TV Turns to Retail

Networks pursue extra cash by selling consumer products
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Fans of ABC's All My Children can now not only smell but shimmer just like the stars of their soap: ABC Daytime and Wal-Mart last month introduced All My Children Fusion, a young female-targeted cosmetics line based on a company of the same name in a program storyline.

The products—eau de toilette spray, shimmer fragrance stick, lip gloss and shimmering body lotion—are priced between $12 and $18, and their launch was timed to a concurrent launch of the fictional products on the show.

Fusion products are already selling faster than Enchantment, an All My Children perfume that became one of Wal-Mart's best-selling fragrances when it was introduced soon before the holidays in 2004. “The idea came from our fans' saying, 'Where can we buy what's on your drama?'” says ABC Daytime President Brian Frons, whose division in February 2005 also sent a book penned by a character on One Life To Live to The New York Times bestseller list.

At a time when networks' ad revenue is hit by everything from competition from new networks to DVRs, many are looking at retailing as a new revenue stream. The sales may be a trickle now, but cable and broadcast networks are hoping to become floods of consumer products, branded with either the network itself or a character the network licenses.

“Everybody's looking at other ways to generate revenue to pay for the productions,” says Marty Brochstein, editorial director of EPM Communications, which publishes The Licensing Letter, a trade newsletter covering the licensing business. Retail sales of licensed merchandise based on entertainment/character properties (from both TV and movies) brought in $13.4 billion in the U.S. and Canada during 2004, according to Licensing Letter—19% of the licensed-merchandise market, the second-largest category behind products bearing a corporate trademark. While the feature-film business has softened, with fewer breakout hit movies, entertainment companies have seen their biggest growth in products branded with their television shows.

At Disney Consumer Products, for example, sales of merchandise based on TV characters, as opposed to those from movies like Chicken Little or library characters like Mickey Mouse, have grown from nothing five years ago to 8% of the division's $21 billion in retail sales for Fiscal Year 2005.

“The days of the big-movie licensed lines are really being passed by the TV shows,” says Gary Foster, a spokesperson for Disney Consumer Products. “If you were to take the big-studio entertainment conglomerates that have the biggest stake in consumer products—Disney, Viacom, Time Warner—you'll see peaks and valleys with the movies, but you'd see a steady growth in television.”

Kid-targeted items have fueled the fastest growth in TV consumer products. Nickelodeon approaches its consumer products liberally, sticking characters on items from boxer shorts to board games and selling them in a variety of retail outlets. So successful was Nick's consumer-products department at handling the network's own goods that, in 2004, Viacom gave it control over consumer products for most of the rest of the company, including Comedy Central and Paramount. The division is projected to bring in $5 billion in retail revenue in 2005.

Nickelodeon itself sold $1.5 billion worth of consumer products in 2001. By the end of calendar year 2005, retail sales are expected to rise 306% to $4.6 billion.

SpongeBob SquarePants, the kitschy cartoon that debuted in 1999, has raked in some $4 billion in retail sales since Nick began licensing the character in 2001.

Executives must wait until shows log steady ratings success to crank up the assembly lines. CBS has made hits of products from its long-running franchises, including “CSItems,” products like kid-targeted fingerprinting kits based on the CSI franchise. CBS also says it has sold several hundred thousand bandanas through its Web site, modeled after those worn on the hit Survivor.

NBC also wants viewers to buy the clothes off characters' backs. The network is expanding the “as seen on” section of its online store, where viewers can buy clothing and jewelry worn by characters on NBC Universal shows, including NBC's Will & Grace and Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

In addition to the NBC Experience Store, the network's 20,000-square-foot shop at 30 Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, the network sells 4,000 products on its online store. It peddles DVD sets, Today show cookbooks, and even products from shows it does not own but airs—ER scrubs, for example.

Says Kim Niemi, senior VP, NBC Universal Television Distribution, Video, Music and Product Development, “The consumer doesn't know we don't own ER.

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