Has the current Great Licensing Era crested or is it still growing? As The Beat’s Taimur Dar wrote the other day, toys and other licensing items are a ever bigger part of IP farming. And here’s a very interesting story in the NY Times about toy marketing picking up the slack as movie ticket and home entertainment sales decline. The story also singles out WB Consumer Products president Pamela Lifford as one of the movers and shakers there:
Beore Ms. Lifford joined Warner in January 2016, the studio’s merchandising unit in some years had no growth at all. Last year, profit increased 47 percent compared with 2015. Revenue from licensed products — Wonder Woman action figures, Harry Potter iPhone cases, Scooby-Doo pajamas — totaled $6.5 billion, an 8 percent increase.
Ms. Lifford, described by License Global magazine as “savvy, seasoned and supercharged,” credits toy-ready movies that were already in Warner’s pipeline, like the Potter prequel “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Kevin Tsujihara, Warner’s chief executive, credits the way Ms. Lifford came in guns blazing.
Lifford formerly worked at Disney Consumer Products, a common career path for folks at WB. While my working experience with both departments goes back to the last century, I can tell you that DCP was a model of fine tuned German engineering, and WBCP was…not. And that has been the story for a while; but Lifford seems to have shaken things up, consolidating a morass of more than 400 brands into a focused effort on three main channels, Harry Potter, classic cartoons (Looney Tunes, Hanna Barbera etc) and DC Comics.
It seems that Lifford may have been one of the driving forces behind the immensely successful and groundbreaking DC Super Hero Girls initiative:
Ms. Lifford sees particular promise in grouping together female DC Comics characters like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. “I think we can rival princesses with that one,” referring to Disney Princess, a line that annually generates more than $4 billion in sales.
“We love Pam’s hands-on approach and openness to new ideas,” said Cindy Levitt, senior vice president for merchandise and marketing at Hot Topic, the shopping mall mainstay. “Warner used to have a very traditional approach, and she has really shaken things up.”
But don’t cry for Disney, the #1 licensor in the world: operating income from consumer products doubled over the last five years, from $1 billion to $2 billion. And Disney themed products retail sales totaled $56.6 billion in 2016.
This is a lot of money we’re talking about.
It’s worth noting that Lifford is the highest ranking African-American executive at Warner Bros.; so if you’re wondering why hiring different kinds of people from different backgrounds is a good idea, this is why.
Also, Lifford was one of three African-American women who got squeezed out of Disney a few years ago, and sued Disney for discrimination, claiming Ike Perlmutter had unjustly fired them. All three settled, but just so you know.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.