Sci-fi series headed for book, toy stores

Let the invasion begin: the “Animorphs” are arriving.

Scholastic Entertainment, whose “Animorphs” are coming to Nickelodeon’s primetime lineup this fall, is broadening the reach of the popular sci-fi book series through deals with Columbia TriStar Home Video and toy manufacturer Hasbro.

The latest “Animorphs” pacts were made public on the first day of Gotham’s annual licensing confab, which runs through Thursday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The convention, now into its 18th year, has drawn more than 400 exhibitors, including 45 from overseas, and nearly 15,000 attendees in search of licensing deals.

Scholastic Entertainment executive VP Deborah Forte said its licensing program is “an extension of the reading experience” for the books featuring kids who morph into wild animals. Introduced in 1996, the “Animorphs” have sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide.

“A lot of properties have not been able to sustain themselves at retail, but, as we achieved with ‘Goosebumps,’ we plan on having ‘Animorphs’ available for many years,” Forte said.

She added that bidding on overseas rights to the Nickelodeon show has been fierce.

Columbia TriStar Home Video’s pact with Scholastic comes on the heels of Col’s recent hookups with Henson Prods. and the “Berenstain Bears,” signaling a major commitment to the children’s video arena for the studio, which is staffing up with execs experienced in kidvids.

Video releases slated

The expansion has been spearheaded by Columbia TriStar Home Video president Benjamin S. Feingold, whose division also has several direct-to-video features in the works. “Animorphs’ ” first video release will be “The Invasion” pilot episode, due for a spring 1999 release. The videos will include bonus footage not seen on television, and a DVD release is planned further down the line.

Hasbro’s worldwide toy plans for Animorphs include action figures in the Transformers line as well as games and electronics from Tiger Electronics. According to Hasbro VP of marketing for boys’ toys Chris Connolly, the Transformers are the fastest-growing action figure line worldwide. The toy prototypes for “Animorphs” will be unveiled at Toy Fair 1999.

‘Powers’ promises prequel?

In other licensing news, New Line’s “Austin Powers” shrine of a booth all but confirmed either a sequel or a prequel is forthcoming. The studio officially said that a line of action figures for the year-old hit will be announced shortly — nearly a half-year after its homevideo release in January.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising pulled out the stops for “The Simpsons” by putting out a 13-pound “style guide” for would-be licensees of America’s favorite animated family.

The guide to create “100% fresh” merchandise arrives just in time for “The Simpsons’ ” 10th season. Word is, however, the show’s big celebration will be delayed in honor of its “11th-and-a-half anniversary.”

NASCAR interests

As for Fox Family Worldwide, new partner NASCAR revealed why its multifaceted agreement, most likely leading to a TV series about car racing, promises to stir up advertiser interest.

Although 50 years old, NASCAR bills itself America’s fastest-growing sport, with coveted 25- to 44-year-olds the fastest-growing segment of its fan population.

What makes this spectator sport truly stand out, however, is loyalty.

The 6 million fans who attend races, and the 112 million families that follow NASCAR on TV, are the most loyal in all of recreation: 72% claim to “consciously purchase products based on manufacturers’ involvement” –precisely twice the percentage recorded for National Football League fans.

Sony Signatures unveiled commitments to spectator sports of another sort. Rockers Kiss and Black Sabbath are both being resurrected with Sony-sponsored merchandising programs. Both groups plan to tour as well, Kiss in support of a new studio album to be released in September.

Sony Signatures could also be blamed for those Celine Dion Celebrity Chocolates making the rounds and, presumably, beginning the build for the health-and-beauty line to follow.

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