Fox looks for merchandising bonanza from "Avatar"
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Hollywood studio behind widely-anticipated "Avatar" is banking on the film to drive its biggest U.S. product licensing push in years, starting with toy figures and expanding to items from home decor to party goods.
The News Corp-owned Twentieth Century Fox is making that gamble even though consumers know virtually nothing about the blue, cat-like characters in "Avatar" who will be at the heart of the merchandising effort.
Fox has used its "Avatar" licensing deals, including one with Mattel Inc for toys, as a way to recoup on what is one of the most expensive films in history, costing at least $237 million to produce, analysts said.
But if the movie, which opens on Friday and tells of a soldier infiltrating an alien race, crashes at box offices, stores may be left with shelves of unpopular "Avatar" products, literally standing with their tails between their legs.
Howard Roffman, head of licensing for Lucasfilm, the company behind "Star Wars," said he would be "very nervous" to launch a retail push now, as Fox has done with "Avatar."
"The economy is not good, retailers are challenged, licensee companies are challenged, so my hat's off to people who rise to that and get a program out there," Roffman said.
Last year, the Warner Bros release "Speed Racer" bombed at box offices when it was released in May, and analysts say it crippled sales of toys tied to that movie.
But if all succeeds, Fox and its partner companies could turn "Avatar" into a major merchandising franchise, and perhaps even enter the same universe as the $18 billion retail phenomenon "Star Wars," the movie franchise that has long been an inspiration for "Avatar" director James Cameron. Continued...