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By Michael Rielly
Star Wars Toy Sales Fall in 2017 as Movie-Tie Fatigue Sets In
By Matthew Townsend and Christopher Palmeri
January 17, 2018
The warning signs for the toy industry started last year when “Cars 3” -- considered a surefire success -- proved lackluster for licensees like Mattel Inc.
Now toymakers’ big bets on movie tie-ins look downright bleak. Playthings based on the “Star Wars” saga -- the franchise that kicked off the whole phenomenon four decades ago -- were down in 2017 despite a new film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” in December during the all-important holiday-shopping season.
Call it “Star Wars” burnout, or better yet “movie fatigue,” said Gerrick Johnson, an analyst for BMO Capital Markets. Hollywood and toymakers have fixated on toy-friendly films at a time when kids are increasingly turning to YouTube, Netflix and social media for entertainment.
More than 20 major films, including “The Last Jedi,” had robust toy-licensing programs last year. A decade ago, it was about half that. Movie attendance in the U.S. has dropped almost 14 percent in that span.
“There are so many screens now; kids aren’t just at the movies,” Johnson said. “A movie doesn’t have the same resonance it used to.”
While “Star Wars” was still the top-selling toy line during the nine-week holiday period, it fell to second place overall last year and below the all-time high seen in 2016, according to data from market research firm NPD Group shared with Bloomberg News.
“Star Wars is a force to be reckoned with in the toy industry,” the brand’s owner, Walt Disney Co., said in a statement. “It remains the leading film-driven property for the entire year.”
After a decade without a “Star Wars” film, Disney has released three movies since December 2015, and another one is coming in May. The latest installment, “The Last Jedi,” didn’t include many new memorable characters beyond those introduced in the preceding film, Johnson said. That left fans looking for newness elsewhere this year, leading to weaker results than expected, he said.
U.S. sales of the brand’s toys slowed in late 2017, Drew Crum, an analyst for Stifel Nicolaus & Co., wrote in a note to clients last week. This was despite “Last Jedi” being the top-grossing film released in the U.S. last year at $596 million.
Adult collectors, who grew up with the brand, are still buying a lot of merchandise when the toys come out, but demand dies down afterward, according to Johnson.
That doesn’t bode well for Hasbro Inc., which has the main “Star Wars” toy partnership, or Jakks Pacific Inc., which has a secondary license. Jakks said it couldn’t comment on “Star Wars” sales, but that merchandise tied to “Moana,” another Disney film, “remains very strong.” Hasbro declined to comment.
The “Star Wars” performance could hinder Disney’s bid to revive growth at its consumer products division, where sales fell 13 percent to $4.83 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
The September bankruptcy filing of Toys “R” Us Inc., which makes up about 15 percent of the market, added to the challenges for “Star Wars” sales growth this year, though the company continued to market the toys.
Visitors to the Toys “R” Us store on Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Angeles recently had plenty of “Star Wars” merchandise to choose from. A whole aisle included everything from a $3.99 Millennium Falcon Hot Wheels car to a $250 AT-ACT remote-controlled vehicle that walks and fires Nerf projectiles.
Tracey Gordon, a full-time mom from Glendale, California, shopping at the store, said her three boys, ages 2 to 7, aren’t “Star Wars” fans even though she wore a Princess Leia costume on Halloween for years when she was younger.
“It’s a generational thing,” she said, adding that her nephew likes the toys largely because his dad “drags him to see the movies.”
Even more toy-licensed films are scheduled, including the prequel “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and new Transformers, “Fantastic Beasts,” “Jurassic World” and superhero fare. The lesson toymakers will draw from the 2017 slate is that they can’t just rely on the movie to do the marketing anymore.
“There is a new paradigm,” Johnson said. “Just because there is a movie with a toy tie-in doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work. It used to mean it would work.”
By Michael Rielly
Facebook Is Changing. What Does That Mean for Your News Feed?
New York Times
January 12, 2018
By JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH and MATTHEW HAAG
Facebook has overhauled how it ranks the posts, videos and photos that appear in its users’ News Feeds, introducing major changes on Thursday designed to put what friends and family have to say first.
In short, you’ll see more posts from friends that have spurred lively debates in the comments. And you’ll see fewer cooking videos from brands and publications. Prioritizing what your friends and family share is part of an effort by Facebook to help people spend time on the site in what it thinks is a more meaningful way.
Facebook is making the changes by tinkering under the hood, reconfiguring its algorithms that guess what you may be most interested in. Here’s what it means for you.
Publishers and brands are the losers.
Facebook is not being coy about this: Those third-party organizations that took over large swaths of your News Feed years ago — sites that post funny pictures and memes, sell you clothing, or deliver articles about the world — will have the visibility of their posts scaled back under the new arrangement.
In a post on the company’s blog Thursday, the head of its News Feed team, Adam Mosseri, wrote that showing more posts from friends and family “means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”
For many people, that news will come as a relief. In December, Facebook itself acknowledged that passive consumption of information — surfing shopping websites or reading news articles like this one — is often bad for your mood. (Sorry!)
It gestured toward a 2015 paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that showed that passive usage of the website, even for just 10 minutes a day, had a negative effect on students’ sense of well-being.
Those who still want to see posts from their favorite brands and trusted, wonderful publishers, one of whose articles you may be reading at this very moment, will be able to. The options under the News Feed tab on Facebook will allow users to prioritize the pages (and friends) whose posts they are most interested in.
And Mr. Mosseri explained that other posts that your Facebook connections find engaging will also rise to the top. Conversations stemming from live videos, celebrities’ posts, private groups and other highly interactive post types will be among those highlighted on the new News Feed.
Posts from people you know will rise to the top.
Without that kind of explicit direction, though, Facebook’s top priority will remain posts from your friends and family.
“To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed,” Mr. Mosseri wrote. A video attached to his post said that indicators the algorithm takes into account are likes, comments and shares.
Facebook will remain customizable, with the options that allow you to limit your exposure to certain people — even if those people are your pesky siblings or that one over-the-top uncle. One option is to quietly “snooze” a Facebook friend, which will cause their posts to disappear from your feed for 30 days.
Facebook says that it has long been its policy that “friends and family come first,” language that appeared in the site’s “News Feed Values,” which were posted in 2016.
Facebook expects you’ll spend less time on the site.
Implicit in the changes that Facebook introduced this week is that for many users, the News Feed had become mindless scrolling, moving from one autoplaying video to the next, without offering people much of substance. It was serving up junk food.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg said that it was the company’s expectation that many users would be gravitating to other sites to get their viral fix. But with more than two billion monthly users, Facebook has gained a foothold that allows it to play a longer game. And Mr. Zuckerberg said that if people begin to feel better while on the site, that Facebook’s business, and its users, will benefit.
“I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” he said in his post about the changes. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.”
By Carlo Klemm
'Edmonton Project' finalist pitches plan for Christmas village
January 12, 2018
Excerpt - Edmonton, Alberta - Christmas might be 347 days away, but Georgina Atkin has the holiday on her mind.
Atkin wants to bring a longstanding European tradition to Edmonton by building Christmas or Advent villages during the holidays. Temporary holiday markets would bring the spirit of the season to the streets, Atkin said.
The pop-up bazaars are a time-honoured tradition overseas.
"They have markets set up where you can purchase all kinds of different items, from food to clothes to Christmas gifts," Atkin said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
"They also have kiosks where you can buy some hot cider and mulled wine and you get your cup and walk around the village, do some shopping, watch some the entertainment.
"It's a great family outing. It is awesome."
The festive proposal is one of 10 finalists for the Edmonton Project, a partnership of five companies looking to create a distinct landmark in the city.
Atkin, a local nurse, said the city could repurpose its Green Shacks to create unique street-side spaces for vendors, who could deck out the buildings in holiday decor.
Depending on the location, markets could also feature family skating or curling tournaments.
There are plenty of places that would be a good fit for a market Atkin said, highlighting Churchill Square, the legislature grounds, the Muttart Conservatory and Whyte Avenue as possible locations.
"As it grows, I would like to see it move out into different venues," she said. "And eventually, out in the communities, where each community league would have their own little Christmas village."