TV & Streaming

‘Put the brand into culture:’ Entertainment companies are leaning into branded merchandise to help boost TV-show fandom

From Paw Patrol plushes to bourbon, consumer products can be lucrative brand extensions.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photos: Amazon, Netflix, NYRELLE, Disney

· 5 min read

When the pilot episode of Monarch premiered on Fox earlier this month, the broadcaster invited new viewers to buy into the country-music drama—literally.

Viewers dazzled by the butterfly jewelry adorning family matriarch Dottie Roman (played by Susan Sarandon) and heir apparent Nicky Roman (played by Anna Friel) could purchase similar pieces online through a Fox partnership with jewelry retailer Nyrelle. Music lovers interested in learning country songs from the show could sign up for virtual lessons through the guitar-accessories company Fret Zealot. They could even imbibe Truthteller 1839 Bourbon, a liquor designed for the show with help from Next Century Spirits and ReserveBar, and which will serve as a plot point later in the season.

It’s an ambitious move for Fox Entertainment, which is jumping head-first into the consumer products game in an effort to boost excitement around one of its first wholly owned scripted series. The move highlights just how crucial entertainment companies believe consumer products are to keeping viewers coming back for more.

“The more I surround the consumer’s day-to-day life, the more fandom, hopefully, I’m creating for the IP itself,” said Laura Caraccioli, Fox Entertainment’s SVP, head of strategic creative partnerships. “I really want to put the brand into culture.”

Move over, Baby Yoda

Translating TV and movies into merchandise is big business. Retail sales of Disney’s licensed consumer products totaled an estimated $56.2 billion in 2021, according to a July estimate from License Global, while Warner Media and Warner Bros. (now part of Warner Bros. Discovery) raked in an estimated $15 billion.

Streaming natives are getting into the consumer-products game, too. Netflix and Hulu have both debuted branded merchandise shops, while retailers like Target and Walmart sell products tied to Netflix shows like Stranger Things.

Expanding into consumer products can help boost revenues and give consumers multiple ways to engage with brands, entertainment executives say. “Consumers want more of the things they love,” Brian Robbins, the president and CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, said this month at an investor conference. “They want to see the movie, watch the show, read the book, wear the pajamas, use the toothpaste, ride the ride.”

Protect the product

But getting into the toothpaste and pajamas business isn’t always easy, and missteps can risk leaving a bad impression with fans. At Fox, executives looked for products that felt natural, Caraccioli said. Music lessons were a near-given, considering the fictional family’s business and the slate of country covers and original recordings in the series. Conversations with showrunners generated the idea of a liquor brand, Caraccioli said; shelved ideas included a tequila brand and a line of canned cocktails.

Initially, there were naysayers. “There were some chuckles at the idea that we might be able to have our own liquor brand at the time,” admitted Tilmann Gruber, Fox Entertainment’s SVP, strategy and operations.

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At Fox, this is the company’s first widespread licensed consumer-products rodeo, since it previously licensed its scripted IP and as a result didn’t have the ability to monetize its series directly. That has come with a learning curve. Creating Monarch jewelry, for example, required close contact with show stylists and costume designers because Fox executives wanted to ensure pieces were monetizable.

“If you’re going to develop something special that a character wears that has an emotional connection to her, it has to be an original design,” Caraccioli said. “You can’t go [and] pull something off the rack.”

Get there first

Consumer products can also build out long-term fan connections and money-making opportunities. “We want to be everywhere the consumer is with our franchises, because that’s what creates love and ultimately long-term monetization,” Paramount Pictures’ Robbins said.

Meaningful monetization from consumer products comes hand-in-hand with franchise development, something that entertainment brands are doing with increasing fervor, said Paul Hardart, a former Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. executive and marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. In other words: lasting franchises are more lucrative.

“If it’s something that can be turned into a consumer product, that means it’s probably also capable of being some kind of a franchise that you could monetize for generations,” Hardart said.

Sometimes, though, consumer products are only available after a show has premiered and a fanbase has emerged, like in the case of Disney+’s The Mandalorian, when there was no Baby Yoda merchandise until long after his season-one reveal due to concerns that an errant toy catalog might spoil the surprise.

Fox opted to make its merchandise available immediately after the first episode aired, with the hope that it would serve as additional marketing for the show. (The products are also designed to appeal even to customers who haven’t seen the show, potentially converting new viewers.)

“A lot of IP doesn’t launch with products,” Caraccioli said. “But what if you did—and how would that look? Could you serve the superfan, and the superfan becomes an advocate and then will promote Monarch on your behalf?”

Fox didn’t have initial sales figures to share, but Gruber said all three partnerships were “profitable endeavors.” The first episode of the series, which was telecast several times, has reached more than 10 million viewers according to Fox.

“Gone are the days that you can sit [and] wait for a show to be successful,” Caraccioli said. “Now that we’re starting to create a library of IP that we own, you’re going to see a lot more of [Fox] getting into this business.”

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