Toys, licensing help double merchandise sales

Spider-Man continued to save the day for Marvel Entertainment in the fourth quarter, accounting for much of the comicbook giant’s revenue from toys and licensing.

The character helped more than double company’s merchandise sales during the three-month period, boosting Marvel’s profit to $27.6 million from $11.7 million a year earlier, while sales rose 28% to $109.3 million.

Overall, Marvel reported profits of $139.8 million for 2007 vs. $58.7 million for the 2006 fiscal year, while sales rose 38% to $485.8 million.

The reliance on one character should change this year, as Marvel releases its first self-produced and financed pics, “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” in May and June, respectively.

Company’s gearing up for an extensive licensing push around those pics, for which it will collect a majority of the earnings (Paramount and Universal receive distribution fees).

That’s compared with the mere licensing fee it’s received from the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” franchises at Sony and Fox.

“Our approach to feature film production is an important new business opportunity for our company,” said Marvel chairman Morton Handel. “The film slate will provide global exposure for our characters and the Marvel brand and drive growth across our businesses,” which also includes direct-to-DVD titles, vidgames and animated TV series.

On the film front, Marvel will release one self-produced pic next year rather than the expected two, mainly due to the writers strike. It will produce two for 2010 just as it is doing this year.

It has yet to disclose which titles those will be, but has “Thor,” “Ant Man,” “Captain America” and “The Avengers” in active development.

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