Hollywood eyes more play dates with toy industry

Thu Feb 12, 2009 11:28pm EST
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By Georg Szalai

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Spock and Captain Kirk will jockey for position with Transformers, Harry Potter and Wolverine. SpongeBob is looking to outcharm Dora the Explorer and the Simpsons.

In short, the annual Toy Fair that kicks off in New York this weekend is expected to place bigger bets on the latest dolls and playthings based on movies and TV shows.

"Every studio is very involved this year," says Reyne Rice, trends specialist for the Toy Industry Assn. "It's definitely going to be a big year for entertainment licenses."

Rice says that 25- to 35-percent of all toy dollars are typically spent on products tied to a licensed or entertainment property, but this year, it may be more. She counts more than 25 movies that lend themselves to toy treatment; in most years, it's closer to 10-15.

That's good news for Hollywood studios.

Licensors of entertainment properties generally get an upfront guarantee from a master toy licensee, which can be worth $1 million or more for top franchises. Then the studio typically gets a 10- to 15-percent cut of wholesale receipts, which are around 50 percent of retail, says Steven Ekstract, group publisher at License Global! magazine.

In the case of major franchises like Disney/Pixar's "Toy Story," that percentage can go even higher. "It's a very great and very profitable business for studios," Ekstract says. "It's a revenue stream they really need."