On Wednesday, the toy maker acquired Boulder Media Animation Studios, an Irish outfit that has produced award-winning shows for Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and other networks, for an undisclosed sum.
It's clear why Hasbro made such a move. Just as Disney and Comcast have made a land grab of intellectual property, with Disney snatching up Marvel and Lucasfilm while Comcast acquired Dreamworks Animation, Hasbro seeks to extend its own brands into entertainment.
In addition to being a leading toy maker, Hasbro is sitting on a trove of popular characters and brands, including Transformers, GI Joe, and My Little Pony, as well as popular board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, and Candy Land. Taking ownership of Boulder should lead to greater output of TV series, movies, and other animated projects. CEO Brian Goldner explained the deal, saying, "We're building our brands through storytelling, and today, we're telling richer stories across more platforms than ever before."
The secret sauce
More than any other company, Disney has shown how valuable intellectual property can be in the entertainment world. The company's acquisition of Marvel, in particular, yielded massive box office hits, and LucasFilm's Star Wars has already started to have an effect on the company's bottom line.
But Disney's business model, which includes theme parks and merchandise, means popular movie franchises live well beyond the closing curtain. Disney is building out Marvel and Star Wars-themed rides at its parks, and toy sales have also grown through characters popularized in its movies. Elsa, one of the princesses from the Disney movie Frozen, outsold Barbie in 2014 and was seen as the hottest toy of the holiday season that year. Sales of Frozen toys, which are licensed to Hasbro, were about $1 billion in the U.S. alone that year, a powerful revenue stream for Disney, on top of the $1.3 billion the movie grossed at the box office. Star Wars figurines, meanwhile, were a big hit last holiday season.
Comcast has followed a similar playbook with its acquisition of NBCUniversal, which owns Universal theme parks and studios. And earlier this year, the cable giant acquired Dreamworks Animation, taking ownership of characters like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and others from popular movies, including Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon. Dreamworks has also partnered with Hasbro to develop toys around its intellectual property, yet another way the toy maker has seen the value of such a brand ecosystem.
You can't cut this cord
While Disney and Comcast have built entertainment empires through the combination of TV networks, movie studios, and theme parks, their stocks have been pressured by concerns about cord-cutting. Disney shares, in particular, have fallen nearly 20% from year-ago highs as ESPN, its valuable cable network, continues to lose subscribers.
Hasbro is much smaller than Disney and Comcast, and the company lacks many of the key components of its licensing partners, but the toy maker is beginning to unlock the value of its intellectual property.
Last year, Hasbro said it is teaming up with Lions Gate Entertainment to make the movie Monopoly, which centers on a boy from Baltic Avenue and his quest to strike it rich. While a movie based on a board game may seem destined to be a flop, the 1985 movie Clue, based on the board game of the same name, has become a cult classic. At the very least, the Monopoly movie should help boost the board game's popularity.
No release date has been set yet, but Hasbro is also busy making Monopoly: The Musical on Broadway, the first production in a partnership with Araca, a Broadway producing and merchandising group. Hasbro is also pursuing a movie based on the game Candy Land.
The extension into entertainment with those deals and the Boulder Studios purchase is all part of Goldner's strategy of using video content to boost brand relevance and drive toy sales. Based on the stock's 350% gain over the last 10 years, the strategy looks like it has sustained momentum. Expect the studio purchase to add even more momentum to the company's content push.