Disney rules gizmo gang

Warner Bros. second in consumer field

With toys and gizmos providing a constant assault on the eyes and ears, it’s always disorienting to walk through Gotham’s cavernous Javits Center for the Licensing Show, the annual consumer products plug-athon that ran June 19-21.

But even more disorienting are the sector’s economic statistics. Unlike the tightly contested film, homevid and television businesses, consumer products is a wildly uneven playing field dominated by Disney, with Warner Bros. a distant second.

The Mouse House underscored its lead by announcing June 19 its projection of $26 billion in total retail sales for fiscal 2007, up 13% from ’06 and double the ’02 tally.

Disney also staged a concert at Javits by one of its licensing stars, Miley Cyrus, star of the popular show “Hannah Montana.” Its other engines of growth have been the Princess and Fairies lines, plus Winnie the Pooh, Pixar and, yes, Mickey Mouse.

Warners will wind up with about $6 billion in ’07 from mainstays like “Batman” and “Harry Potter.” New hopefuls include “Speed Racer.”

Beyond Fox, in the vicinity of $2 billion, and big players like Nickelodeon and Marvel, the dropoff is steep. As one studio vet puts it, “There is almost no reason for these mom-and-pops to even come to the show because things are so consolidated.” Ditto with the retail side of the transaction, where less retail shelf space and the Wal-Mart effect have hurt competition.

Citing such challenges and overhead costs, Universal unraveled its consumer products business several months ago, outsourcing it to an agency called Beanstalk. Paramount is going the other way, starting an in-house department from scratch to replace Nickelodeon/Viacom.

The studio’s new leadership believes in controlling its own destiny with properties such as “Beowulf” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” But since those aren’t exactly household names, Paramount will also exploit “heritage” titles like “The Godfather” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” One promo that speaks to the realities of the business: a line of “It’s a Wonderful Life” lottery tickets.

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