Evaluating Profitability in Licensing: Sony Pictures Consumer Products Strategy

How does the group examine a company property and decide if a licensed product or program can be profitable? “Our process is basically 1) we read the scripts for both television and film, and 2) then the team focuses on the ones we feel will be merchandisable,” Economos explains. “We look at what the demographics are of that content. Are there elements or characters we feel – whether it’s a visual creative element or an audio element – that are iconic enough to be merchandisable?”

Theatrical Licensing

“On the theatrical side, we really look at all the family films, and we like ones that have characters or elements we feel will appeal to the core consumer,” Economos says. For Sony’s release this past Christmas of a new, modern version of the musical “Annie,” 25 different pieces of fashion apparel and accessories were created and sold exclusively at Target, including Annie’s iconic red dress that was featured in the movie.

“We took a little bit of a different take on traditional licensing,” Economos says. “We weren’t just using images from the movie on apparel. We worked with the movie’s costume designer, Renée Ehrlich Kalfus, who created a unique line of inspired-by fashion apparel for teens and tween girls.”

Additionally, Scholastic has published two popular formats for the film and Carol’s Daughter has brought to market a line of hair care products that included a shampoo, conditioner and detangler.

Upcoming Film Properties

Innovative licensing strategies are planned for many of Sony’s upcoming theatrical releases, starting with “Pixels” (July 24th, 2015). Pixels features iconic video games such as Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Centipide, and Q*bert that will lend themselves well for an apparel and collectibles program, enhanced with major support from specialty retailers.

Following in the slate is “Hotel Transylvania 2” (September 25th, 2015) the second installment to the popular franchise. Simon & Schuster’s children’s division will publish a series of storybook formats. Halloween décor, softlines, bakery, giftware and party goods round out the merchandisable categories.

Moving into 2016, Sony is excited for the April 2016 release of “Goosebumps,” the classic Scholastic property, and for “Smurfs,” which will be completely computer-animated and directed by Kelly Asbury. This new Smurfs movie is an origin story featuring the popular classic characters from Peyo, a Belgian comics artist who created the Smurfs comic strip. Both of these properties will create licensing opportunities in all major categories.

TV Licensing

Licensing efforts for a television program often begin by examining the initial response to it. “Normally on a TV show we do an initial launch and create an online website for those fans who love it the very first week,” Economos relates. “We wait until there is the critical mass of consumers you need in order to make a program truly successful at retail.” Of course, there are exceptions.

“Initially for ‘Breaking Bad,’ because it was a fairly edgy TV show, we waited until it became a cultural phenomenon in the third season to launch a bigger program,” he recalls. But the licensing approach for a “Breaking Bad” spinoff program about a lawyer from the original show is different. “With a TV show like ‘Better Call Saul,’ we already know that there is an audience for this show,” Economos maintains. “So we’re launching a licensing program the first season as opposed to waiting until the show becomes successful.”

A project that will move from television to printed media in spring is the suspense-filled drama “Blacklist.” In partnership with Titan Publishing, a monthly comic will be followed by an in-world dossier and then expanded with original fiction. The comics and books are being created in close collaboration with the show’s creators. Sony also is exploring mobile opportunities.

Other titles from Sony’s TV Division include Ron Moore’s “Outlander” and “Powers,” which is based on Brian Bendis’ comic book series launching exclusively on Sony’s Playstation Network.

Because of the expense of creating licensed products, properties must be examined carefully to determine whether they will be profitable. “Not every TV show, nor every theatrical release has the potential to become big enough for us to launch a merchandising program,” Economos concedes. “If it does become a cultural phenomenon, we will follow up. We can be very quick to turn around a program, starting with soft lines and leading to more collectible merchandise.”

The Classics

Sony also manages a very successful portfolio of classic properties. “Ghostbusters” is a Sony franchise that just keeps giving over the years. A new Stay Puft marshmallow shooter toy, Ecto-1 Lego set, and with a 30th anniversary deluxe coffee table book are new products in the market. Most recently, Sony also announced a partnership with 3D Systems’ 3DMe platform to create 3D printed personalized figurines. This platform allows anyone to take a picture of themselves and turn that picture into a 3D printed figurine in the likeness of their favorite characters.

“Breaking Bad” also continues to be a hit, in spite of the series ending. For the adult collector audience, a new line of Poptaters collectible figures will be released based on characters from the show such as “Fries-enberg,” who will be released in spring as the first character of the series.

Expanding into Digital

Digital licensing also is being practiced at Sony Pictures Consumer Products, such as the Smurfs Bakery mobile app and the Smurfs: iTalk app, allowing kids the opportunity to interact with their very own Smurf and play with three smurfy mini-games. The licensing arm is also developing apps for “Hotel Transylvania” and “Goosebumps,” and its characters are making guest appearances in popular mobile games.

With the current line-up of properties and ones on the horizon, Sony Pictures Consumer Products plans to come up a winner. Economos attributes Sony’s licensing success to several factors. “Really sticking to our strategy but still being flexible if something occurs where we have to change it a little bit,” he says. “You never know what consumers might really latch onto from a show. We’re all consumers, and we all know what we’d want to buy. I’m willing to listen to any idea.”