Those ubiquitous Angry Birds flew from the mobile screen to the toy store, hooked up with Hollywood, and are headed back to the digital world thanks to the telepod. That is toymaker Hasbro Inc’s answer to merging the physical and digital worlds of children’s play in what the industry calls toys-to-life. And like another leading toy company, Walt Disney Co, they are finding fans among the fervent audiences for action and superhero films. Hasbro’s Angry Bird telepods were a big attraction last weekend at San Diego’s Comic-Con, an annual gathering of 130,000 comic and entertainment enthusiasts, with fans lining up to preview new Transformers-themed bird figurines containing miniscule codes that can be read by tablets. The Angry Birds Transformers telepods, featuring Autobirds and Deceptihogs, is due out on Oct. 15, spinning off the success of Paramount Pictures’ June box office hit, Transformers: Age of Extinction. Licensed toys have become a key to extending the entertainment content revenue stream, with US retail sales in 2013 of 5.3 billion dollar, according to research company The NPD Group. In the first quarter of 2014, the top licensed toys included Disney’s princess lines and Frozen toys, which helped Disney bring in 885 million dollar in consumer products revenue, about 8 percent of the company’s overall revenue during that time. The new toys-to-life category grew 47 percent in a 12-month period ending June 2014 to $437 million in sales in the United States, according to NPD’s gaming analyst Liam Callahan. Retail analyst Stephanie Wissink at Piper Jaffray estimates that by 2018, 25 per cent of toys will incorporate a digital component or integration with electronic devices.
Kids enjoy both analog and digital play and they like moving seamlessly between the two, said John Frascotti, Hasbro’s global chief marketing officer. Using the bird and pig characters from Rovio Entertainment’s Angry Birds mobile game app, consumers can place the physical figurine onto a plastic block and put it on a tablet’s reader, which then recognizes the character via its magnetic code and imports it into the digital game. Frascotti said Hasbro’s 2015 line of Transformers robot toys will incorporate a digital element. The company is also likely to partner with Disney on toys tied to next year’s anticipated Star Wars film, and Star Wars is already a top seller in the licensed toys market. Disney made a loud entrance into the toys-to-life market with Disney Infinity, an interactive master game to which new characters and adventures are added. With Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy making a big splash at the box office this year, Disney is catering to the feverish demand for all things superhero by incorporating Marvel characters into Disney Infinity as of September 23. Consumers can buy collectible figurines of Disney characters such as Elsa from Oscar-winning hit Frozen or Marvel’s Captain America, which have discs embedded with data chips that when placed on the Infinity Reader, can import the figure in the game. As characters advance through the digital game, the information is saved into the figurine. Physical toy sets are definitely not fading out, said Peter Phillips, senior vice president and general manager of Marvel’s digital media group. The fact that we integrated a toy line as part of the game just shows that the two can work hand in hand very closely together.
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