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N.Y. licensing meet sees exhib growth

NEW YORK — The studios have packed up their wares and headed home after spending three days at Gotham’s licensing show, which ended Wednesday, seeking to nail down deals with licensees for merchandise tied to film and TV releases for next summer and beyond.

The annual confab brought few surprises, though the studios outdid themselves once again with their elaborate booth setups. Dwarfing all others was Warner Bros.’ gargantuan booth, which grew by nearly 50% from last year as the studio squeezed in new properties acquired through parent Time Warner’s merger with Turner Broadcasting.

Quiet riot

Seasoned show attendees noted a certain muted quality to this year’s gathering, though the halls of the cavernous Jacob Javits Center teemed with about 15,000 attendees over the three-day frame — up from 13,000 last year — and nearly 400 exhibitors, a nearly twofold increase.

The proliferation of studio releases in recent years spells an ever-increasing number of properties for licensees to choose among, forcing them to gamble on what will be the next big hit. While a handful of future films and TV shows generated buzz at this year’s show, like Sony’s “Godzilla,” due out Memorial Day 1998 and predicted by Sony Signatures to be a licensing monster, no real star properties seemed to emerge as in years past.

The king of licensing, Disney Consumer Products, as usual did not attend the show, and for the first time 20th Century Fox also opted out, instead inviting licensees across town to the headquarters of parent company News Corp., where a lavish display featured the studio’s first full-length animated feature, “Anastasia,” bowing in theaters over the Thanksgiving holiday — though licensing deals for that property have already been cemented. Universal, which had a scaled-down presence at last year’s show as the studio flew licensees out to L.A. to make deals on “The Lost World,” was back in full force.

Action faction

This year’s offerings were heavy on science-fiction and action-adventure properties, including Fox’s “Alien Resurrection,” the latest in the “Alien” franchise, another “Star Trek” sequel from Viacom, New Line’s “Lost in Space,” based on the 1960s TV show, and MGM’s new TV series “Stargate SG-1,” based on the 1994 movie.

The show also saw more properties aimed at girls, including Fox’s “Anastasia,” Viacom’s “Fairy Tale: A True Story” and Disney’s re-release of “The Little Mermaid,” all three of which will compete in theaters this fall.

Increasingly, studios are looking to extend the life of their feature film properties by following them up with TV series, creating a licensing franchise that can be sustained over a period of several years rather than the usual two-year frame for a film. Such upcoming animated TV series include WB’s “The New Adventures of Batman and Robin,” to follow this summer’s “Batman & Robin” feature, and three based on upcoming Sony releases: “Godzilla,” “Men in Black: The Series” and “Zorro.”

The studios that own an array of characters not dependent on films, like WB’s Looney Tunes, as always find themselves in the most stable licensing position, depending less on feature film releases for merchandising coin. In another bid for stability, studios increasingly seek long-term licensing partnerships with retailers, and many also are entering into the distribution end, opening their own studio stores. Viacom recently opened the first of what will be a chain of such stores, and Universal has just opened one in South Africa, to be followed by many more worldwide.

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