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Disney Plans New ‘Star Wars’ Force Friday Event To Kick Off Merchandise Sales

Deadline logo Deadline 2/16/2017 David Lieberman
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As the world’s No. 1 licensor, Disney usually drives the conversation at the annual Toy Fair confab. But it’s sure to do so at the event taking place this weekend in New York with the announcement this morning that it will stage a Force Friday unveiling on September 1 for merchandise tied to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The studio aims to turn announcements for toys, clothing, books, and other products into a big event. In 2015 that helped gin up interest for stuff connected to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Like with the first event, plans “are top secret but expect something befitting the excitement around the next episode of the Star Wars saga,” Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media Chairman Jimmy Pitaro says.

Force Friday II merchandise will go on sale at 12:01 a.m. on September 1, with participating stores joining in the hype.

It will focus on toys. That should contrast to the first event which also appealed to collectors who had waited a decade for new Star Wars characters, and were willing to pay for relatively expensive products.

As a result, “this is more of a fair comparison with other studios’ franchise properties,” says International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association SVP Marty Brochstein. “Everybody in the business is going to be watching to see what happens and how successful it is.”

Disney has a high bar to cross. U.S. consumers spent nearly $760 million last year on Star Wars toys — which was up from 2015, and made it the industry’s top selling property — The NPD Group estimated last month.

That contributed to a 5% growth in toy industry retail sales to $20.4 billion.

Hollywood is becoming a much bigger part of the equation. Sales of its licensed merchandise is growing at about twice the pace of the overall market. That’s partly due to studios’ strategies to place more big bets on sequels and properties built on characters with proven audience appeal.

Non-Star Wars releases will be well represented at Toy Fair — an important opportunity for studios and manufacturers to impress retailers, who devote shelf space to the products, and publicize upcoming movies.

For example, Disney will have merchandise for Beauty And The Beast (including a singing Belle doll), Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, and Cars 3.

The Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise could be important because the first film’s success took Disney by surprise.

“Everybody was out there looking for Groots. And there were no Groots because nobody expected anybody to particularly want Groots,” Brochstein says. “This time there are Groots.”

Warner Bros Consumer Products has Wonder Woman, Justice League, Kong: Skull Island, The Lego Batman Movie, DC Super Hero Girls, and Teen Titan Girls. Time Warner’s HBO Global Licensing has products for Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley.

Wonder Woman will attract attention because “there has been a paucity in female role model characters,” Brochstein says.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal will push Despicable Me 3 and The Fate Of The Furious. And since it now owns DreamWorks Animation, it also will promote Trolls and a series it’s producing for Netflix, Spirit Riding Free.

Other films expected to be represented at Toy Fair include Paramount’s Transformers: The Last Knight, Fox’s War Of The Planet Of The Apes and Logan, Lionsgate’s Power Rangers and My Little Pony: The Movie, and Sony’s Smurfs: The Lost Village.

Brochstein says there’s also an upcoming release that will benefit from what he calls “the awwww factor”: TWC-Dimension’s Paddington 2.

But he warns that “nobody knows anything” in licensed merchandise. “Every time we think we know something about what the consumer wants or doesn’t want, we get surprised. That’s the fun part of the business.”

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