Licensing Sales Topped $340 Billion In 2022; Barbie Boost Expected This Year

The Barbie movie is not just a billion-dollar box office success. It also is a blessing for the licensing industry, with its dramatic demonstration of the power of brands.

Licensing International, a trade association for the licensing industry, just released its annual Global Licensing Industry Study, which indicates that the industry is poised for strong growth after a period of pandemic-related challenges.

Global sales of licensed merchandise and services hit $340.8 billion in 2022, up more than 8% over the $315.5 billion sold in 2021. While a good part of the increased spending was due to inflation, the licensing industry outperformed the overall retail market in 2022, which grew by 5.4%.

“Brands remain how consumers are making their choices,” said Maura Regan. president of Licensing International, said in an interview. “We are proving time and time again that brands sell.”

While inflation continues to be a concern, in terms of manufacturing costs and consumer buying power, the industry is expected to have any even better year this year, thanks to Barbie and other factors that have consumers buying licensed merchandise.

The Barbie movie decisively shows the strength of brands, Regan said. “Something like Barbie is just a wonderful., wonderful sendup of a franchise that’s been beloved for years, and years, and years,” she said.

“For the industry overall,” Regan said, “it demonstrates why licensing works, how licensing works. And from a consumer experience, the consumer wants to have that brand experience every which way. They want a movie experience, they want to wear it, they want to take it home, they want Barbie’s Dream House, they want Barbie’s convertible,” she said.

Licensed products have proven to be quite resilient even in tough economic times, especially licensed products for children, Regan said. Adult fans also have shown willingness to spend on more on licensed products featuring their favorite shows or brands.

Licensing International’s annual trade show in Las Vegas, Licensing Expo, drew 12,000 attendees in June, up 13% from the previous year.

The Licensing International report highlighted a number of ways the industry is changing post-pandemic, including growth in licensing deals tied to in-person experiences, such as theme parks, concerts and other attractivities, as well as the need for licensed brands to create direct sales channels to consumers.

Among the top findings in the study, which was prepared by Brandar Consulting for Licensing International, and included a survey of over 200 companies in the licensing industry, were:

Location-based and services licensing saw explosive growth

Experiences, such as licensed theme parks, and in-person events such as concerts and Broadway shows, had a good year in 2022, as consumers showed “a very healthy appetite for experiences, entertainment, travel, dining, and festive gatherings,” after pandemic lockdowns, according to the study. Location=based entertainment and promotions were up 67%, and Licensed services, which includes restaurants, hotels, travel, and hospitality, was up 205% in 2022.

There is more competition for store shelf space.

Licensing manufacturers noted that the shift to smaller store footprints on the part of retailers, as well as the move toward greater use of in-house and private label brands have made it harder to get their products on store shelves. “This can be detrimental to launching new licensed products,” one survey respondent commented.

Direct-to consumer licensing sales

Ecommerce sales accounted for 30% of all licensed product sales in 2022, down from the peak of 34% in 2021. The ecommerce share remains up significantly over pre-oandemic 2019, when it was 22%, and it has nearly doubled in the nine years the study has been conducted.

Many licensees have created their own direct-to-consumer sales channels in response to the store shelf compression issues, the study reported, with ecommerce and DTC channels becoming increasingly essential to drive sales.

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