If you work in the toy industry, you’re probably familiar with Disney Frozen as a powerhouse license. According to data from The NPD Group, it was the top gainer among all toy properties last year, generating $531 million in toy sales across more than 39 categories. This is well and good for the toy companies fortunate enough to have partnered up with Team Elsa. On the flip side, if recent events are any indication, not having the license for Disney Frozen has the potential to be hazardous.
We all know about the resignation of Bryan Stockton, the former chairman and CEO of Mattel, last week. While multiple factors likely led to his stepping down, Disney Frozen was definitely a contributor: Mattel’s venerable brands, including Barbie, were reportedly no match for the popularity of Elsa, Anna, and the film’s other characters. Adding insult to injury, Mattel had the rights to produce Disney Princess dolls, including ones based on Frozen, but lost them to Hasbro last year.
It says something about the strength of a license when it can near-singlehandedly take down the top executive of one of the world’s biggest toy companies. Unfortunately for those not aligned with Team Elsa, the license only looks to build on its momentum from last year. Consider:
Disney Frozen licensees have successful play patterns to build upon: Last year, the most popular Disney Frozen toys featured music and flashing lights. There were also music-playing devices that let kids sing along to favorite tracks from the film. So far this year, there are a number of new items following in those established footsteps: For example, Sakar International has a new Disney Frozen karaoke line, which shares the appeal of previous products, such as eKids‘ Cool Tunes Singalong Boombox. Jakks Pacific, meanwhile, is expanding its doll line following the momentous success of its Snow Glow Elsa. Without giving away too much proprietary information, let’s just say the new dolls will have many of the same engaging traits–lights, spoken phrases, shining eyes, music clips–albeit enhanced this time around (For example, a longer song clip).
There are segments that licensees can still expand into: In a commentary published last month, I mentioned that Funko is planning to release Frozen Mystery Minis, which are small collectible figures. I liked the idea then, and I still like it, as this type of toy taps into a heretofore unexplored play pattern for the license–the type of mini-figures that kids collect and trade amongst each other. If Funko can tap into the same excitement that has contributed to the strong sales of similar toy lines such as Shopkins, it could highly beneficial for both licensor and licensee. Meanwhile, the new Disney Frozen Snow Cone Maker–Olaf, from Jakks Pacific, melds the license with another classic play pattern in a way that seems like a natural combination (He’s a snowman, so of course he makes snow cones!). Not that toys cannot have a logical origin, but my takeaway is that items like these reflect how far the property has matured. At this point, both licensees and licensor know it pretty well, along with the respective demographics that the various characters appeal to.
Strength in numbers: If any property could overwhelm its competitors through sheer volume, it would be this one. I actually went digging through all our data for the upcoming North American International Toy Fair, with the intended goal of seeing exactly how many licensees attending the show would be waving the Disney Frozen banner. What I found was: Of an estimated 40 toy companies dealing in licenses, a total of 10 have the Disney Frozen license. Now that might not seem like a lot at first, but consider that: 1) The list is nowhere near comprehensive, although the companies herein represent the biggest toy manufacturers, with the highest visibility and largest amount of shelf space at major retailers; and, 2) By comparison, the number of Star Wars licensees is eight, while the number of Marvel licensees is four. So at the end of the day, one could argue that Disney Frozen has even greater representation among toy licensees than Star Wars. That’s no small accomplishment.
Though it’s not necessarily toy-related, it’s also worth noting that a new animated short, Frozen Fever, will premiere with the upcoming live-action Cinderella, which should only serve to reinforce the license in people’s minds this year. Finally, the Associated Press recently reported that The Walt Disney Co.’s strong recent quarter had much to do with Frozen merchandise, which drove a 22 percent increase in consumer products sales to a whopping $1.4 billion. Based on those results, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Disney doubling down on Disney Frozen, which to reiterate, is not good news for competitors without the license.
Now of course, this is all just speculation, but if you’re like me, you’re already throwing your support behind Team Elsa, and looking forward to welcoming the toy industry’s new overlords from Arendelle. And hey, the weather’s already cold enough for them.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!