VEGAS 2016: Licensing Expo's Jessica Blue on why toy firms should head to this year's show

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

June 13th 2016 at 11:07AM
UPDATED June 13th 2016 at 12:07PM
VEGAS 2016: Licensing Expo's Jessica Blue on why toy firms should head to this year's show

It's that time of year again when toy and licensing industry executives flock to Las Vegas to indulge in this ever-expanding market. ToyNews talks to Licensing Expo's SVP Jessica Blue about why toy companies should be more excited than ever.

Can you tell us a few key facts from the 2015 Licensing Expo?

The show is now in its 36th year, taking place at Mandalay Bay Convention Centre in Las Vegas. The 2015 show was around 230,000 square feet of space and saw just over 16,000 attendees. We had around 480 booths, representing 5,000 brands, 180 of which were new to the show.

We actually saw a significant increase in retailers and international attendees, an area that just continues to grow. 

How is the 2016 show shaping up? How many are you expecting?

We have just passed our 230,000 square foot measurement and we had people booking spaces with just two months still to go.  It’s fantastic and we are fully expecting the 2016 show to be larger than last year.

We have also got some really good new brands in this time such as Cosmopolitan and Healthy Living Magazine. We are seeing a lot of growth from the publishing sector in the licensing space at the moment, which is exciting. 

This is already our biggest show and there is no doubt that it will be the biggest year in the Licensing Expo’s history. 

How many first time visitors are you expecting this year?

I am estimating around 150 first time exhibitors this year.  We also have some new international pavilions that we have never had before. 

We have new Malaysian, Taiwan and Hong Kong Pavilions and are seeing a lot of growth from Asia and Mexico as well.  We had a Mexican Pavilion for the first time last year, which will be back again this year.  We are seeing a lot of interest from Latin American brands as there is a large South American population in the US and appetite for US brands in South America. 

The Asian growth is interesting, China has been the biggest area of growth internationally. We have around 6,000 square feet from China this year, which is more than double than last year. 

How will you top the success of last year’s show?

The biggest change, and something we have invested a lot in, is in developing our Match Making service. It’s not something a lot of shows are doing. 

The service pairs exhibitors and attendees together quickly and easily. When somebody registers, they get taken to the Match Making portal where they can search for each other ahead of time to make appointments with each other. We have a dedicated team to help people use it and chase pending meeting requests. That team will be on site at the show. 

This is a service that has been designed to help people meet the right people. We already have thousands of people registered on it currently, and we are expecting more to join as the show gets closer. 

How has response to last year’s show helped shape Licensing Expo 2016?

We carry out a lot of research throughout the show. The Match Making is one thing to have grown out of this research. We knew people were finding it challenging to find the right people because licensing crosses so many product categories, it’s often difficult to find the right licensee for you.

The other thing identified through the research was that people are ready for a change of venue for the party.  This year, we are moving the party to the Tropicana with a whole new format, completely different entertainment and more networking opportunities.

We do a lot of research and we respond as best as we can to that. 

So what entertainment can we expect this year?

We are hosting The Winter Dance Party, a tribute to Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richard Vallins, so it’s a Fifties tribute that promises to be a lot of fun. We haven’t gone as far as to suggest people dress up as Fifties ‘Rock ‘n’ Rollers’, but they are more than welcome to. I probably won’t be if I am honest. 

What will the Licensing Education and webinar programme offer this year?

The education programme is provided by LIMA, our exclusive show sponsor.  The team runs the education portion with just over 20 sessions in the Licensing University, ranging from royalties and auditing all the way to crowdfunding and specialist territory licensing.  

We also have a free digital licensing summit which we are holding again on the Monday. This is a three-hour summit tackling digital licensing, media, looking at how to tap into the digital through apps, and what platforms are available. It’s all about how to work with digital media talent, a major future for the industry. 

What do you think will be the big trends in licensing this year?

Well, the movie studios will be coming out in force showcasing all their new properties. It will be very interesting to see their latest strategies, especially in the wake of Universal Studios buying out Dreamworks Animation.

We are also seeing our corporate brands area grow and grow with more publishing companies and agents than we have had before.  

Sport will also be a big feature of the show and a very important area that we will be supporting with interactive, fun experiences. 

What is the current health of the US licensing industry?

The US licensing industry is in excellent health. We have got lots of things we haven’t done before because people are getting behind licensing in a big way. 

In particular, our Geek Culture pavilion will represent a huge market. Our show is dedicated to pop culture overall, but this is a zone purely dedicated to comic book, cult classic genres. 

We haven’t really grouped these exhibitors together before, but they approached us with the idea and we see it as an area of huge growth for the coming years. 

Where is the industry heading over the next couple of years?

Globalisation and international growth are major contributors to the success of the licensing industry. There is a growing number of international brands being brought into the US and a larger number of US brands being exported out. I think we will see more and more of this, particularly from China.

Of course, digital media is changing the industry and the likes of YouTube is really helping to change the landscape. 

Why should companies and individuals from the UK make the trip to Las Vegas this year?

There are 75 companies that exhibit at both shows, which means there are well over 300 that just do one. That’s why we have a lot of people attend those shows for the variety. That’s the uniqueness of the show for you: you will see over 300 exhibitors that you won’t find any where else. 

What does the show offer toy retailers and manufacturers?

Toys is our second largest sector in terms of attendees. There is so much to see and experience, and it is one of the reasons we partner with the Toy Industry Association because we both recognise how important licensing is in toys.

I would encourage people in the toy industry to look outside the obvious entertainment brands and at the corporate brands such as Lamborghini because they are all interested in the toy category too. 

What would you like to see this year’s show achieve?

We want more, more and more. That means more attendees, more exhibitors and more partnerships. I really want to see the Match Making service deliver value as it is a big thing for us.

What is important is that we see more valuable connections and see people leave feeling productive and energised by the industry. 

Any tips for those flying over for the first time?

The opening night party is a must attend. We have around 1,500 people go to that including a mix of retailers, agents and more.  Vegas has a lot to offer and most meet new people at the bar and go to Eye Candy. You’re sure to find someone interesting there.