Movie motivates mass product push

'X-Files'

“X” marks the spot. That’s the thinking over at 20th Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising, where anything with an X on it is hot.

With 100 episodes firmly under its belt, Fox’s “The X-Files” series is preparing to broaden its merchandising program well beyond the cult of loyal fans that make up its core constituency. The motivating factor in this move is the summer 1998 release of the first “X-Files” feature film, which Fox execs are counting on to expand the TV series’ current 18 million-plus weekly viewership.

It’s a strategy that makes perfect sense, according to Charles Riotto, executive director of the Licensing Industry Merchandise Assn. (LIMA).

“It’s not unusual for a movie to open up the licensing opportunities a little more quickly than a TV show, (especially a show) with plans for an extended life,” Riotto says. Indeed, “X-Files” the series has thus far built its merchandising program at a rather deliberate pace.

“(Series creator) Chris Carter is being very cautious,” says Woody Browne, principal in Building Q, a Voorhees, N.J.-based marketing firm that works exclusively with licensees. “He’s not interested in having every trinket out there with ‘X-Files’ on it, because that would devalue the show’s long-term prospects.”

Fox’s stance is reflective of Carter’s concerns; Fox wants to be selective and cautious. “The product that has been licensed to this point has been very targeted to the sci-fi gift market,” Browne says. “(Fox) hasn’t yet chased the mass appeal of the series.”

“X-Files” is one of Fox Licensing’s most successful programs, according to Pat Wyatt, president of 20th Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising. More than 20 licensees are on board, representing such categories as apparel, publishing, trading cards, arcade games, posters, electronics, housewares and gifts.

The fans’ insatiable appetite for more information about every detailed aspect of each “X-Files” case has helped give direction to the merchandising campaign. Such data is best made available through novels, comics and computer software.

“Fans want to learn more and know more,” Wyatt says. “Publishing is a key category because it gives them more in-depth information.”

HarperCollins publishes a series of bestselling “X-Files” novels, junior novelizations and digital audiotape adaptations. Dark Horse Comics turns out graphic story albums and the Topps Company does comic books, magazines and trading cards.

LIMA’s Riotto says, “Publishing is probably the fastest-moving segment of the industry. For a property of this type, where the information is deeper than it would be with a child’s product, it lends itself very well to publication.”

Fox Interactive’s new CD-ROM “The X-Files: Unrestricted Access,” enables users to access both established data and new case evidence, such as fingerprints and voice patterns. The show’s mysteries can be fully investigated, with computer surveillance components permitting 360-degree examinations of such locations as Scully and Mulder’s office and apartments.

Creation Entertainment hosts regular nationwide “X-Files” conventions, while Fox — in conjunction with MCI/News Corp. Internet Ventures — maintains “The Official ‘X-Files’ Web Site” (http://www.TheX-Files.com). With the upcoming release of the “X-Files” movie, Fox is expected to announce a new licensing deal for the manufacture of “X-Files” collectible figures, expanding its toy licensing.

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