In the entertainment world, the work involved with a film or television show does not stop with the final edit. Instead, it continues through many different avenues, including the merchandising related to the production.
This is the main focus of Culver City, Calif.-based Sony Pictures Consumer Products, the strategic licensing and merchandising arm for studio Sony Pictures. Senior Vice President of Global Consumer Products Gregory G. Economos notes that it has developed products for popular current films such as “The Smurfs,” classic films like “Ghostbusters,” and acclaimed TV shows including “Breaking Bad.”
Economos says Sony strives to continue consumers’ enjoyment of its properties after they leave the theater or turn off the TV. For instance, with its toys or kids’ apparel, “we want [to extend] the positive experience the child had with a character while watching a film or television show,” he says. “That’s what we do with all of our properties.”
Less is More
A 13-year veteran of Sony Pictures, Economos started his career as an intellectual property lawyer and then worked at Saban Entertainment, the owner of the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” during that property’s initial launch in the early 1990s.
Economos joined Sony Pictures Consumer Products in 1999 as its head of business and legal affairs for the newly formed Consumer Products division. He undertook his current role in 2010. Under his leadership, the division has nurtured a “less-is-more” philosophy, focusing more on its relationships with its licensing and retail partners than on how many products it puts out.
“We can’t merchandise every single property from the studio,” he admits. “We’ve tried to look at deeper, broader relationships with fewer partners.”
This approach proved successful for the company last year with its merchandise program for summer film release of “The Smurfs.” Based on the popular animated series from the 1980s, the film launched a whole new generation of fans of the little blue characters. Smurfs merchandise during the film release window sold close to $300 million dollars in U.S.-based retail sales and is still doing well at retail. Because of this success, Sony Pictures Consumer Products was able to expand its staff to handle the new business.
With these additions, “The new salespeople are more deeply involved in determining trends and new technologies in each of their categories, whether new digital and mobile applications or fashion,” he says. Consumers will especially see this in the new line of products gearing up for “Smurfs 2” next year.
Of course, not every line of merchandise can be a hit. This summer, Sony Pictures Consumer Products also launched limited programs with merchandise related to “Men in Black 3” and “Total Recall.”
Although the latest “Men in Black” film was a commercial success, it has been difficult to develop a profitable line of merchandise for the film series, Economos says. “It doesn’t lend itself to the traditional action figure line,” he says. “[But] we think the playability was there because of the aliens.”
In the case of “Total Recall,” the company developed a small line of collectables, but the movie did not perform as strongly as hoped at the box office, which can relate to how much merchandise is sold.
“There’s a correlation between [the two],” Economos states.
But the next 18 months are more promising, Economos says. This September, Sony Pictures Animation will release “Hotel Transylvania,” a CGI film featuring the popular voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, CeeLo Green, Andy Samberg and Selena Gomez among others.
The plot, Economos explains, involves classic monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man and the Mummy, but the film is oriented toward kids and families. “It’s one of the first all-family movies where the classic monsters are portrayed as friendly,” he explains.
The studio has also formed promotional partnerships with McDonald’s, Airheads Candy, The ICEE Co., Dylans Candy Bar and Toys “R” Us among others. The latter “will be our exclusive toy retail partner,” Economos says. “If you go into Toys ‘R’ Us and purchase a certain amount of any Halloween themed merchandise, you’ll get a ticket to see the movie.” They, of course will be selling Halloween costumes based on the characters from the film.
In June 2013, Sony Pictures will release “After Earth,” a sci-fi film from M. Night Shyamalan, director of “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.” In “After Earth,” Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, play a father and son in the future who become stranded on an Earth abandoned by humans over a thousand years in the past.
When the two are separated, the younger Smith has to go on a journey to save his father while encountering futuristic creatures. “M. Night is a great visionary,” Economos says, noting that “After Earth” recently wrapped production.
To capitalize on the film, Sony Pictures Consumer Products is working with partners to create a limited line of merchandise based on its futuristic elements. This includes a toy version of “the Cutlass,” a weapon Jaden Smith uses to defend himself from the creatures and as a source of light.
“It should be really fun,” Economos says. And Sony is counting on it to be a hit, too: “After Earth” will be released at a time of the year when previous Will Smith films have enjoyed solid box office success.
Return of the Smurfs
In July 2013, Sony Pictures will release “Smurfs 2,” which Economos hopes will be even more successful than the first. “We’re going to have every category covered,” he reveals. “We’ll have everything from housewares to all kinds of toys and games, apparel and publishing [items] including coloring and activity books and novelizations.”
Sony Pictures Consumer Products also has had success with a Smurf app for iPhones and iPads. “The iPhone/iPad app has had over 30 million-plus downloads and still is [doing well],” Economos reports.
The firm also has strived to take the Smurfette character from the films and develop her as a fashion icon. “We’ve actually seen that consumers are really able to connect with the fashionable side of Smurfette,” he says. Based on the current retro trend in fashion, Sony Pictures Consumer Products is planning on creating a separate line of apparel just for the juniors and teen market.
What Makes Sense
Sony Pictures also has plans for a third Smurfs movie for 2015, as well as “Cloudy 2: Revenge of the Leftovers,” release in 2014, the sequel to the animated feature “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” In “Cloudy 2”’s plot, the food has taken over the film’s island setting of Swallow Falls, Economos says.
“Flint, the main character, has to save the island from itself,” he says, adding that Sony Pictures Consumer Products will create apparel and accessories, housewares, toys, online games and digital applications for the film. “The studio is in production on the movie now and we know it will be another fun success with kids.”
After next summer, Sony Pictures’ other potential projects include movies based on the TV show “ALF” and the character Popeye from the popular cartoons and comic strips.
“We’re looking at what makes the most amount of sense in their categories,” Economos says.
Sony Pictures Consumer Products is working closely with King Features on “Popeye” and with the original producers of the “ALF” series to develop new versions of these properties in the merchandise world but still basing it on their nostalgic equity.
Not all of the company’s merchandising efforts are proactive, however. When it came to the show “Breaking Bad,” the company developed products only after customers started asking for them at retail and it was noticed there were several versions of unlicensed T-shirts available on the Internet.
“Hot Topic was the perfect retail partner for Breaking Bad and we created an exclusive t-shirt program and retail activation with them that did very well,” according to Economos.
“It’s hard sometimes to anticipate what the customer will buy, but, in this case, the existing demand and popularity of the show translated into retail sales,” he adds.