of opportunity that World Book Day offers in the dress up category each March, and has become a true staple of the pre-school toy sector. “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is celebrating 30 years this year, Roald Dahl has had a run of big anniversaries, and the World of Eric Carle is going all out for its 50th anniversary,” continues Paul Lamond’s Wells. “The heritage and the pedigree that is so often attached to book titles gives them the kind of longevity that you will never get with something like Fortnite. I think if retailers are looking at whatever the hottest thing is, there’s no doubt where they will turn. But what kind of weight do licenses like that carry with a whole market of gift buyers that are your older audience? “I don’t know if my mum will be into Fortnite, but I bet not,” he jokes. “Even though anyone in the industry knows it’s the hottest thing. I think there is a place for something which has more longevity and a really good solid base of demand behind it.”

The board games and puzzles market aficionado is expecting big things from his The Very Hungry Caterpillar range this year. It’s a range that has done a number for the company for “years and years now,” but with the anniversary of the book being celebrated through a number of activations put in place by its licensing agent, Rocket Licensing, “2019 could be the strongest year” Paul Lamond has ever had on the brand. “I also like to think that we do well in things that are very British,” states Wells indicating his range of Oi games and puzzles at the time. “The Oi book series, for instance, is a very British thing with a fantastic humour and sophistication and for something that has only been around since 2014, it is very strong.” Does it have the potential to join the ranks of the likes of Bear Hunt, Roald Dahl and even Horrible Histories as an evergreen in the space? “Well I wouldn’t have put it in the range if I thought it would be here today and gone tomorrow,” Wells says matter of factly. “I see Oi being a real staple brand in the preschool space.” March 2019 | toy news | 25

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New York Toy Fair

Slicing the American pie: Trump, tariffs and the trouble with Toys R Us NPD has valued the US toy industry at $28 billion over the past year, a decrease of two per cent on its 2017 earnings, but then it’s a market that has had a lot to contend with this past 12 months. Robert Hutchins reports back from The North American International Toy Fair to dissect this particular pie…

I

believe it more than a little coincidental that - having flown out to New York Toy Fair for as many years now as Trump has been in the White House - that I have every time, had some kind of issue with my hotel reservation. It would appear - and here comes my punchline - that the country has a universal setting for the term ‘administration’ that requires a level of incompetence to leave the watching world, and my own bank manager, stood open mouthed at its processes.

Just as the erratic nature of the ‘administration’ sat behind the check-in desk of - it would seem - any New York hotel is the biggest threat to my physical and mental health for four days in late February each year, so too has the current ‘administration’ been highlighted as among the biggest threats to the US toy economy in any number of years. No wait, I will be fairer than that - the check-in staff and I always seem to resolve our issues with a smile. An altercation with March 2019 | toy news | 27

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Interview

the Trump administration doesn’t always end so amicably and usually with a ten per cent tariff landed upon you. In fact, it is the topic of tariffs that has been presented as the first in three of the biggest threats to the American toy industry of current time. By the time that you read this, the March 1st deadline for negotiation between Trump and Xi Jinping will be drawing to a close, if not extended - and that will be one of the happier scenarios. A threatened fourth round of imposed tariffs - one that will cause the cost of toys in the US to rise 25 per cent - would be the least desirable, because that is the one that will really sting. Not that round three three hasn’t already landed a punch. Folkmanis is a somewhat legendary name among America’s puppet community, having emerged in the 1960s and enjoyed a successful 40 plus years as one of the country’s premiere, family-run puppet manufacturers. Towards the end of last year, the founder of this California based outfit,

Judy Folkmanis, found she would be paying a tariff on the steel used to construct the display racks that her company places in stores across America. A tariff on steel doesn’t make for sensational reading, but it does have a long lasting effect on Folkmanis’ business, particularly when it looks at ways of making up that extra outgoing. The same could be said for the components that go into the US manufacture of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, or a sound chip in an item belonging to American Plastic Toys. “The fourth round of tariffs, which has been threatened but the administration hasn’t talked much about in the past couple of months, would be devastating to the US toy industry,” says Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Toy Association. “If toys became 25 per cent more expensive, it would have a huge impact on the retail market and the toy companies. So we continue to push back on tariffs.” While it does look like the US may be heading towards the March 1st deadline

with some kind of deal with China, it is not lightly that Pasierb tells this year’s international media delegation at a special briefing during the North American International Toy Fair, that “the single biggest piece of uncertainty that exists in the US toy market right now, is tariffs.” “You know,” he tells ToyNews, “companies need to have certainty and have some idea politically and economically where a given country is going, and we haven’t been able to offer that in the US in the last year.” Pasierb and the Toy Association he presides over were quick off the mark to rally against the incremental imposition of tariffs that littered last year. Not only has the president been vocal in his thoughts to the media - labelling it a ‘tax on families and children,’ - but active in the campaigning against them “every step of the way.” He explains: “We as an association have been fighting the tariffs down in Washington DC every step of the way. “We just took a large group of our members and other companies to Wash-

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New York Toy Fair

ington DC last week where we did lobbying on Capitol Hill with 160 different meetings with senators and members of congress, to help them understand what the tariffs are doing to the toy industry.” But the question is, can they understand? Do those who sit on Capitol Hill realise what effect a tariff on Judy Folkmanis’ steel imports from China has on the independent retailer trying to plug a hole in the community left by Toys R Us? “I think everyone understands it, but we are at a point in this country where it’s difficult for anyone to deal with it,” says Pasierb. “There are a lot of people who are reluctant to push back on the White House… they want to keep their head down and say ‘I hear you, I love you, I agree with you… but I don’t want to stick my neck out.’ “That’s been the nature of where we are, this is a very uncertain issue: there’s a bad meeting and then there’s a tariff - that’s not how this situation is supposed to work.” But as it usually is with matters of this kind, it is in the way the story is told to

“We feel optimistic around the new Tru Kids venture because anything that creates new doors for the toy industry should be viewed as a positive thing for the market.“ Steve Pasierb, Toy Association

the voters and this story of tariffs was one that was wrapped in the shawl of IP theft protection with a focus on the China 2025 list of technologies and securing the US access to them. “What’s frustrating is that toys are not on any of those lists, and China is not looking to dominate the world on toys,” says Pasierb, “so this has become a very interesting situation.”

It may not be its intentions, but the truth of it is that China will most certainly be the biggest toy market in the world, and will be so as soon as the next year or two, according to Pasierb’s calculations. The latest NPD figures have valued the US toy market at $28 billion dollars. For yet another year running, it has come in at the largest toy market in the world. But this could well be its final moments at the top. “We do know that in the next year or two years, we will be eclipsed by China as that market continues to grow at a record pace,” says Pasierb. “Very soon we will see China as the largest toy market.” Just what kind of reaction to that we can all expect from a nation that has become so used to being the dominant force on the world’s stage remains to be seen. In a land where even the smallest bite of a corned beef, turkey and pastrami rueben is enough to block your oesophagus for an hour, just how will the super-sized nation feel about being knocked off its perch? Perhaps it is why now, more than ever before, the issues

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surrounding IP theft and the regulations to which online marketplaces - such as Alibaba, eBay or Amazon - adhere in the selling of counterfeit items, is prescient. So prescient in fact, Pasierb has highlighted it as the second biggest modern day threat to the US toy industry. A look at some of the most recent headlines to emerge as a result of counterfeit products making their way into the hands of consumers via online marketplaces, and you can see exactly why this is. It was over the Christmas holidays that a Wisconsin child was hospitalised having ingested no fewer than 13 magnets from a toy that disguised itself as a Magformers product. “The magnetic shaped toy had been identified six months prior to its sale as an illegal product, and Amazon had been informed,” explains Pasierb. “Listed by a nefarious seller in China, it was sold to a family in Wisconsin. The 13 magnets ingested by the child resulted in the removal of their appendix, part of their colon and part of their intestines… “This three year old will now be affected for the rest of his life by the fact that the toy was an illegal copy of Magformers.” It’s news like this that typifies exactly what the TA has been vocalising for the last year, and it is this case in particular that struck an emotional chord with the nation. “Illegal products being sold like this are not just a financial problem for the companies they rip off, but these products can be potentially deadly.” Until recent times, many of those in the industry have been somewhat soft on their messaging to the likes of Amazon, ebay and Alibaba - there is a fine line to tread for fear of upsetting a vendor or conduit to the biggest marketplace in the world: the online community. However, a select few have now begun to stick their heads above the parapet. It was during a panel discussion on ‘the road less travelled,’ a roundtable of toy design and inventor experts hosted by Mojo Nation at this year’s International Toy Fair

“Given the disruption we have had in toys over the past year, we're feeling good about a two per cent decline in toy sales. We have got a good footing to build on for the year ahead.“ Steve Pasierb, Toy Association

that Rena Nathanson, CEO of Bananagrams called out Amazon as a “necessary evil.” “Amazon is a love-hate relationship for so many in the toy industry, and for some a real hate-loathe one,” she told attendees of the session. “Platforms like Amazon are a necessary evil and a real moving target… the platform’s inability to act appropriately on the topic of counterfeits is such a bane to so many of us. “On the other hand, it is such a large animal that offers us all such a wonderful means of getting our product out wide and far - it is always tricky for many to cast

them off completely. But Amazon really does need to take responsibility in terms of counterfeiters.” Whether we will see a stepchange from the online platforms, given the harrowing stories that have emerged from Wisconsin, remains to be seen, and more so than call outs , it is through the sweep of recent acquisitions among the world’s giants that could just inform a change in attitude for the marketplace arena. “Walmart will be here talking to our government affairs committee about its acquisition of Jet.com because as a company Walmart obviously follows every rule in their stores, and they are a phenomenal number one retailer of toys in the US,” explains Pasierb. “Now that they own a giant ecommerce platform in Jet.com, we are hoping this will impact how marketplaces operate in a positive way. People sneak onto giant ecommerce platforms and sell products that aren’t compliant. “We need everyone to understand that counterfeit products are a health risk and the mindset change is a slow process. We don’t feel it has moved fast enough, but we do feel that the big players in this area are finally paying real attention. The advent of ecommerce has wonderful blessings, but it also has some big downsides.” Of course, it’s undeniable that ecommerce has impacted hugely on the way toy retail looks today and It was about time we addressed the toy elephant in the room. According to NPD, the US toy industry saw a two per cent drop in sales figures. It’s actually been heralded by the industry as a success, particularly in the face of predictions that it would fall by anything up to 10 per cent thanks to the loss of Toys R Us. “So at two per cent decline, given how much disruption there was in the toy industry, we are feeling pretty good about that,” says Pasierb. “The US toy community has moved beyond Toys R Us, they have had to and they have done that over the last year. It did do a lot of damage to some of our companies financially, more from

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New York Toy Fair

not being paid for the toys they shipped than not having a good market here.” It could be a partial reason as to why when Richard Barry, the former global chief merchandising officer for Toys R Us walked on stage at the Toy of the Year Awards on the opening night of New York Toy Fair to present a category, he did so to a deafeningly silent crowd. For many, in the industry, it’s a precursor for the kind of reception the now president and CEO of TRU Kids Brands can expect to the new venture for the retail brand. “There is a lot of trepidation around the TRU Kids Brands concept,” says Pasierb, “but there is excitement, too. We actually think it is a good thing that Richard Barry was named the CEO of the new organisation. He was responsible for a lot of successes for a lot of toy companies and not to have a venture capitalist going in there, but someone who is a lifelong toy person, in the role of the new business, we think is a very good thing.” The truth is however, that not all in the toy industry are as ready to forgive the Toys R Us elite for the year suffered at the retailer’s hands. Among the many to lambast the

Tru Kids concept is MGA Entertainment’s Isaac Larian who has stated he ‘would not go anywhere near the new look Tru Kids brand,’ and he is far from alone. Too many in the business have been burned, while still too many do not know what guise the Tru Kids brand effort will take. What is known is that Tru Kids will be based in New Jersey where it will service all of the Asia divisions, Canada and all the Toys R Us stores that still exist, with private label toys. “They are now here at Toy Fair, trying to sell the same private label toys to other retailers, and in a way they have gone from being a retailer to being a competitor…” says Pasierb, warily. “Now, if they open their own retail stores, which has been proposed, it will remain to be seen how those stores are structured. “The net feeling is, we are optimistic because it opens more retail doors. Yes, there are some members who are concerned because obviously they lost money with the last Toys R Us business, and really the business model is the issue going forward.” More pressing than the question of whether it wants to see the return of Toys

R Us, is the question does the industry really need the retail brand name to survive. The matter that it only took a knock to the tune of two per cent - and largely due to unpaid orders on behalf of Toys R Us anyway - suggests maybe not. It has, after all, been highlighted far and wide that there were a number of retailers looking to mop up toy sales in the wake of the one time retail giant, especially over the Christmas period. “We are blessed by the buying community that has actually grown this year,” continues Pasierb. “We lost about 130 to 150 Toys R Us buyers who used to be walking these halls, but one of the strong points of the US toy industry is that a lot of other retailers stepped into the toy space. “The question is, though, how many of those will be long term committed? Toys R Us was one long term commitment, there every day of the year. It remains to be seen if other retailers will commit like that. “We continue to say that it will take the entirety of 2019 for the US toy market to recover, but we think that will happen and we are here to have a good 2019,” he concludes. March 2019 | toy news | 31

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Kids Insights

out

Power of voice: How can you break through in an everchanging marketplace? This month, Kids Insights explains how big changes affected the licensing industry in 2019 and what you can do to adapt and stand out in the year ahead

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he kids’ marketplace is changing at a rapid rate and children’s ecosystems are becoming increasingly complex and fragmented. As a result, it is becoming more difficult than ever to build a well-known brand that breaks through and captures children’s imaginations. Kids now have unlimited content options across TV, online streaming, gaming and social media, which makes it harder for brands to get noticed and tougher to pinpoint where the next big trend will emerge from.

Children’s habits are changing all the time. For example, 56 per cent of all children now watch Netflix, which is an increase if 24 per cent from 18 months ago, when 45 per cent used the streaming platform. That’s 6.4 million children between the ages of four and 18 now watching Netflix, which is an increase of almost two million children over the past 18 months. This presents a challenge to the licensing industry, who must now respond to the countless new trends that are emerging faster than ever before and in a wide range of places.

At Kids Insights, we survey 400 different UK children every week and constantly update our data portal with 150,000 data points. Our information updates in real time anad is readily available for our clients to view, filter and interrogate. This allows licensors to spot trends and opportunities and react to them quickly and efficiently. According to the latest figures from LIMA, the global licensing industry was worth $271.6 billion in 2017. However, our latest data reveals that licensed TV products are experiencing a downward

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Kids Insights

KIDS INSIGHTS Kids Insights specialises in research and insights on kids and their ecosystems. We survey 400 kids, tweens and teens every single week and our real time portal is continually updated to allow our clients to spot the latest trends before their competitors. Our insight-led reports are produced by some of the top kids’ researchers in the UK and have seen us short-listed for a number of start-up and innovation awards. For more information on Kids Insights, a sample report and a demo of the Kids Insights award-winning portal visit https://kidsinsights.co.uk/toynews or call the team on 0330 159 6631

trend, with sales down across many categories with nine to 12 year olds, who are the biggest owners of licensed products, over the past year. This includes a 24 per cent reduction in licensed clothing, 16 per cent reduction in books and a 13 per cent reduction in toys, although there was a small recovery over the Christmas period for toys. However, there was some stability in licensed video games, which saw a growth of one per cent. Four in ten children in this age group have purchased toys related to their favourite TV show and three in ten have bought magazines or clothes.

Building a digital ecosystem is key to licensing success YouTube presents great opportunities for licensors. The site remains popular with children, with 42 per cent of four to nine year olds saying they now watch more YouTube in the typical week, which is 40 per cent more than the 30 per cent of kids who say they watch more normal (linear) TV. Intriguingly, four to nine year olds who follow their favourite shows on YouTube are 18 per cent more likely than the average child to buy toys related to their favourite shows. Similarly, these children are 20 per cent more likely to purchase licensed clothes and 46 per cent more likely to buy licensed video games. These figures demonstrate how important it is to build an ecosystem around brands to capture the attention of avid fans. One notable trend we spotted in 2018 was a key shift from how kids interact with the screen when they are using YouTube. Previously, children passively consumed content, but now they are using the screen as a gateway to actively learn new skills and interests. They are seeking out content that educates them on a broad range of subjects, from how to make slime, to tips for completing computer games and help developing football skills. Children want to co-create content, too. They love to engage with their favourite

Have you bought any of the following which relate to your favourite TV show? (9-12s)

brands to create and publish brand-related content of their own, something that LEGO has capitalised on with its Future Lab, which allows children to share their ideas and designs for new play-sets. These changes have some important implications on licensing. Brands now face a greater pressure to build, develop and maintain their own ecosystems, which could potentially create a whole new dynamic in the licensor and licensee relationship. Licensors will naturally look to build relationships with licensees who can enhance the kids’ overall experience of the brand, rather than simply aiming to provide additional revenue stream. How Kids Insights helps you in developing your strategy With so much choice of content, children naturally have a huge variety of characters and properties they can engage with. All of this choice allows licensed properties to emerge at a greater speed by gaining exposure across the many different platforms and media. However, this is leading to a more diluted marketplace, which makes it difficult for new A-list properties to break through, stand out and retain popularity. This changing dynamic presents the licensing industry with a real challenge for 2019 as it seeks to react quickly enough to get products and new licenses to market in time to capitalise on the popularity of the new properties. The rapid fragmentation and evolution of kids’ digital eco-systems are making the fundamental rules for ensuring success less relevant than they once were. The constantly changing eco and micro-systems provide enormous opportunities for lesser known properties to grow quickly from unthought of places. LOL Surprise Dolls were one of the biggest successes of 2018 and the brand achieved this without any advertising at all. Fortnite is another hit that came out of nowhere last year and in the last quarter, boys named it their favourite game. This year, we anticipate that brands who react quickly and efficiently to trends and build strong, engaging ecosystems will be the ones that stand out and deliver the next big-name brands. The days of analysing solely TV data are drawing to a close in favour of the 360 marketing strategy. March 2019 | toy news | 33

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Generation Media

THE ADULT HOUR Lauren Coombs Yes, more children aged four to nine are watching commercial TV, but, asks Generation Media’s Lauren Coombs, is it only across children’s specific commercial television? Source BARB May 2018

A

cross the full year of 2018, children’s four to 15 viewing across the children’s commercial channel set declined by around 16 per cent on the year prior. If we focus on a more specific audience of children aged four to nine, the decline rate was at a similar pace (-15 per cent). Despite weekly viewing hours decreasing year on year because of the increased universe size of children aged four to nine, there are more actual children four to nine 000s that we can reach through TV than in previous years. In fact, all TV channels (including the likes of Sky 1, Channel 4, ITV etc) noticed a slower descent in impacts than the kids' commercial space. So, how did the adult channels manage to not suffer this same fate? For starters, there is a considerably higher volume of programming content available across a larger pool of channels. But, you may ask, is this something that advertisers targeting children can tap in to? When we delved deeper, we decided to look at two different times of year, one focused on October half term (October 22nd to 26th 2018) when children were off school and the other being the week between Christmas and back to school (December 26th 2018 to January 2nd, 2019) when there is more of a shared family viewing experience. During half term, it was interesting to see that some of the key shows for children aged four to nine was in

actual fact Celebrity Juice on ITV2 at 10pm, reporting 35,000 impacts in one episode’ perhaps a sign of children being allowed to stay up later during the school holidays. Similarly, content with strong links to DC Comics characters were significant with Supergirl and The Flash on Sky 1 ranking as the top two shows during half term, with a collective 61,000 impacts against children aged four to nine for the two episodes. The most favoured content across the Christmas period was family films, with listings of films dominating schedules across channels including ITV, Channel 4, C5, ITV2, Film 4 and more. Putting this in context, however, the top performing shows for the same period in the children’s commercial space was PAW Patrol on Milkshake with an average of 94,000 CH4-9 Impacts, showing the significance of following across the children’s set. Advertising across adult’s TV does not come at a low cost, particularly when compared against the price of airtime across the Children’s commercial channel set; so by no means would we recommend advertisers to start diverting spend to these channels. We know there is still 98 per cent potential reach to be delivered across the children’s commercial channel set. However, there are great deals to be had in order to tap into children who are viewing away from the children’s channel set.

ToyNews PlayTime is provided by Generation Media 0207 307 7900 | www.generationmedia.co.uk

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Outdoors

WHERE DO THE WILD THINGS GO?

There’s concern among some of the world’s biggest brands, including the National Geographic and LEGO, that fewer and fewer children are being offered outdoor expanses to play in and explore. Robert Hutchins takes a look at the childhood desire for adventure and the companies doing their bit to facilitate it Photo by drew-gilliam on Unsplash

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Photo by tadeusz-lakota on Unsplash

T

owards the end of last month, history was made when the world’s first privately-funded mission to the moon successfully launched, taking with it a potential new future for space travel for the generations to come. Coming in at $100 million, the project - launched with the help of Elon Musk’s Space X - is the smallest and least expensive mission of its kind; to achieve a soft landing (that means without crashing) on the lunar surface just one month from now. Not only has the mission brought the concept of affordable space travel one inch closer to reality, but it has also put Israel among the elite of nations to have made the almost 400,000km trip to the moon, joining the US, Russia and China in the feat. Still more than this, and if you had been listening to the radio coverage of the event early morning on February 21st, you would have heard excited commentators welcome the event as ‘the mission to encourage a whole new generation of children, watching from their homes the world over, into STEM learning and exploration’.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” Lindsay Hardy, marketing director at Trends UK, the team behind the range of Discovery-branded STEM kits, tells me on the telephone later that same morning, “that something like this could fire up the imagination of children and get them into exploring. “It’s increasingly difficult to break through to them, however, given the amount of time children spend in front of screens today.” Hardy hits on a very real concern among many today, dashing the BBC commentator’s idealisation that children around the world would be watching a lunar mission in much the same way families gathered around televisions to witness NASA land its Apollo 11 on the moon’s surface in 1969. Far more likely is it that at that very moment SpaceIL sent its rocket upwards into our own skies, children around the world were busy conquering those of distant galaxies via their latest Fortnite update. Either that, or idly scrolling through Instagram. It was in January this year that reports on the rising level of screen time among children prompted the issuance of government guidelines for parents on how best to limit youngsters’ exposure to screens. The guidance came in response to partial links that had been found between the rising use of social media and the reported rise in issues surrounding children’s mental health. Around the same time, a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (or JAMA) was unearthed over in the US that revealed that from between 1997 and 2014, screen time had doubled to around three hours a day for the average child aged between nought and two years old. At this point, it would be easy to subscribe to the national narrative that screen time is the scourge of modern society, so it’s important not to forget the very way in which technology is today itself inspiring the astrophysicists of tomorrow. Yet, at the same time, reports have begun to emerge of a kickback against technology, as parents look to the great outdoors as ‘the new’ frontier for inspiration and play. “We are noticing a real increase in the number of parents looking for things to get their kids off screens and to have more tangible interactions with the kind of experiences that provides them with imagina-

Photo by piron-guillaume on Unsplash

tion,” Peter Johnson, managing director of National Geographic Kids, tells ToyNews. “The problem is, there are becoming fewer and fewer places for them to go and explore in today's society…” Johnson is alluding to a recent movement to have emerged from academic studies into the threat to outdoor play, a field of research that has uncovered a gradual decrease in the number of ‘green spaces’ for children to play, not only across the UK but around the world. These studies - backed by a concept called The Real Play Coalition, a joining of forces of National Geographic,

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“We're seeing an increase in parents looking for things to get their children away from screens, yet fewer and fewer spaces for children to actually go out and explore.“ Petr Johnson, National Geographic Kids

LEGO, IKEA and now Unicef - indicate that with the loss of ‘green space’ comes an increased fear from parents to allow their children out to play by themselves. “What this has led to is that there are now elements of play that are really important to a child’s development, that are at risk of becoming extinct,” states Johnson. “We are at a point where there are so many stresses and strains on outdoor play that we are trying to combat it all, because we want to nurture the next generation of photographers and explorers and that can only be done by giving children the space to go and play.”

The Real Play Coalition, it would appear from my conversation with Johnson, is a meeting of like-mindedness from some of the biggest companies, as they look to encourage all aspects of play and inspire the designers, engineers and scientists of tomorrow. The approach, in these early days for the Coalition, is a lot of government lobbying, around the world, presenting research to those with the power of plugging what Johnson refers to as the ‘play gap’ among today’s children. “Much of our research - when we go with our big launch this November - will focus on communicating that many kids have

less access to play, showing the difference in play today compared to 20 years ago, and spotlighting how the lack of play will have a detrimental impact on the employees of tomorrow, not just in this country, but countries around the world,” continues Nat Geo Kids' Johnson. “We are trying to create a groundswell movement with parents by putting play at the forefront of their minds and remind them that play is crucial for a child’s development.” That groundswell is starting to take some effect. Trends UK’s Lindsay Harvey suggests that, just the board game and famMarch 2019 | toy news | 37

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Simon Booth, Kiddimoto

Photo (center) by mikael-kristenson on Unsplash

“Demand for children's balance bikes is currently very strong, with 2019 and 2020 tipped to be boom years for the category.“

ily gaming space has seen a renaissance - or a resurgence - over the past couple of years - there’s nothing to say the same could not be seen in the outdoor play area, either especially when it comes to that interstice of outdoor play and STEM learning. Discovery - as well as National Geographic - is a big name brand in exploration and education that is also stamping its presence on the STEM toy market, and with a Discovery Adventure line of products that, says Hardy, “are encouraging children to go outside and explore.” Products in the line include the likes of the Discovery Digital Metal Detector, Discovery Night Mission Goggles, Walky Talkies and more. “It’s a range that provides the tools for children to go out and engage with the world around them,” says Hardy. “The hurdles are that you do see more sales being lost to video games, which is why having a name like Discovery attached to these toys, ones that evoke a yearning to explore the outside world and the science around us, carries a prestige in this area, with the ability to inspire children back outdoors.” The same can be applied to The National Geographic, too, a brand with a 131 history in exploration and discovery that through a number of partnerships with the likes of Bandai and its range of digging and science kits, and its major collaboration with Mattel on a National Geographic themed Barbie range, is “inspiring children back outside.” “This is hopefully just the start for us, too,”

adds Helena Mansell-Stopher, director of UK licensing at The National Geographic. “We totally see more partnerships like this coming, and as we go into 2020 there will be many more partners in the toy space, all with this very same mission and message at their heart.” But while the need to continue to encourage kids to actually explore the world around is understood and gaining greater prominence in the mindset of today’s consumer, is the desire among children to actually get outside something of true concern? Let’s take a look at a breakdown of 2018’s toy categories by market share to see. According to the NPD Group, outdoor and sports toys took home the lion’s share of the market last year, with 25 per cent, dolls took 13 per cent and youth electronics fell in at the bottom of the league with a two per cent share. Yes, this is primed for some serious growth over the next five years, to contribute to a consumer tech sector that will be looking at $23bn a year by 2022, but there’s actually little worry among some of the industry’s elite that it will impact on the sale of outdoor toys. Phil Ratcliffe has become a name synonymous with the outdoor toys sector, presiding over the MV Sports business that has become a staple of the space for many a year. It’s on the topic of the strength of this market - in which Ratcliffe is not only known for his portfolio of licensed scooters and ride-ons, but also a line-up of own branded IP that includes Umove, Stunted, Hedstrom and more - that he tells us that over the last ten years, MV Sports has “seen a massive upward curve." “If you go back eight or nine years, we have been charging ahead and beating

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Outdoors

the sector and the industry in terms of growth,” Ratcliffe beams. “Even last year, we still beat the sector and the growth indices for the toy industry, which as everybody knows, it wasn’t a great year for the toy industry, and while we did see a levelling off, we are in very good shape. “In fact,” he adds with a definite smile, “I can’t remember being more excited about things to come, to be honest.” The Toys R Us effect is not one to have really left much of a mark on Ratcliffe’s business. The managing director readily admits that MV Sports has historically “probably always under-achieved,” with the one-time retail giant, anyway. Yes, it was an important part of the MV Sports business, but not a critical part. “We managed to weather it,” explains Ratcliffe, “and actually, we saw other retailers really step it up. In our case it was a well-known retailer in the bike and

outdoors space, who really came through - not necessarily on the battery operated lines, but things like bikes and scooters. “They actually absorbed the shortfall that Toys R Us did, and then some.” It’s little surprise that this particular retailer should have come through with support to this effect. It is according to results revealed to me via Kiddimoto’s founder Simon Booth that the kids’ bike market is “currently the strongest in the sector,” and one that has been growing “consistently by five per cent year on year for the past three years.” Conversely, the number of adult bikes sold is currently falling.

“Meanwhile, the demand for balance bikes is the strongest, with 2019 and 2020 expected to be boom years for the category,” suggests Kiddimoto’s Booth. “This is due to balance bikes being made available in so many areas of retail, including toy,

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Outdoors cycling, sport and leisure and education. In addition, they are easy to sell online and are a great cross market, cross channel product,” he explains. A dip in adult bike sales, yet an increase in children’s and a reported ‘strong surge in balance bikes,’ could just suggest that the message of importance in getting kids outside and active really is bedding in with today’s parents. At the same time, it would appear that there really is little to no cause for concern in inspiring an actual desire among children for outdoor play. ““That is the thing with our sector,” continues MV Sports’ Ratcliffe. “There are many facets to it, making it massive category to be in. Yes, you do get an uplift in the summer months, but you also see a massive uplift at Christmas, because things like bikes and ride-ons are ubiquitous with Christmas’ big gift giving. “This is probably why the outdoor sector is the second biggest super category - if not the biggest - in all of the toy categories. Now, the outdoor toy sector is not necessary sexy, but it is a massive contributor to the overall industry.” But this wouldn’t be the toy industry without the vocalisation of concerns in the space. We know that licensing didn’t have the strongest year at retail over the course of 2018, and with the exception of LOL Surprise, it all felt relatively flat in that sense. But, suggests Ratcliffe, this was happily offset by an uptick in the sales of non-licensed brands - those like MV Sports’ own Hedstrom, Umove and others. So, what is the current cause for concern in outdoor toys? It all harks back to the National Geographic’s cry out for increased space for children to play in and explore today. And Peter Johnson isn’t alone in his sentiments here. Anna Taylor is a researcher with the children’s development and product specialist, Fundamentally Children who, over the course of six years of analysis and research into the market and the very topic of outdoor play itself, has observed a real shift in parental mindset. “There’s a message that we are trying to get out there and which is that children need to be able to go out, explore, climb trees and be given the space and freedom to learn through active, outdoor play without being mollycoddled as much as they currently are,” she tells ToyNews.

“There's a mind-set at the moment that parents are approaching outdoor play with trepidation. But kids need to go out and explore, climb trees and not be smothered.“ Anna Taylor, Fundamentally Children

“There’s a mindset at the moment that parents are approaching this kind of play with trepidation.” Taylor does, of course, believe that the message will get through, and the pendulum will eventually correct itself. Meanwhile, The Real Play Coalition will continue to do its bit to highlight the need for more safe play spaces for children. An immediate answer, for the retailer pondering how it can play its own part in

the encouragement for outdoor play, could however be to tap into the growing market of products designed to get families outdooring together. The very kind Re:creation just happens to be championing this year. “The right products do have the power to bring families together, outside and getting active - whether that be the latest high tech ride like the Razor Drift Rider, or evergreen outdoor toys such as Wham-O’s Slip n Slide,” says Adrian Mayes, general manager at the UK toy distributor. “You will certainly see a focus on encouraging families outside throughout our marketing and, not only that, we will be giving strong emphasis on creating experiences and opportunities for families to interact with our brands actually in the great outdoors, too. “We have got a huge year ahead with our outdoor brands Razor and Wham-O, and I am confident that the line-up we have on its way will be more than enough to coax even the most dedicated sofa surfer outside.”

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GEO CASH IN We have explored the sector, now it’s time to take a look at some of the latest products in the category to be boosting your sales this year. Robert Hutchins rounds up all the companies to be tapping into the outdoors market

MV Sports 0121 748 8046

Phil Ratcliffe MD MV Sports

MV Sports is all set for an exceptional year in the outdoor toys sector, following a successful run of trade fairs in London and Nuremberg. The firm is rolling into 2019 with a host of licenses, including Batman, Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol, Barbie and Thomas, while growing turnover for its own branded ranges - putting MV Sports in the driving seat of the sector this year. The company has recently expanded its Disney portfolio with the addition of Toy Story, Lion King, Spider Man, and Frozen licenses. The new Toy Story range features the films’ favourite characters, allowing kids to go to infinity and beyond with a bespoke Buzz Lightyear range that includes the 6v Space Cruiser ride-on. New Toy Story 4 product will launch before the film’s release in June this year. Next up, and MV is all set for a sales blizzard with the release of Frozen II this year. Offering a brand new range of bikes, scooters, skates and accessories all featuring Anna and Elsa, the range is said to set the bar high this year, and coincides with November’s cinematic release. With its continued movie success, MV Sports’ range of Marvel products is packing some muscle and see the launch of the Spider-Man wheeled toys range, capturing the essence of the webbed wonder. Meanwhile, there’s no escaping LOL Surprise with the new Scootin Suitcase, Hopper and Tepee as well as the LOL Dream Den. But it’s not just licenses. MV Sports’ own brand categories are expanding year on year with limitless opportunity in 2019 around the launch of a new range of premium scooters and ride-ons. Umove is geared at kids and

adults alike and features products that grow through the age ranges. UMove is lightweight, high quality and best of all - affordable. The domestic range of UMove tilt scooters feature a patented tilt system, LED wheels and a clip feature for portability. Elsewhere, the new Stunted line-up has a new entry level model and two top spec scooters featuring water decal and neo-chrome finishes. All models have been upgraded with pro style clamps. New for Hedstrom this year is the three in one Swing for greater flexibility and functionality as the child grows and a Dome Climber with a unique easy build construction system. Finally, Kickmaster is the go to brand for kids’ football and is an innovator in the category. MV’s new Ultra HD goal range is a collection of durable, metal goals which are a step up from the firm’s best selling Premier Goals. New from the brand in 2019 is The Soccer Arcade - a precision shooting gallery complete with ball return and regular sized goal - and Soccer Box, a multi-purpose training aid incorporating a mini football goal, rebounder, chipping trainer, target shot and additional goal designed to help hone a kids’ all round footy skills. March 2019 | toy news |41

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Flair GP 0208 643 0320 Flair’s Messi Training range takes outdoor training to a new level and allows kids to improve their football skills with a professional training method and equipment, which are both fun and dynamic. Already successful, the spring 2019 collection has a refreshed look, with a branding overhaul and new packaging and colourways to make each piece instantly recognisable as endorsed by the footballing legend Lionel Messi. Essential to Flair’s range is the 2-in-1 Soft Touch Ball, a product that comes readily available in red and blue with each holding an image of Messi in his number ten shirt. Ideal for younger players, the extendable cord is height adjustable but also detaches from the size two ball for a spot of free play. The easy grip and handle, and soft touch feel makes it perfect to hone those finer football skills. The refreshed design follows through to the wide collection of accessories, such as the new Time Zone Training Set, which allows the players to monitor their progress, while performing drills, Included in this is the Official Messi size four flex foam ball, training cones and timer. Meanwhile, the Game Time Training Set is billed as perfect for two player training and includes a large, foldable goal, ball and pump. as well as Messi vests. Challenge your friends or have your own hard-core skills session. These new Messi Training items will be available from the New Year, while in April a Limited Edition Pro Training Ball, Core Training Set and a 2-in-1 Auto Trainer will complete the refreshed line-up. The entire range will be supported with digital, social and retail marketing to fuel consumer demand and, states Flair, ensures swift sales.

Vivid 01483 446 326 Vivid is making a play for the outdoor sector with a number of new introductions to the category this year, finding a new way of bringing innovative tech to the world of outdoor toys. We’re referring, of course, to the firm’s Recoil brand, an AR enhanced, smartphone enabled shoot-em up style game that can be played outside, turning any setting into an action-packed battle ground. Recoil’s GPS enabled technology means players can map their game into the real world and know where every player is by tracking their movement. Meanwhile, Sky Viper is a range of drones boasting the latest in technology and spanning the likes of the Fury Stunt Drone, the GPS Pro Journey Video Drone, the Scout Video Drone, Streaming Video Drone with FPV Headset and the Spider Drone. In the company’s more conventional outdoor toy line-up, comes the award-winning Phlat Ball and the recently introduced Phlat Ball V3 Fusion Flash, the light-up version of the award-winning original. Both will continue to feature as focus items for S?S 2019 within Vivid’s outdoor toy range. The Super Wubble is an extension to the successful inflatable Wubble line and continues to be popular for the company. In fact, it was recently awarded Outdoor Toy of the Year at the toy Industry Awards 2018 at London Toy Fair.

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Outdoors

Hasbro www.hasbro.com It wouldn’t be the outdoor toy category without the might of Hasbro’s ever-popular NERF brand popping up somewhere, would it? And this year, the brand is reluctant to disappoint. If you missed the announcement to have emerged from this year’s New York Toy Fair, Fortnite is going to be carving up sales in the outdoor space thanks to the brand’s collaboration with the iconic blaster brand. Leading the line-up for 2019 is the NERF Fortnite AR-L Blaster, aimed at kids aged eight and upwards and landing this spring. When it comes to creating epic Fortnite battles in real life, it’s Nerf or nothing, reads the company’s statement on the new range. Inspired by the weapon used in the popular Fortnite video game, the NERF Fortnite AR-L Blaster boasts rapid-fire motorised blasting and flip-up sights that allow players to focus their aim as they eliminate opponents and attempt to survive the Storm. The NERF Fortnite AR-L blaster features a ten-dart clip and comes with 20 Elite darts, so Fortnite fans can play with power and precision no matter where the battle is building. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of action going on in the classic NERF line-up, too, including the new NERF Rukkus ICS-8 NERF N-Strike Elite. Load and fire fast with the Rukkus ICS-8 blaster. This NERF N-Strike Elite blaster features an eight-dart clip that automatically indexes to the next dart. The clip stays attached to the blaster, making it fast and easy to reload, meaning that players can insert more darts without removing the clip. Load eight darts into the front of the indexing clip, pump to prime and pull the trigger to fire. With less time needed to reload, there’s more time to play - so blast into action and raise a ruckus on the field. This blue and orange blaster includes eight Elite darts designed for distance.

Rollplay Kingsley Li - 07986 971 902

Rollplay, the manufacturer of e-vehicles for children, has announced the launch of the allnew Dragon Mini Quad - a new ride-on to support the theatrical release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, marking an exciting new addition to its portfolio for pre-schoolers. Available from this April, the Dragon Mini Quad takes the shape of Toothless, the dragon and is a four wheel rugged ride for kids aged two and upwards. The 6v quad is easy to control with one button for forward movement and the cool design has light-up dragons’ eyes as headlights and dragon sound effects. “We are excited to be supporting the launch of How to Train Your Dragon with the Dragon Mini Quad,” said the national business development manager for Rollplay’s UK operation, Kingsley Li. “Our continued development of vehicles shows our commitment to innovation in the ride-on space and we’re confident that kids will enjoy the adventures that having their very own dragon will bring.”

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Character Options 0161 633 9800 From high-flying exploits to adrenaline fuelled Laser X battles, Character Options is all action in the outdoor arena for 2019. For outdoor battles, the award-winning Laser X is the proven first choice in the category and has everything you need for the ultimate game of hi-tech tag. With some very exciting range development in scope for Q3 2019, starting with the re-launch of the classic Two Player Pack - the new Laser X Morph Fusion Blaster set contains two ultimate blasters into a gaming pod and play one of the three built in games to practice speed and accuracy. The blast range increases to 90 metres and of course all Laser X gear works together so kids can add to their collection and maximise their game play. Also new to the Laser X range is the UK launch of the Laser X Fusion Blasters. The high-spec bumper pack of the game includes two blasters with cool accessories including spotting scope, long range adapter and wide-range adapter so players can customise their blasters and enjoy even more ways to play. The blast blocker function will add even more protection when under pressure; blocking out enemy fire for a full three seconds. Elsewhere, and Kitedrone is the ultimate range of performance kites and is a brand that is set to transform the skies into a colourful spectacle this spring. The range of kites are all easy to assemble and launch over 90 metres in the air. There is a choice of either Aircraft or Twinstar styles. Each Kitedrone high performance kite is supplied in its own transport tube, which in-store can be displayed in a 25-piece floor-standing pod. Launching from stores, beaches, parks and mre, Kitedrone will bring with it a huge marketing focus to ensure kite flying becomes an outdoor pursuit for the masses.

Re:creation sales@recreation.co.uk Innovation and hi-tech offerings are the name of the game for Re:creation this year as it continues to tear up the outdoor category with its popular portfolio of brands, lead by Razor and Wham-O. Paying testament to the Razor brand’s dedication to performance, classic rides such as the S Sport kick scooter maintain a top three spot in the category, while years of experience in the sector helps the brand’s E100 and E90 to strong sales. Joining the line up is a raft of new names. Razor’s Drift Rider electric drift cycle offer children edge of the seat drifting excitement, combining moto-inspired styling and 3D steering. Also one to watch for drifting fans is the Crazy Cart Shift 2.0, incorporating the drifting fun that fans love with the benefit of a parent controlled speed selector. Meanwhile, Razor E-Punk offers fun in a smaller size and runs at a speed of up to 10mph. The brand that delivered the ultimate smooth ride in Hovertrax with its EverBalance technology has worked its magic once again - introducing the Hovertrax 3.0 - smaller, lighter and more portable. Re:creation will support the Razor brand with a year round marketing programme including TV, PR, events and online elements. Away from Razor now, and Wham-O has recently joined the portfolio. A respected name in outdoor play, Wham-O houses many iconic brand names including Hula Hoop, Frisbee and Hacky Sack. Re:creation is set to unlock the potential of the brand;s catalogue with a roll out of evergreen classics and new launches.

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MGA Entertainment www.mgae.com Little Tikes, the iconic pre-school brand and popular name in the outdoor toys space has detailed its latest brand collaboration with the leading children’s licensing phenomena, LOL Surprise - helping it expand into the garden play sector. The new launch is now offering young LOL Surprise fans their own first home, decked out in LOL decal for the ultimate playtime experience. The LOL Surprise Cottage Playhouse is bright pink and glittery, with cute LOL Surprise branding. It’s sure to offer little ones the perfect hang out spot and will most certainly stand out in any garden. The LOL Surprise Cottage Playhouse carries a £159.99 price tag and is aimed at kids aged two years old and upwards. “Step inside the LOL Surprise Cottage Playhouse through its modern and arched doorway,” reads the product’s description. “Or have a peek through the window with its real working shutters. Complete with a letter box to post notes to your BFFs, the latest addition to the LOL Surprise collection is a must-have for younger fans combining the surprise and delight of LOL Surprise.”.

Kiddimoto 01749 871175 The kids’ bike market is the strongest within the sector and has been growing consistently by five per cent year on year for the past three years. At the same time, demand for balance bikes is very strong with 2019 and 2020 tipped to be boom years for the category. It all makes for an exciting year ahead for Kiddimoto who is rolling into 2019 with a line up of cool new products, including the full face helmet with detachable chin guard. It is super lightweight, allowing kids to play and ride without restriction. 2019 is shaping up to be a record year, with the new IKON bikes available in 16, 20 and 24 inch. Kiddimoto also has a new line of three wheel and two wheel scooters as well as a tranche of new rides. Kiddimoto is going to be driving its message across all media this year, or adventures on wheels. The firm believes that getting kids active and having great adventures is a key to a happy and healthy life. “Learning and developing balance on a balance bike or scooter at an early stage opens up the world to so many new experiences,” said Kiddimoto founder, Simon Booth. “The step from a balance bike to a bicycle is so easy and natural, Learning to ride is a rite of passage. We are just trying to make that journey easy as ABC.”

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Collectables

CRAZE RUNNERS One thing is for certain this year, collectables are still bang on trend. If Toy Fair season proved anything, it’s that this is a market that almost all are looking to tap in to. Robert Hutchins rounds up the latest big names in the space

Funko inquiries@funko.com After a strong start to the year with a host of new products, Funko is delighted to announce yet another wave of exciting new collectables, celebrating some of the world’s most loved licenses. Funko has joined forces with Games Workshop to bring to market a range of Warhammer 40,000 Pop! Vinyl figures. These instantly recognisable pieces are distinctively stylised and packed with character, making them a must have for any serious Warhammer 40,000 fan. The range features a host of Space Marine favourites, including Ultramarines, Intercessor, Blood Angels Assault Marine, Dark Angels Veteran and Space Wolves Pack Leader. On top of this, Funko is also proud to announce its newest product line, detailed in full at New York Toy Fair. It’s called Pop! Towns and is a collection that allows pop culture fans to visit the Fire Station from Ghostbusters, solve mysteries in Scooby Doo’s Haunted Mansion or swim to Bikini Bottom to visit Spongebob Squarepants in his Pineapple house. Without a doubt, 2019 is the year of superheroes, and what better way to celebrate all of their bravery than by launching a range of Funko products to commemorate key releases and anniveraries. 2019 is a special year for Batman as the Dark Knight turns 80, and Funko will be paying tribute to this iconic superhero with a new range of products including Pop! Vinyl figures, Pop! Rides and Pocket Pop! Keychains. Lovers of DC will also be glad to see a full range of Shazam! Products bring-

ing to life this teenage superhero ahead of his cinematic debut. Elsewhere, Marvel fans rejoice! The all time favourite Spiderman may be far from home this year, but he will certainly find a special place in your collection with a web-slinging new range including characters from the upcoming feature such as Spiderman, MJ and Happy Hogan. Funko is also expanding its already large roster of music licenses with the addition of ‘90s favourites Backstreet Boys and N*Sync, as well as a brand new Pop! Vinyl seven-pack of K-pop hearthrobs BTS. Boybands not your thing? Not to worry, because Funko is giving hard-rock royalty KISS the Funko treatment as well with a wicked line of Pop! Figures… smoking guitars not included.

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Collectables

Bandai UK sales@bandai.co.uk Bandai has an extensive portfolio of collectable brands this year, kicking off with bananas. Bananas has been billed as one of the latest collectables crazes to hit the market, proving to be a success for the firm. Series Three Bananas Bunches 3-Pack has already been recognised as one of Toy Fair’s Hero toys 2019. Bananas look, smell and peel like the real fruit to reveal a unique collectable Crushie character hidden inside. Series Two launches for SS19 and sees new Rainbow Bananas and new fruits with more Crushies to collect. Moving into Autumn, Series Three will include chocolate dipped Bananas, more fruits and play-sets. Next up, it’s Slurpees Snot Suckers, a range that proved an instant hit following its Christmas 2018 launch. Combining collectable and slime crazes in one sitting, these snotty characters come in at £4.99, making them the ideal price for pocket money pick up. A bit too gross for your taste? Then try Smooshy Mushy - a squishy, scented collectable range that sees new themed series’ and play patterns launch throughout the year. Series Five: Sugar Fix features new characters housed in gumball containers, while autumn sees Smooshy Mushy miniatures added to the range. Smooshy Mushy has a sister brand in Smashy Mashy, a gross alternative, while the collecting continues with Rescue Runts' Rescue Runts Babies and Pomsies' new Pomsie Poos, launching this spring and allowing children to add to their collection at a pocket money price point. There are 12 animals to collect in the series. For more information on Bandai's extensive collectables range this year, get in touch now.

Zuru Geemac: 01604 401 719 Zuru has big plans for the collectables market this year with its raft of brands spanning Sparkle Girlz, Smashers, 5 Surprise and Oosh Cotton Candy Cuties. Sparkle girlz is the latest acquisition for Zuru and comes in as a range of fantasy and magic-themed collectable dolls. The sub-£5 range is made up of standard sized and smaller dolls spanning fairies, princesses, and mermaids. Each doll comes in a cute cone, while Cupcake Girlz offer alternatively designed princess and fairy themed dolls and packaging in the guise of cupcake cases. Next up, Smashers has been featured as one of the fastest growing new toy brands in the UK, with global figures confirming that over 25 million Smashballs have been smashed since the brand’s launch in December 2017. Now in its thrid season, Zuru Smashers Dino is the latest theme. Each Dino egg houses a selection of mutant, robot and rock fossil dinosaurs, and the ultra-rare skull smashers. 5 Surprise has a second wave on UK shelves. The innovative capsule opens into five pieces to deliver five surprise unboxing experiences and an assortment of toys. Finally, Ooshy Cotton Candy Cuties combines fluffy, scented compound with slow-rise collectable characters. Available in two sizes and four scents, Cotton Candy Cuties include six slow rise cuties to collect, with characters such as Caramel Pudding and Unicorn. Find out more from Zuru today. March 2019 | toy news | 47

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Collectables

Magic Box Toys www.magicboxint.com Magic Box Toys, the collectable toy specialist behind the smash hit properties GoGos Crazy Bones, Star Monsters, Zomlings and SuperZings is launching a new emotions-based collectable IP this month with Moji Pops. Moji Pops Series One is made up of everyday objects brought to life as fun-loving characters with an array of colourful emotions based on popular emoticons. From an ice cream to a cactus, a television to a pillow, each 90p blind-bagged character has a removable double-sided face: flip it over to switch between emoticon-based expressions depicting a variety of sentiments, or swap faces completely with another character in the collection. Children can switch their character’s mood from sleepy to happy, sad to cool, devilish to angelic and more. There are 90 different characters to collect, spanning pets, home, nature, travel, music, food and sport. 12 different boxed Story sets retail at £3.50 each and include two Moji Pops and a different Photo Pop blister packs (£7 each) contain four Moji Pops, photobooth style accessories, display stand and a mini photobooth frame to capture cool poses. Blister Glitter Surprise are eight pack blister packs while there are four different I Like… playsets: I Like Ice Cream, I Like Pets, I Like Party and I Like Movies.

Spin Master www.spinmaster.com As the collectables trend shows no signs of slowing down in 2019, Spin Master continues to innovate with the launch of two new lines this spring/summer - the hatching of the Hatchimals CollEGGtibles Season Five Mermal Magic and the new collectable pets, Lollipets. Both new ranges join the recently launched Off the Hook brand which offers enhanced customised doll play and dress-up. There are six mannequin-style dolls to collect, each with their own outfits, accessories and hidden surprises. Dress and style any doll from head to toe with mix and match fashions from three trendy collections: Spring Dance, Summer Vacay and Music Concert. The enhanced Mermal Magic range includes new sea shell eggs, more character detailing and a variety of water transformations. Hatchimals fans will experience the underwater world with the new on pack, two pack and four pack as well as the six pack Seashell carton. Also, part of the new collectable offering is Lollipets. These characters move by children showing them their favourite treat. They can speed them up, slow them down or guide them wit hthe candy accessory included as they explore their surroundings. Lollipets come in a one pack at £7.99 and a two pack at £14.99. March 2019 | toy news | 49

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Collectables

Hasbro www.hasbro.com My Little Pony brand, Yellies, Little Big Bites and the iconic Transformers take to collectables. My Little Pony Cutie Mark Crew Collectables, combines the worlds of My Little Pony and Equestria Girls to imagine a new universe of play and friendships. Series Three has a You’re Invited theme, bringing together characters from My Little Pony and Equestria Girls for a royal wedding. Each blind bag in the range includes a 1.5-inch figure, party themed accessory, collector card, and a storage case. Look for all 24 characters to build out a new world. Yellies! are squishy, glittery pets that respond to a person’s voice, and new for 2019 are the adorable Yellies! Lizard and Yellies! bunny characters. Each Yellies! has its own look and personality and is voice and sound-activated. They respond to talking, yelling, clapping, singing, or even music. Meanwhile, the Little Big Bites assortment are characters from all over the universe just waiting to be unboxed. Inspired by “what’s in the box” challenges, kids will dare to unbox the bite by placing their finger inside the mouth of a creature inside a mysterious dare box. Finally, the Transformers BoBots Toys Series are bots that hide in plain sight as everyday objects. Collectable BotBots toys are around one-inch tall and change from normal stuff to adventurous little robots in three to five easy steps. Coolect 61 characters across three assortments: blind bag assortment, 5-pack assortment, and 8-pack assortment.

HTI Group www.htigroup.co.uk HTI Group is preparing for a very exciting year as the business launches a brand new boys collectable vehicle series, Micro Motorz. Recognising the engaging and exciting elements of a collectables series, HTI has created Micro Motorz to drive the delight and surprise of building and completing a collection. Part of the Teamsterz brand, Micro Motorz series one is geared up for success with mini car enthusiasts. Featuring six different surprises, this toy includes a foil exterior that can be unwrapped to reveal three chambers and a sticker alluding to which one of the teams the vehicle belongs to. Each vehicle in the collection is unique with customised graphics and interchangeable tuning accessories. Twist and snap off the first chamber to find a tuning tool and open chamber two to reveal your launching plate and a cool tuning accessory. Inside the final chamber you will find one of 21 wicked rides from the four teams: Speed Demonz, Nitro Chargerz, Hot Rodz, Monster Treadz. A major UK launch in February and a heavyweight marketing and PR campaign including; TV advertising, PR outreach, events, influencers, digital advertising and social media has got this new product off to a flying start.

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Vivid www.vividtoysandgames.co.uk Having been appointed lead toy in the UK for Ryan’s World, Vivid launched its toy range inspired by the successful YouTuber in early 2019. The Ryan’s World range will include blind bags, squishies, plush, action figures with a focus on collectables. Seven-year-old Ryan has created fun, engaging characters which have their own videos such as Gus the Gummy Gator and Combo Panda. Vivid is tapping into the squishes trend further in 2019 with the launch of Splishies – a range of animals with squishy, splishy insides. Available in two sizes - Splishies and the larger Super Splishies - there are seven different characters for kids to collect. Featuring super soft, slow rise foam, cute and cuddly Squeezamals will introduce Wave two characters in early 2019. Collectable and sweet-smelling new clip-ons, Medium and Large versions will launch from early 2019. Elsewhere, Micro Wheels is a new way to race with a collection that features new Boost Up Activation. Kids can control the speed and performance of their vehicle, so the more they pump, the faster the cars go. There are over 30 cars to collect including common vehicles, special edition metallic, rare glow in the dark versions as well as translucent stunt packs. New Harry Potter Character Collectibles feature 36 to collect, including limited edition golden Harry Potter and Furry Hedwig versions, single figure blind bags, blister packs and a mixture of both common and rare characters.

Topps www.topps.com The National Geographic has partnered with the collectables specialist Topps for the launch of its new National Geographic Kids Animal Sticker Collection. The range will launch across multiple markets throughout EMEA and LATAM, beginning with the UK, offering more than 200 stickers to collect, including special foil and shaped stickers. The collection can be placed in a special National Geographic Kids-branded sticker album containing information about the animals, as well as tips on how to help the environment, animal and world facts and, of course, cute pictures of animals. The range arrives with a strong message of sustainability, supported by Topps who is using biodegradable packaging and a biodegradable polybag for the UK and oxo-biodegradable polybags for the international markets. Both of these are new forms of packaging for Topps and are being used specifically for the National Geographic collection. It’s a feature that Topps hopes to eventually roll out across its other licensed collections in the near future. The stickers - like all of Topps’ stickers have been for a number of years - use Forest Stewardship Council approved material. Steve Conner, UK sales director for Topps, said: “The success of this partnership demonstrates the popularity of National Geographic Kids magazine and National Geographic’s unparalleled content.

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Collectables

Flair/Just Play 0208 643 0320 Flair and Just Play have a host of collectable brands for spring summer and beyond including Shopkins, Pikmi Pops, Hairdorables and a new monster collection from Moshi. Noah and the Hairdorables are back in Series Two with 26 new dolls to collect featuring new styles and a Colour Reveal feature. Added to this are the latest members of the Hairdorables squad, the Hairdorables Pets. There are 24 pets to collect and each comes with their own brush, so girls can style their Hairdorables Pet’s hair, just like their Hairdorables Dolls. Meanwhile, a new Shopkins series will combine Mini Packs with collecting family groups with 150 new characters to collect. Each group consists of Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother plus a surprise baby to find. The love affair with Pikmi Pops is set to continue with the recent launch of Pikmi Pops Bubble Drops. Packaged in a gumball inspired CDU, there are 24 Bubble Drops characters to collect, including a limited-edition unicorn. In April, the core collection will introduce freshly baked donut shaped Pikmi plush. A truly “eggcellent” collectable range new to the Flair portfolio for 2019 is Moshi Monsters Egg Hunt. Series One features over 40 monstrously cute Moshlings to collect, including Ultra Rare and Limited Edition Super Moshlings. Single Pack Moshlings are presented in individually styled surprise eggs that kids can pop open. As with all collectables, kids will be able to bolster their collections with larger packs. There are four Packs, seven Packs and even 17-piece Monster Packs for super collectors.

Character Options 0161 633 9800 For the ultimate range of soft squishy collectables look no further than the award winning ORB Soft‘n Slo and ORB Odditeez, with continuous new lines bringing freshness and innovation to the sector. Kids will never guess what their ORB Odditeez Plopzz is about to pop out. With a full set of characters to collect, Plopzz join the extremely successful Odditeez collection together with Odditeez Slimiballz Xtreme. The jumbo-sized Slimiballz look and feel amazing. Kids can squeeze and stretch them and watch the slime inside flow. A selection of colours are available all presented in eye catching packaging, keeping your ORB branded display fresh and collectable. 2019 was without doubt the year of ORB Soft’n Slo Squishies as proven with the Craze of the Year award at this year’s Toy Fair. New to the collection this spring are Soft ‘n Slo Designerz. Each character is covered in intricate patterns like graffiti and floral. Kids can trick their friends with the Soft’n Slo Squishies ScrumpSquish. They look just like real baked treats, and are satisfying to squeeze, with 12 styles and surprise scents. The Mash’ems line continues to grow with new characters and properties. This year collections inspired by films will be high on the agenda, including Captain Marvel, Toy Story 4, Lion King and Spiderman all in time for the movies. Squishy and super-collectable, these Mash'ems are the perfect pick up treat after a cinema trip. March 2019 | toy news | 53

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Collectables

Re:creation 0118 973 6222 Re:creation is expanding its portfolio with the addition of Jiffpom Cutelife, following an agreement with global toy licensee, Brandable, that sees the company take on the UK distribution of the first collection of toy products based on Jiffpom, often credited as ‘the world’s most followed dog’. With over 30 million followers across social media, Jiffpom is one of the most recognisable influencers of modern time. Launched in 2018 by the iconic Insta-famous dog Jiffpom, Jiffpom Cutelife is the newest line of fun and playful toys for cuteness on the go. Jiffpom Cutelife collectables and plushes offer a variety of adorable Jiffpom styles so kids everywhere can take him home for playtime. Among the launch lines in the UK are 10 inch collectable plush toys. Available in a variety of styles including Pajama Party and Unicorn, the

line reflects Jiffpom’s passion for fashion and is expected to be available for retail from April. Re:creation General Manager, Adrian Mayes, said; “Jiffpom is simply a phenomenon. He has a social following most celebrities would envy and is a friend to the stars too. "He might be small in size but he is undeniably huge in fame. The toy collection offers the perfect way for Jiffpom fans to enjoy his cute-life at home. “We had a great reaction at Toy Fair and our marketing programme will include strong focus on digital platforms as well as activation at store level, capitalising on the bright and engaging packaging, powerful branding and event opportunities.”

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Appointments

Industry moves There’s two months' of industry moves to catch up on here and what a bunch of movers and shakers this industry really is as 2019 gets well underway/ There's a triple hire at HTI, double-header at John Adams and Amy Saunders lands a new GM role JOHN ADAMS LEISURE

HTI GROUP The LOL Surprise and Peppa Pig licensee is strengthening its pocket money team with the appointment of three new members in the shape of some wellknown industry figures. The hire spree comes as the company pinpoints the pocket money sector as a core category and one for growth opportunity as it welcomes KEIRAN PEOPLES to the role of senior commercial manager. He will be responsible for driving pocket money sales and assisting the divisional director with a number of commercial responsibilities.

Meanwhile, DANIEL MCLOUGHLIN will also be rejoining this month in the company’s Hong Kong office to attain responsibility of HTI’s pocket money supply chain. He will take the lead on facilitating and driving the delivery of a number of category launches. Finally, MARC NEWELL will bolster the UK based design team and brings with him over six years experience in graphic design. All three have been welcomed aboard by HTI’s CEO, COLIN HOULIHAN who is “delighted to welcome back some familiar faces, as well as a brand-new hire.”

The firm has welcomed two new starters to its growing sales team in the form of WALTER CUMMINS (pictured top) and CALLUM TOWNSEND (Pictured below). Cummins has joined as the company’s new sales agent for Ireland, bringing with him a wealth of experience within the toys and giftware sector. He previously worked as a sales rep selling non-food lines to the supermarket trade, putting him in good stead. Meanwhile, Townsend is taking on the role of key accounts and new business development manager. Townsend has been working at John Adams for over three years as part of the Intex customer care team. These hires highlight the company’s commitment to the UK and Irish markets. SKYROCKET UK The former Bandai UK executive AMY SAUNDERS has taken on the role of general manager for Skyrocket as the US toy firm sets

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Appointments

up its own UK division. Saunders will lead the UK operation as it builds on its growing presence here in the UK. In her role, Saunders will continue to establish Skyrocket’s brands here as well as drive sales form the outfit's UK HQ located in London. She leaves Bandai UK to begin the new venture. “After a happy 18 years with Bandai UK, this is a whole new chapter for me in the toy industry and for my career as a whole,” said Saunders. “When faced with the opportunity of this new challenge, the proposition was irresistible.” MARBEL TOYS The company has appointed a new sales agent for the South West of England in the form of KAREN TANK. The toy industry veteran is the newest member to join the Marbel team, bringing plenty of industry experience and an enthusiasm to start a new chapter in her career. According to the company, Tank 'looks forward to being part of a strong team' that represents ‘some of the greatest children’s toy brands around.' MOOSE TOYS The former LEGO man, GLENN ABELL has been named the new president and general manager for Moose Toys, heading up this Australian toy maker's US operations. Abell will begin his new role with the international toy firm in April this year and will be based in Los Angeles where he will oversee all facets of the American business. Abell will also be a member of the Moose Toys Senior Leadership Team which is responsible for global commercial strategy and product development direction. Abell has expressed an excitement to begin his new chapter with the global toymaker, as it eyes another big year in the collectables and action figures markets across the globe. Moose Toys recently won an award for its Treasure X Aliens line at the Australian Toy Awards.

MGA ENTERTAINMENT The LOL Surprise mastermind, MGA Entertainment has welcomed SARAH FLETCHER (pictured) to the UK team as its new head of licensing, as it looks to build out consumer product programmes across its brand portfolio. Bringing a wealth of exprience with her, Fletcher joins as MGA continues to go from strength to strength, having secured a number of Toy Awards wins this year. In her new role, Fletcher will be working closely with all brand teams at MGA including LOL Surprise, Little Tikes, Poopsie Slime Surprise, Num Noms, Project Mc2, Crate Creatures, Baby Born and Zapf Creation. In addition, MGA has bolstered its team with the hire of EGITA DI FILIPPO as senior director of licensing EMEA. CHARACTER OPTIONS LAURA GUNTON has been promoted to the role of senior brand manager. She joined Character Options in 2015 and has worked on many of the firm’s key brands. She is currently heading up the Peppa Pig master toy collection. Gunto has been congratulated on her new role by marketing manager, MARK HUNT who said: “Over the last year, Laura proved her worth as an excellent marketer of a wide variety of brands across all platforms in the marketing mix. “2019 will see Laura adding to her already essential role of managing some of our most important properties by undertaking new projects and responsibilities to meet the growing demands of our marketing department." Gunton starts her new role at an exciting time for Character Options who this season will be making its mark on the collectables and outdoor market, as well as tapping into this year's roster of big licenses such as Pokémon and more. It is eyeing anothr big year in toys.

ASMODEE UK Changes at the top have seen STEVE BUCKMASTER move into Asmodee’s wider Group as head of European distribution, while ALEX GREEN (pictured above) has stepped into the role of managing director for the UK arm. Green has spent 20 years with the company in varying roles, including ten years on the board of directors. “I am very proud and honoured to become the new managing director for Asmodee UK,” said Green. “It is a privilege to be taking over from Steve who is handing over a fantastic team and a great portfolio of products at a very exciting time for the business.” Meanwhile, ANIL BOODHOO has taken on the role of sales and marketing director for the firm. He has been congratulated on his new role with the board game specialist. THE TOY ASSOCIATION Four new members have been elected to the Toy Association's Board of Directors this year as they prepare to take up two year terms with th organisation. Their tenure will expire in February 2021. JOHN FRASCOTTI president and COO, Hasbro, AARON MUDERICK, president, Crazy Aaron’s Puttyworld, MICHAEL RINZLER, co-president and founding partner, Wicked Cool Toys and STEVE TOTZKE, chief commercial officer at Mattel have all been welcomed to the board, elected for their degrees of insight, expertise and experience within the toy space as it moves through its latest evolution.. BARBARA FINIGAN, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Hasbro will depart the Executive Committee and Board, while BRUCE RAIFFE, president of GUND and RICHARD BARRY, president and CEO of Tru Kids have concluded their terms. The joining members have each been welcomed to the board, which is anticipating another successful year ahead for the US toy industry as it overcomes the hurdles that has been placed before it throughout 2018.

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Final thoughts from ...Kelvyn Gardner This month, the licensing oracle, MD of LIMA UK, Kelvyn Gardner offers readers his thoughts on collectables, pre-school entertainment and licensing the world of toys

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’ve been challenged by ToyNews to offer my thoughts on where licensing is heading in 2019… and honestly, where do you begin? If you’re looking for gold you’d head to the bank. The equivalent locations would be the myriad trade fairs through which we’re finally emerging as ‘real’ spring emerges on the golden horizon. Then again, news hits us from everywhere that impacts: HMV threatened with liquidation, Disney prepares to launch its own streaming service, the BBC unveils details of its new adaptation of children’s bestselling book series His Dark Materials and if someone mentions ‘unicorns’ you need to check whether they are talking about toys or, just as likely, the ever-increasingly tortuous ‘solutions’ to Brexit. Here’s another thing about trade fairs. So often I hear this: ‘You know, Kelvyn, everyone was telling me that there were not as many people as there were last year’... Talk about putting a downer on the fair season in one phrase. My response to that is that my own very first trade fair had been London Toy Fair 1981. As I recall, someone I spoke to on that long-ago occasion said to me ‘You know, Kelvyn, there are not as many people here as there were last year’. I bet anyone reading this will have heard the same. Were it true in 1981, there would be literally no-one at trade fairs at all now that we have journeyed over 30 years to reach 2019. I guess it’s why we need statisticians. What we do know, from accumulated experience, is that no one trade fair will ‘clue you in’ completely as

I

to the big opportunities for the year ahead. Look, meet, talk, read, absorb, report, analyse and file away your thoughts for further refinement and consideration. So I guess it’s about time that I gave you some of my thoughts… There is not yet one brand that has ‘owned’ this sector in the way that Universal’s Jurassic World owns the dinosaur sector, so this particular bun-fight is set to run. The same is true for ‘blind-bag’ collectables in general. As someone with a bit of a history in collectables myself I would, nonetheless, urge a bit of caution here. Not everything can be ‘collected’, and in toys or licensing you really need an authentic ‘reason to collect’ if you’re going to have a chance in a normal market, let alone one as crowded as it is right now. That’s why sport, especially football, and ‘group of stars properties’ like World Wrestling Entertainment, tend to work consistently in this field, whereas a new set of 200 anthropomorphic tea-cup personalities may not. LOL Surprise will have another good year but will also find lots of other brands competing in the ‘opening up’ space. Nickelodeon and Entertainment One have ‘owned’ pre-school for the last few years and are still launching powerful-looking new properties into this space, but the return of the ‘king of pre-preschool’, Andrew Davenport, with Moon and Me, will need watching. Just remember. You heard it here first (or not, depending on which trade shows you were at). See you at the next one.

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