Jay Foreman Reviews the Licensing Show and Las Vegas

By Jay Foreman, Founder and CEO of Basic Fun!

As are many of you, I’m just back this week from Las Vegas and the licensing show. Thankfully back without Covid, which I, along with many others, picked up last year instead of chips in Vegas! It should not be surprising given the tough retail and consumer environment so far this year, but the show, while seemingly well attended, lacked excitement and energy from my perspective.

The first sign was that mega entertainment IP companies Warner Bros/Discovery and Universal Studios didn’t attend the show this year! When you think about the huge launches of Batman, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park at past shows, not seeing these majors was mind-blowing. In addition, powerhouse Disney Consumer Products seemed to lighten its ballroom footprint and tighten its showcase presentations. Overall the show just felt flat. I will say that the major toy players really stepped up, showed up, and showed well. From big dogs at Hasbro and Mattel to mid-market powers like MGA, Spinmaster, Jazwares, and Funko, these companies, with their portfolios of brands, prove that Toy IP continues to be a huge and growing part of the licensing out industry.

I was also impressed and delighted to see both Pokemon and Nintendo show in big, impactful spaces with Pokemon nicely filling the traditional floor location of Warner Bros. Seeing Pikachu flying high over that space instead of Superman might be a sign of the times. However, I’ll bet WB will be back. The show is not the same without all the big studios on the show floor! There was lots of anime in the house, along with a growing presence from streamers like Netflix, not to mention a solid presence from corporate brands, their agents, fashion, sports, and automotive brands, among many others.

As many of us “mature” in the business, some familiar faces and friends drop out, and others reappear. Karen and Kelly, we miss you guys! It’s always great to bump into old friends and meet new ones at these shows. It’s just good to be back in person seeing and being seen after Covid. When I got home, my wife asked me if I lost money at the blackjack tables. I let her know I didn’t. I actually lost it all on the “dinner tables” as the prices at the restaurants are eye-popping! Stay away from the Wagu tomahawk steak in Vegas unless you’re having a really great year! The bill will hit the bottom line big time!

With Zoom, many previews have been done in advance, so there is not as much “new news” at the show these days. However, it’s always essential to keep your eyes open and dig out the hidden nuggets that always appear or, if you are lucky, to bump into someone with a tip, idea, or lead on something that might work for you. The takeaway to me is: if trade groups and their members feel trade shows still have value, it will take both to really lean in to get buyers and attendees excited about leaving home when airfares, hotel rooms, and restaurant prices are out of control. The show management has to create excitement, and exhibitors have to bring new and innovative ideas and products to the venues, or the value of these shows will decline. Attendees and exhibitors will phone it in via Zoom. Make the show “A Show”!!!

A big cloud hanging over the entertainment side of the show was labor. Clearly, the strike by the TV and movie screenwriters union will affect the industry this year and next and delay the release of ongoing and new content. It is starting to feel a bit like we experienced with Covid slowing down production and pushing our release dates of movies and series. Hopefully and likely, this won’t last as long or be as disruptive as Covid. Watch this space!

I was happy to hear this weekend that the West Coast maritime ports’ unions and the container port’s management settled their contract dispute and together signed a new multi-year agreement! One less thing we all have to worry about is the supply chain. Of course, it’s not all good news with shipping labor as there is a pending strike situation with the 340,000 teamsters unionized workforce at United Parcel Service. While many of us only use UPS for some of our shipping, if at all, this company is the country’s largest freight carrier and, according to CNBC, handles 6% of the US GDP. It would be a very big deal if they were to go on strike. Not just because their loads will have to go with other carriers but because other carriers that are unionized as well might go out or slow down in sympathy. So, let’s keep our fingers crossed that, like the LA ports, this situation gets settled quickly without a strike or slowdown.

All in all, the show was busy for Basic Fun with lots of meetings with our various partners, big and small, and deals for new and renewed properties. At this point, it’s all up to the retail and licensing gods. I hope those that were at the show had a successful outing in Vegas. Summer is well underway, so try to get a break and find time to relax and recharge before we get together in LA for the preview marathon month(s) and New York for the “new” New York Toy Fair. I hope all the dads had a Happy Father’s Day!

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