Binge-worthy Spin-offs

Streaming platforms are becoming increasingly active in the licensing and merchandising arena. Leading players are launching outbound licensing programs for properties in which they have an ownership stake, as well as, in some cases, those they represent on behalf of the IP owners whose content they stream:

  • Netflix, credited as the first streamer to have a mass market licensing hit on its hands with Stranger Things, has a number of other notable properties for kids and adults in its portfolio. They include Squid Game, which appears on products from licensees such as Zavvi and CASETiFY, and Money Heist (La Casa de Papel), which counts among its licensees Persol, for an edition of 350 pairs of eyewear, and Johnnie Walker, for an edition of 150,000 bottles. In June, Netflix launched a direct-to-consumer e-commerce shop, which offers limited-edition apparel, including designer collaborations, and other products tied to shows such as Lupin and Yasuke and Eden, as well as items featuring the Netflix logo. In October, it partnered with Walmart for the Netflix Hub, a digital storefront that features toys and games, apparel, music, and other items for properties such as Nailed It! (baking kits), Squid Game (t-shirts), CoComelon (plush, ride-ons, beds), Ada Twist, Scientist (plush, science labs, dolls, notebooks), Waffles + Mochi (cookbooks), and Stranger Things (action figures, music players, t-shirts, etc.). The joint effort also offers fans exclusive experiences based on Netflix properties.
  • As anime has become more and more mainstream over the past several years, Crunchyroll has been expanding its licensing activities, especially since 2019. Its licensing partnerships have ranged from Loot Crate for a global subscription box program to Bioworld for apparel, with many deals featuring a range of the platform’s anime titles. Among the many properties it handles are Bananya, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Yuri!!! On ICE, One Punch Man, and the Junji Ito Collection. Crunchyroll recently expanded its representation deal with Reemsborko for the U.K. market. Back in 2019, it enhanced its portfolio of IP when it became the majority owner of manga publisher VIZ Media; this year, it in turn was acquired by Funimation, a Sony company overseen jointly by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Music Entertainment Japan.
  • Hulu is the most recent entrant among leading streaming platforms into the merchandise space, with the launch of its online shop last month. Shop Hulu features limited-edition lifestyle products and apparel tied to Hulu Originals programming and other titles in its library, as well as some Hulu-branded items. The site gained a lot of attention upon its launch by offering for sale the ugly holiday sweaters the streamer had given away as promotional premiums to fans for the past two years; proceeds from the first 1,000 sweaters sold are being donated to Feeding America. This year’s range is tied to The Handmaid’s Tale, Wu-Tang: An American Saga, Solar Opposites, The Great, and Love, Victor. Other products on the site include home goods, apparel, stickers, and more tied to proprietary shows such as The Orville, as well as those portrayed on the sweaters. It also offers merchandise for properties licensed from third parties, such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, American Horror Story, and Grey’s Anatomy.
  • Amazon Studios was a pioneer among streaming platforms, launching a licensing effort back in 2017, and the program is ongoing. Its initial focus was on its children’s programming, such as Tumble Leaf and Creative Galaxy, with licensees such as Freeze and Kahootz Toys among the first on board. Many of the shows in which Amazon Studios has a financial stake have licensing programs in place, especially on the children’s side, but the day-to-day oversight is often handled by the platform’s production partners. It is unknown yet whether Amazon’s purchase of MGM will change the merchandising operations or strategies for its Amazon Originals, which, in addition to kids’ series, include properties ranging from Transparent to Man in the High Castle.

While some of the biggest platforms are expanding their licensing efforts, there are many others that are not. Among the reasons: Some do not invest in or own properties, so they have no IP to license out, and are not in the business of representing outside content providers. Some are too niche in scope to sustain full licensing programs, although print-on-demand or one-off collaborations are always an option. Some facilitate content providers’ creation of their own merchandise by offering a POD service in conjunction with the platform, rather than serving in a licensing agency capacity. And some are part of bigger organizations and can capitalize on the parent’s licensing machine in lieu of starting a dedicated program.

For those that do take the licensing and merchandising path, however, branded and program-based products can add to their revenue streams and, more importantly, help boost awareness and fan loyalty. The latter is an increasingly critical objective in the context of a very crowded streaming landscape. They also have the ability to track user behavior (although they do not always share this information) and to connect content with commerce, both attractive qualities to potential licensees.

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