Opinion | Toon-age day stream: How Disney+ is about to change toy licensing for good

It almost seemed by design that Disney’s subscription based streaming platform, Disney+ launched just as the Coronavirus pandemic began to tighten its grip on the UK and force the world’s population inside and away from the entertainment venues of yesteryear. And in just a short space of time, its impact on the wider world around has begun to be recognised.

Kids Brands Insights’ Steve Reece takes a closer look at the Disney+ platform and the moves already being made that will overhaul the nature of toy licensing, indefinitely.

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Netflix has vastly changed the world of what was once simply called ‘television’. The content proliferation process which has been ongoing for the last decade or more is accelerating, as lockdowns around the world have vastly increased viewing. In response Netflix is producing more and more entertainment content. But aside from the occasional freak occurrence like The Queens Gambit which saw Chess set sales soar, we haven’t seen that great an impact on toy merchandising.

Disney+ of course changes all of that, because whereas Netflix is full of content for adults with adult themes and is not focused purely on a family entertainment audience, Disney+ is all about family entertainment.

“Even coming out of lockdown, viewing is likely to remain high versus historical levels because human behaviour is habitual.”

Those who questioned whether this type of video on demand could drive merchandise sales soon got their question answered by the success of The Mandalorian. Logically though, if tens of millions of people subscribe to a service, then each piece of content must be averaging millions of views. When you compare that with cable/satellite TV which back in the old days were just about enough to drive some degree of licensed product sales, then it becomes clear that Disney+ heralds a bright new era for licensed toys.

The other effect that has been underestimated is the degree of immersion/obsession which an entertainment franchise creates. There are brands which lots of people like, and there are brands which some people become deeply obsessed with. The depth of content on offer via VOD platforms, the drip feed of the next instalment/series and the binge-watching habits of locked down people lead to a deeper immersion and bond with content brands, which in turn should drive toy sales.

Even coming out of lockdown, viewing is likely to remain high versus historical levels because human behaviour is habitual and the habits of binge-watching huge amounts of content has become deeply ingrained.

The other effect of VOD platforms is to smooth out the long tail after the content first releases. For sure, major headline content releases will drive big initial viewing, but many people don’t buy in, either because they are still too busy watching other series or because they don’t believe the hype yet. This long tail offers a longer-term payback than the traditional blockbuster movie with two sales spikes around cinematic release, and secondary release to DVD or previously to less content abundant VOD platforms.

The other key factor here is scale. At the time of writing, Disney+ reportedly has more than 95m subscribers around the world. Disney forecast more than 200m within the next year or two, but the potential could be much higher, so the effect of this platform is only going to increase.

Every so often something comes along with marks a fundamental shift in the toy business, Disney+ heralds a new age of toy licensing, it’s that big a thing.

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Steve Reece is the founder of the toy expert consultancy, Kids Brand Insight, leaders in supplying services to the toys and kids entertainment industries.