The 2013 New York International Toy Fair Is Next Week, And Nobody Cares
The New York International Toy Fair begins this coming weekend and sadly, what used to be the most important event in the toy industry has become somewhat irrelevant. Business is no longer done the way it was years ago. Manufacturers are in near constant contact with retailers and there are so many fewer retailers now that the idea of a huge expo is really an artifact of a bygone era.
However, in terms of hype and PR, the New York International Toy Fair does still serve a purpose. With any luck, toymakers can manage to grab a few seconds of precious airtime on the major networks’ morning shows or garner some additional coverage on cable.The lightening fast dispersal of information in the internet age has taken the bloom off the rose for traditional media, who are less inclined to report on “news” that everyone’s already heard, so airtime is more precious than ever.
One sign that Toy Fair just ain’t what it used to be is the fact that the big news, what used to be the blockbuster announcements unveiled during Toy Fair, are now being announced matter-of-factly through press releases days or even weeks ahead of the event.
Already this year, Warner Consumer Products has issued a press release announcing what would have been the big surprises of a previous Toy Fair. There will be a full line of toys, action figures and vehicles based on the 1966 “Batman” TV show. This is a big deal because for years, this incarnation of Batman could not be properly merchandised due to a conflict between Warner subsidiary DC Comics, who own the trademarks and 20th Century Fox, who own the rights to the actors likenesses. This toy line is seen as a possible prelude to the long awaited DVD release of the 1966 “Batman” TV show.
Warner Consumer Products also released images of the toys based on the upcoming Superman movie, as well as a variety of other Warner related toy products.
Coming off a disastrous fourth quarter, Hasbro is going to attempt to revive their sagging “Star Wars” action figure franchise by releasing Star Wars action figures in the six-inch scale for the first time ever. This will make Star Wars figures available in the same size as many of the popular Marvel action figures. Hasbro will also be unveiling an extensive line of toys based on “Iron Man 3,” but whether or not retailers will want them will depend on whether or
not they’ve managed to clear out their warehouses of toys based on “Iron Man 2” and “The Avengers.” One other item to watch for during Toy Fair is the possible acquisition of Hasbro by Disney. Hasbro holds the master toy licenses for both Marvel and Star Wars, which are now Disney properties and has been considered a prime takeover target for years. If Disney would purchase Hasbro, that could send shock waves through the industry as Disney could move all of their master toy licenses, including the very lucrative “Cars” license now held by Mattel, to Hasbro.
There is a huge black cloud hanging over the toy industry and that is the fact that we are now in the twelfth year of a declining birth rate in the United States. You’ve heard of “baby booms”. This is a “baby bust.” The ripple effect of people having fewer babies is that people buy fewer toys and the toy industry is faced with several more years of a projected declining US audience for their product.
One way that the toy companies are trying to meet this challenge is to extend the age that children play with toys (for the last several years, kids have been abandoning toys for video games around the age of ten) and to find ways to expand and appeal to adult toy collectors.
One strategy that’s worked well for Mattel is to develop a multimedia package and try to pitch their toy lines to an older, hipper crowd. This has worked very well for them with the Monster High franchise, which has rescued the moribund fashion doll category and is actually selling to teenagers and even young college students. Mattel is hoping to repeat the success of Monster High with a revival of their action figure line, Max Steel. Max Steel was a
popular late 1990’s twelve inch action figure, but the character was phased out in the United States after 9-11 because of concerns about violent themes not being appropriate for children. A revamped Max Steel cartoon will debut on Disney XD in March and a new toy line will launch in late summer.
Another way to appeal to adult collectors is through nostalgic reproductions and revivals of toys from days past. The revival of Captain Action was a surprise success last year and it’ll be interesting to see what types of nostalgic items are offered at Toy Fair this weekend.
One thing we shouldn’t expect this year is a revival of the classic twelve inch GI Joe. There is a new GI Joe movie coming out in March, but it was a bit of a disaster last year for Hasbro. The movie was originally scheduled for last summer and Hasbro had already shipped a full line of toys to retailers to support the movie when, three weeks before its release, Paramount pulled the movie off the schedule to rework as a 3-D film (and probably re-shoot some scenes that tested very poorly). This left Hasbro in a quandry as they had product on store shelves with no movie to help sell it. Much of that product is hitting store shelves again in advance of the movie, but it’s not likely that anything new will be added to the toy line this year.
However, next year is the fiftieth anniversary of GI Joe. So GI Joe collectors can at least hope that Hasbro gets it right this time.
Next week we’ll let you know if any big surprises happened at Toy Fair.