Pam Lifford, WarnerMedia’s President of Global Brands and Experiences, doesn’t do many public-facing events, so when she sat down for a keynote chat at this year’s virtual Licensing Expo, we had a listen.
The Licensing Expo itself is, in its previous in-person version, a big preview of what brands and characters will be flooding the shelves of retailers around the globe as licensors showcase what they think will sell more toothbrushes and bed sheets. This year’s virtual edition included familiar pop culture brands such as Pokemon, Viz and Bandai, and a big influx of Korean webtoon companies — a lot of attention on anime. There was also a woman pushing her cartoon tapeworm which I cannot unsee. The horror, the horror.
Lifford has been the head of DC during a controversial period of downsizing and rebranding and she’s become known as someone with a background in consumer products rather than publishing. Thus the interview — which also included Robert Oberschelp, SVP, Global Franchice Management & Brand Product at WBCP — focused on a broad overview of WarnerMedia’s vast licensing business. That business includes perennials from DC and Harry Potter and Friends to new windfalls like Ted Lasso. Managing it all is a very data-driven task, Lifford said. “I would say that data has become so integral in how we think about super serving our audience. It allows for us to not only understand what they want, but also show up in the right places at the right time. And also make sure that we have something that feels as though it’s unique for them.”
There wasn’t too much that comics readers would find of interest, but Lifford did say that 2002 will be a a big year for DC, Harry Potter and Looney Tunes, coming off the massive Space Jam 2 program.
Obviously the Robert Pattinson version of Batman will be a big driver of DC merch, according to Oberschelp, who also dropped this cryptic hint. “We’re going to start off strong with Batman [in 2022] So some great product there. And then we’re going to round out the year in the fall with something called Wayne Enterprises. So I would say, stay tuned for that.”
Wayne Enterprises — a huge multinational corporation led by an aloof billionaire? Sounds about right for these times.
The Matt Reeves-directed version of Batman will debut on March 4, 2022, apparently just in theaters. Some would say it’s always a big year for Batman…and they would be right.
Getting back to the WarnerMedia talk, there was no mention, of course, of the upcoming change to ownership by Discovery. But there was a little historical lesson when interviewer Amanda Cioletti asked Lifford if their approach was unique to Warner Media, and she replied “I’d like to say it was, but the active model vis-a-vis the passive model was created when I was part of the Walt Disney Company, and that was really Andy Mooney who birthed that. We must give him credit for his participation and reinvigorating the licensing industry. And so now we all sort of follow that sort of formula, but with our own way. Universal is different than Warner Brothers versus Disney. So we all have our own spin.”
All very true and Mooney — who ran Disney Consumer Products from 2001 to 2011 — is credited with launching Disney Princesses, one of the most successful brands of all time to the tune of $6 billion a year at one point. He really did leave a mark on the business.
So there you go, not much for Kremlinologists, but lots of talk about retail environments, partnerships, IP and fan bases.