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Playing on the Big Screen: The Convergence of Toys, Games and Cinema

11/10/2023
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The toys and games industry has evolved to incorporate the impact of digital technology and streaming services. Resources have been poured into creating intuitive, connected platforms that mix toys and games nostalgia with new technologies. For toys and games manufacturers and streaming platforms, staying informed about changing consumer preferences, particularly among younger demographics, can help tailor offerings to various interests and needs. Increasing investment in film adaptations of popular toy lines is a key strategy for growth in the evolving media landscape, as illustrated by Mattel's 16% growth in Q3 2023 alone. This significant upturn was partially attributed to the surge in Barbie sales, a direct result of the successful film release, demonstrating how such investments can revitalise established brands.

Toys and film: An historical trend

The partnership between toys and media has a long history, where film and television personalities like Shirley Temple in the 1930s and Howdy Doody in the 1950s spawned accompanying dolls. By the 1970s, the global audience saw the inception of toy-inspired cinema with Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, and in the 1980s, iconic toy narratives such as Transformers and Hasbro’s My Little Pony.

While theatre sales may have declined in recent years, since the pandemic, home viewing of film has increased, as people spend more time in their homes. Euromonitor International's Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey reveals that from 2019 to 2023, global at-home viewership of television shows and films surged for many countries, with tremendous growth in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China, offering greater opportunities to build stories around toy brands.TV Watching Habits

The new digital dawn: Shifting entertainment paradigms

With digital technological advancements and the escalating screen-time on mobile phones among millennials and Gen Z, the relationship between popular games and toys has evolved to incorporate streaming services and beyond

Source: Euromonitor International

These toy-inspired stories have taken over streaming services and even include augmented reality (AR) platforms. Empowered with financial stability, millennials have gravitated towards diverse streaming options and live digital events, though older demographics, rooted in nostalgia, still exhibit a penchant for time-honoured TV. 

This period symbolises a vivid tapestry of media consumption habits, shaped by age, experiences, and technological advancements

Source: Euromonitor International

Industry titans like Netflix and Disney+ have teamed up with traditional toy legends to craft captivating stories for all ages. For example, My Little Pony soared to the top of Netflix’s popularity charts with A New Generation. This revolution in media preferences has been well documented, with Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey 2023 shedding light on the subject. It underscores the role of millennials and Gen Z as the vanguards of this digital evolution.Streaming Services used by generation

Beyond traditional toys, even video games have inspired their own cinematic stories. Mario epitomises this evolution, leaping from simplistic 2D Donkey Kong adventures to 3D innovations, and further venturing onto the silver screen in films like Super Mario Bros. And how can we forget Nintendo? A gaming titan that once hesitated to license its IPs, only to create a box office sensation with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. This cross-platform journey caters to an eclectic audience, merging gamers and cinephiles, and demonstrating a harmonious merger of two powerful entertainment domains.

Cinematic story success fuels action figure sales

The connection between cinematic releases and toy sales is tangible, with action figures seeing a revival in their fortunes following big-screen adaptations. Utilising Mattel's press statements as a basis, we witness this impact first-hand: the release of the Barbie film led to a remarkable rise in Mattel's gross margin to 51%. While this data point is sourced externally, it reinforces our insights into the synergy between media exposure and toy sales.

Other franchises like Transformers and Super Mario have similarly enjoyed robust sales, contributing to a projected 77% of the action figure market being driven by licensed properties in 2023, as Euromonitor International anticipates a steadfast relevance for traditional toys from 2022 to 2027, spurred by media influences and digital integration.Retail value of traditional toys

The rise of AR in play

Beyond the screen, AR is reshaping play, merging the tangible and digital. LEGO’s AR-infused experiences exemplify this trend, turning living rooms into racetracks and battlegrounds. This technological leap enriches the toy experience, expanding the narrative beyond physical playthings, inviting users to engage in a multifaceted narrative of their own making.Action figures sales 2023 - 2027

The future of “toy-ertainment”

In conclusion, to thrive in the evolving “toy-ertainment” landscape, industry players must prioritise multimedia collaborations, harness data analytics for deeper consumer insights, integrate AR and digital experiences, focus on storytelling in product development, and form strategic partnerships with streaming platforms. Staying adaptable to market trends and enhancing online marketing strategies will be crucial in maintaining relevance and driving growth in this dynamic sector.

Learn more about the in-depth trend descriptions, case studies and strategic recommendations in our report, Playtime at the Movies: How Big Screen Features Propel Toy Sales.

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