By Marty Brochstein, Senior Vice President, Industry Relations and Information for the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA)
San Diego Comic-Con can be a dangerous gathering to navigate, particularly if you’re a big fan of some entertainment property and you’ve come to town with a full wallet or credit card at the ready.
This one-time comic book convention over time has morphed into a humongous pop culture festival that annually brings 135,000 to San Diego – an odd amalgam that includes costumed hard-core fans of fantasy franchises, complete with mock weapons – there’s actually a security area where weapons have to be certified and visibly tagged as fake – families with small kids in strollers, entertainment trade executives, marketers and media. It’s an amazing mashup scene, where you’ll spot something as seemingly incongruous as gothed-out teens lining up to have their pictures taken with Snoopy.
But one of the big attractions are the countless examples of “Comic-Con exclusives” – licensed action figures, collectibles, display pieces and other products designed only to be sold at the Convention itself. And, inevitably, almost instantaneously on the secondary market.
These licensed exclusives are an integral part of the Comic-Con experience – promoted by the studios, production houses, and their licensees to both attract their core followers and those who are new to the fold. They’re also an element of the much larger merchandise licensing business that’s a key component of the many revenue streams that back up those entertainment properties.
At Comic-Con itself, it’s easy to get bowled over by somebody with a massive tote bag – the bags are often large enough to comfortably hold a toddler or petite adult – filled with the merchandise they’ve stood on multiple lengthy lines to buy.
But well beyond those walls, entertainment licensing is a huge global business. According to results of the most recent LIMA Global Licensing Industry Study, global retail sales of Entertainment/Character licensed goods and services hit US$113.2B in 2015. That’s nearly half the US$251.7B of revenue generated by licensed goods and services of all kinds last year. Those retail sales of Entertainment/ Character goods generated US$6.7B in royalties for the entertainment industry.
Of course, those Comic-Con attendees are more than just consumers. Many also are the kind of enthusiasts known these days as “influencers.” It’s one of the reasons that all those marketers and PR people flock to San Diego.
Remember the good old days when all the studios and entertainment producers only had to court (and fear!) a relative handful of TV and newspaper critics? Billboards, TV spots, trailers, newspaper ads, and PR sufficed in getting the word out on a vast majority of what we now call “content” or “IP.” As we all know, it’s a much different world now, populated by instant experts, bloggers, social media “influencers,” fan sites and the like.
So the story being told in San Diego is one of raw on-site commerce, but also a much longer-term tale of building buzz and fan loyalty for major films, series (whether on TV, the web or streaming services) or any other content. And that can translate into a broader, and potentially very lucrative, product licensing business.
The effects of Comic-Con – on San Diego, the entertainment industry, the licensed products business and others – will be felt well into the future.