Hasbro and Falcon’s Beyond among brands bringing LBE experiences to Licensing Expo

Licensing Expo, produced in partnership with industry trade association Licensing International, returns to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this May 24-26 with a location-based experiences (LBE) theme that draws on consumers’ growing interest in immersive, IP-based experiences.

Of the 200+ exhibitors confirmed to date, with more signing on daily, many brands are showcasing their foray into LBE at Licensing Expo in search of new licensees, manufacturers, and retailer partners that will help bring their IP-based experiences to life.

Hasbro, Falcon’s Beyond, NAFTOS, and Feld Entertainment are among the brands that have revealed extensive LBE plans for the May event, transforming their booths into an IP-based destination that will capture attendees’ attention. From turning show attendees into NFTs and transporting guests into imagined worlds to a VR battle arena, this year’s event is gearing up to be highly interactive and trend-driven in order to provide a more seamless experience that facilitates new IP discovery.

“We landed on the theme of location-based experiences in order to strategically align with society’s transition from product-focused to experience-centric behaviors,” says Anna Knight, SVP of the Global Licensing Group, organisers of Licensing Expo. “More than ever before, people develop profoundly strong connections with the brands and content they engage with daily; LBE enables IP-owners to foster an even deeper connection that lays the groundwork for a loyal fanbase. We’re so excited to showcase the power and potential of LBE and be a catalyst for its adoption across the globe.”

LBE-activations confirmed to date include:

Hasbro, Inc booth #A159 & Hasbro Experience booth #A143

  • At Hasbro’s Experience booth, the company will be previewing the Transformers: VR Battle Arena with Meta4 Interactive which enables players to play as a TRANSFORMERS robot in a VR world. Players can choose from heroic Autobots such as Bumblebee and Optimus Prime or Decepticons such as Megatron and Soundwave. Once inside the game, each player will become a part of a legendary battle.
  • Hasbro will also be showcasing inspiration from other LBE initiatives around the world with a sampling of mini experiences inspired by:
    • The My Little Pony & Transformers Hotel Collection, Shanghai. The first of its kind, a Transformers and My Little Pony-themed Hotel outfitted with a Family Entertainment Center, is opening in Shanghai in Q4, 2022. The Hotel features 46 themed rooms in the collection.
    • Monopoly Life-sized and Top Hat Restaurant & Bar, London. Guests immerse themselves in the world-famous game of Monopoly to compete in challenges, build houses, charge rent, escape jail and even control London’s waterworks as they travel around the life-sized board earning as much money as they can.
    • Nerf Challenge, North America (touring). The ultimate Nerf playground is currently touring North America. Among the many interactive activations to experience are Tryathlon, Nerfhoop Doubleshot, Colossal Football, Field Goal, Dodge Blast, Strange Cargo, and much more. With thousands of blasters and millions of darts, this immersive experience is every NERF fan’s dream come to life.
    • NAX, Singapore. The NERF Action Xperience family entertainment centre brings the NERF brand to life through fun-filled experiences in an indoor arena packed with multiple-themed activity zones, incorporating NERF sports and blasters that are directed towards igniting adrenaline, inspiring empowerment and fostering connections.

Matt Proulx, VP, Location Based Entertainment, Hasbro, says: “The demand for authentic, engaging, and exciting experiences has never been higher; fans of all ages can now uncover new ways to connect with the brands they love. We’re excited to demo the Transformers: VR Battle Arena with our partners at Meta4 Interactive at our booth this year. We’ll also be giving visitors a chance to sample other activations around the world, taking inspiration from our Monopoly Life-sized in London, Transformers & My Little Pony-themed Hotel in Shanghai, not to mention what’s fueling Nerf. We hope everyone can stop by and have a glimpse into the potential of LBE

Falcon’s Beyond, booth U188

  • At Falcon’s Beyond’s booth, guests will experience immersive and interactive technologies like no other through a tour of Falcon’s X-Lab. The X-Lab will offer a 20-minute demonstration of a handful of Falcon’s ground-breaking products by appointment. These include SpectraVerse™, Falcon’s Vision®, ON!X™ Theater, and other exciting, themed attraction systems leveraging real-time gaming technologies and metaverse integrations.

“We have already helped many of the world’s most iconic brands connect with their audience to build fandom at a whole new level,” says Cecil D. Magpuri, CEO of Falcon’s Beyond. “We cannot wait to showcase our experiential entertainment innovations and new themed destinations in development that will enable brands to take the connection with their desired audiences to new heights well `beyond’ what they could ever imagine.”

NAFTOS, Lobby Display near Entrance D, Executive Suite D101

  • Licensing Expo newcomer NAFTOS, an industry leader in minting 2D, 3D, and 3D interactive NFTs, takes the mystery out of digital collectibles by showcasing actual NFT creations on the exhibition floor at the entrance of the show, booth D3. Companies interested in learning more about NFTs and the Metaverse for their brands can schedule an appointment with NAFTOS at Executive Suite D101 on the show floor.

Barry Rosenbaum, CEO and President of NAFTOS, comments: “We are honoured to become a key exhibiter at the Licensing Expo to showcase our expertise in NFTs and the Metaverse. Our highly experienced team employs the newest technology to create dynamic interactive NFTs, unlike any others.”

Feld Entertainment, booth A209

  • This year, Feld Entertainment will have the Grave Digger® Simulator Ride Experience, created in partnership with DOF Robotiks. This stand-alone attraction allows attendees to experience what it is like to take a ride in a Monster Jam truck. The simulator offers a range of movement on a 6-axis platform featuring pitch, roll and yaw movements. The realistic motion is combined with exciting video delivered through VR headsets, which makes it an unforgettable ride.

Jeff Bialosky, Senior Vice President Global Partnerships, Feld Entertainment, says: “We are thrilled to have one of our Feld Entertainment location-based entertainment activations on site for attendees to experience during the upcoming LE. As a 2022 Industry Award nominee, Monster Jam continues to engage and entertain tens of millions of fans around the world. The Monster Jam Grave Digger simulator displayed and operating in Booth #A209 will give those who are brave enough to ride it the true feeling of being behind the wheel of a 12,000-pound, 1500 HP Monster Jam truck.”

In addition to these immersive exhibitor experiences, visitors can visit the new Sports Bar and Toy Café to discover new products and be inspired by best-in-class examples from both categories. Confirmed participants include:

  • Sports Bar: Major League Baseball Players, Inc., NFL Players Inc., NASCAR, NFL Int’l, WWE and Motul
  • Toy Café: Hasbro, Inc., Mattel, Inc., MGA Entertainment, Spin Master, WildBrain CPLG, Jazwares, Brand Activation Consulting
  • Art & Design Lounge: Art Brand Studios, Giordano Studios, Jewel Branding & Licensing, Inc., Mitchell Black Wallpaper, Tate & Co Licensing, Artestar

There are 200+ exhibiting brands confirmed at Licensing Expo this May 24-26, with latest names confirmed including Riot Games, Laika Studios, United Talent Agency, kathy ireland Worldwide, Amazon Studios, Konami Cross Media NY, MLB Players, Netflix, TSBA, Sesame Workshop, Thomas Global Media and more.

Registered attendees now have access to the event’s online platform and can begin sifting through discoverable IP and setting up meetings both online and for the in-person event.

Day 2 Licensing Expo keynote to focus on location-based entertainment

Licensing Expo 2022, produced in partnership with industry trade association Licensing International, has lined up senior executives from Falcon’s Beyond, Robert L. Ward, and Moonbug as 2022 keynote panellists confirmed to speak at the Day 2 keynote.

Slated to be held on the expo floor in the Licensing U Theatre at 12-12:45pm on May 25 and accessible to all free of charge, the expert-led panel, moderated by Bay Laurel Advisors, brings together some of the most respected names in the industry for a trend-driven presentation titled “From Dream to Reality: The Power of Brand Licensing for Location-Based Entertainment.” To tune in to the keynote panel, register for Licensing Expo for free here.

Day 2 keynote presenters include:

  • Cecil D. Magpuri, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Falcon’s Beyond
  • Robert L. Ward, President and Chief Executive Officer, Robert L. Ward, Inc.
  • Susan Vargo, Head of Live Events and Location-based Experiences, Moonbug
  • George Wade, President, Bay Laurel Partners (moderator)

“It will be an honor to join my esteemed peers on-stage at Licensing Expo as a keynote moderator speaking to a topic that I’m incredibly passionate about,” says George Wade, President, Bay Laurel Partners and keynote moderator. “LBE tells stories through experiences and has the unique ability to bring people together, transcending generations and fanbases. It’s really a remarkable and expressive way for brands to build long-lasting relationships with their audience and reach new consumers – I hope the panel ignites new ideas and spurs continued innovation! I look forward to the keynote and reconnecting with the licensing community this May for much needed face-to-face conversation.”

Anna Knight, SVP of Licensing, Informa Markets, says: “We could not be more excited to share the first 2022 Keynote details with the Licensing Expo community. Keynotes are a cornerstone of Licensing Expo; our expert-led presentations bring to light new ways of doing business in a way that taps into consumer trends and arms the audience with inspiring ideas that will drive business forward in a meaningful way.”

This year’s keynote presentations are strategically designed to arm the licensing industry with actionable insights into the latest trends shaped by changing consumer habits and preferences and how brand licensing can be more strategically used as a marketing tool. The Day 1 keynote will be announced shortly.

In addition to keynote presentations, Licensing Expo and Licensing International offer robust educational programming to provide newcomers and experienced licensing professionals insights into the $292 billion licensing industry, with sessions geared toward arming attendees with new tools to drive business forward. The Licensing U agenda, now live and accessible here, spans a range of topics from the basics of licensing – the new rules of retail, to an exploration into the promising world of NFTs.

Only six weeks away, the event continues to attract new registrants daily – new and notable attendees include Fanatics, Kohl’s, Alibaba Group, Burlington Stores, Kimberly-Clark, Gamestop, Moleskine, Coppel, Hot Topic, Walmart, Hybrid Apparel, Mad Engine, Hallmarks Cards, Bioworld and more.

Learn more about Licensing Expo at www.licensingexpo.com


Opinion I Beyond the metaverse: how brands are transforming the Out-of-Home entertainment landscape

The hype that has surrounded Web 3.0 and the co-opting of the term ‘metaverse’ to describe the digital opportunities on offer has set the investment market and business world abuzz. But many of the strategies and initiatives ascribed to the metaverse are already at work today in the Out-of-Home (OOH) entertainment landscape, contends industry expert Kevin Williams of Spider Entertainment.

Location-based entertainment (LBE) and the OOH entertainment industry are the best representations of creating a physical business from digital IP and content. These physical representations of digital brands are achieved not just with characters and themed settings, but increasingly now with immersive technology that allows guests to be placed within the virtual universe of these properties.

This approach is not a new one, and is perhaps best illustrated with the move by the media content empire Walt Disney Corporation into the theme park and resort business way back in 1955. Along with the use of its film library to theme its attractions, the Corporation also undertook licensing agreements with big brands to incorporate them into the ‘story’ of its venues.

However, it’s the crossover of toys, movies and videogames into physical experiences that has seen the most far-reaching developments.

Video-game giant Nintendo has invested considerably in being one of the major multidisciplinary license platform providers in the global market, seeing its properties traverse the bounds of toys, games, licensed material and even movies.

A physical presence with venues of its own was a logical move, and Nintendo signed an agreement with Universal Studios in 2015 to develop a concept that would offer an interactive theme park extension in Universal resorts, based on Nintendo video-game characters and IPs. This would result in ‘Super Nintendo World’, which opened in Universal Studios Japan in 2020 and offered numerous attractions based on the Super Mario universe.

The latest immersive technology was applied to create compelling experiences such as ‘Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge’, which deployed Augmented Reality (AR) and Interactive Dark Ride (IDR) technology that placed the guest in the videogame. Hugely popular since opening, the theme park extension is due to be incorporated into other Universal park properties globally, with the Californian and Florida versions currently under construction.

Nintendo is now looking at its Out-of-Home entertainment landscape afresh. The company announced in its Second Quarter Financial Reports and Corporate Management Policy Briefing in November 2021 that it intended to spend some $2.7b on establishing a new stream of revenue through its investment into theme parks and new Nintendo entertainment stores – not just retail stores, but entertainment venues that will comprise immersive entertainment and scaled-down interactive attractions. The company has dabbled with retail stores in the US and Japan, but this will mark a major investment towards creating immersive entertainment spaces and has started a land-grab by other major properties keen to carve out a place in the ‘Retailtainment’ sector.

Throwing open the floodgates for others to follow, European videogame developer and publisher Ubisoft has also looked to broaden the penetration of its videogame properties. Having already seen motion pictures based on its Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia brands, as well as countless merchandised products and branded toys, the company’s expansion to a physical facility business seems logical.

Its first move was to establish a Location-based Entertainment Manager role within the corporation, looking at Out-of-Home entertainment opportunities. Fast forward to today, and Ubisoft is well known for its work on the successful VR amusement attraction Virtual Rabbids: The Big Ride, which has seen several hundred units placed in amusement sites globally. The company also has a division (Ubisoft Escape Games) licensing unique VR escape game team-based experiences to facilities.

What’s more, the company announced in November that it would be partnering with leading theme park and attraction developers to launch its first ‘Ubisoft Entertainment Center’. Scheduled for 2025, the venue will be situated on France’s Mediterranean coast as part of the Studios Occitanie entertainment hub. Ubisoft is not stopping there; with partners Storyland Studios, it is working on its own design for a large-scale Ubisoft theme park, having looked at Nintendo’s progress in this area and wanting to share some of the opportunity. Other video-game publishers are eagerly watching the fortunes of these two companies and their massive investments in the physical space.

Movies and TV – and zombies

Movie and television/streaming entities now looking at a wider penetration for their brands and licenses have also caught the bug and are looking to dive into the crowded waters of the “metamorphosis of the digital into physical”.

The use of Out-of-Home entertainment to turn digital content and properties into physical attractions has not been lost on the big players, including streaming giant Netflix, which has an estimated audience worldwide of some 215m paid memberships.

For a company streaming TV and movie content and investing vast sums in production, having a physical vehicle that can promote its properties seems obvious. Many industry insiders had speculated that Netflix was looking for its own chain of cinemas, but the implosion that has struck the theatre business seems to have lessened this interest. There is, however, one area of facility investment that has interested the corporation.

With the successful launch of the Netflix movie property Army of the Dead, a new marketing and promotional concept was rolled out by the company – marking an investment in a physical presence for its properties and employing the latest immersive technology. ‘Army of the Dead: Viva Vengeance’, an immersive pop-up attraction, was launched at selected Westfield mall locations, most recently (until the end of December 2021, after a run in Los Angeles) at the space vacated by Debenham’s department store in London’s Westfield Shepherd’s Bush mall. Not just dependent on live actors, the whole experience represented an interactive virtual reality (VR) attraction, which had guests blasting hordes of the undead as they traversed through the infested badlands.

This is not the only example of streamed or movie properties turned into VR experiences and deployed in location-based entertainment (LBE) venues. Movie production houses such as Lionsgate and Sony Pictures have ongoing projects that will see specialist attractions and venues based on their properties. Likewise, IP licenses are being acquired by entertainment venues to be incorporated into the mix of existing spaces. The food and entertainment chain Dave & Buster’s, for example, has had a strong affiliation with licensed IP to attract its target audience, having commissioned virtual reality attractions based on blockbuster film properties such as Jurassic World, Star Trek, Men In Black, among others, from location-based entertainment company VRstudios.

The ability to create an entertainment offering that can be injected into the available retail space has led to an explosion in Retailtainment. The ‘Retail Apocalypse’ that had hit the shopping mall landscape was obviously exacerbated by the global lockdown, but in re-emerging, the owners of these retail spaces have turned to entertainment to fill the gaps left by closed department store chains.

New operator Spider Entertainment has been created to provide landlords, developers and investors with a turnkey solution to run profitable pop-up and permanent attractions for their retail destinations, employing the latest brands, along with the latest immersive entertainment attractions, to help reinvent the retail experience. Physical spaces that include this level of brand immersion offer a unique new revenue stream beyond the original video-game and movie properties, and a level of customer engagement that is new and compelling.

What’s clear is that marketing and licensing executives keen to connect with their customer base will now have to include Out-of-Home entertainment as a new weapon in their armoury – a weapon that offers great opportunities and could in fact change the whole landscape of consumption.

Entertainment and technology specialist Kevin Williams is a regular presenter at international conferences, speaking at the Foundations Entertainment University (FEU) and Amusement360 events, as well as at bootcamps for LBE and FEC investors. He is one of the senior judges of the VR Awards.

Kevin’s consultancy KWP Ltd specialises in helping international clients develop immersive and interactive entertainment. Kevin has recently become Co-Owner and Technology Director for OOH entertainment specialist Spider Entertainment and is the publisher of the Stinger Report, a-must-read for those working or investing in the amusement, attractions and entertainment industry.

Kevin can be reached at kwp@thestingerreport.com.