In exclusive interview, CBS Licensing VP of Product Development John Van Citters gave TrekMovie.com a briefing on the state of Star Trek licensing and a peek at some of what we can expect with Star Trek novels, non-fiction books, toys, video games, and much more.
INTERVIEW WITH CBS LICENSING VP JOHN VAN CITTERS
2009 was a big year for Star Trek, which means it was a big year for CBS Consumer Products. CBS is responsible for all licensing for the Star Trek brand, including all ‘classic’ Star Trek and anything related to the new movies. This covers everything from books, comics, toys, games, attractions, events, and more. In the last couple of years we saw a big upsurge in Star Trek licensing with a lot of new licensees, including big names like Playmates and Mattel and even PEZ. For the first time in years Star Trek products could be found at big retailers like Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Target. This resurgence even got Star Trek awarded as the Best Comeback Entertainment Property of 2009 by License! Global Magazine, which noted that CBS Consumer products "took full advantage" of the new Star Trek feature film with "an extensive and well-planned line of merchandising."
And much of that success was due to CBS Consumer Products Vice President of Product Development John Van Citters. A life-long Star Trek fan, Van Citters has been helping guide the Star Trek brand at Paramount and CBS for many years. TrekMovie sat down with Van Citters to find out some of what CBS has in store for fans and collectors in 2010 and beyond.
Novels: New Star Trek movie tie-in books on the drawing board
A few weeks ago Pocket Books announced that it was postponing four books planned for 2010 that were tied into the 2009 Star Trek movie. All were stand-alone stories set after the movie. And it appears that it was the time setting of these books that was the issue. Van Citters explains:
It was decided that the upcoming sequel is best served by having JJ [Abrams] and his team tell the stories of what happens next for these characters. That doesn’t mean we wont have stories taking place in this timeline, and that doesn’t necessarily mean we wont have stories taking place in the alternate timeline before the next movie is released.
According to Van Citters, CBS, Pocket Books and Bad Robot are currently working together on a plan for books tied to the movie universe. As for the four books that have already been written, Van Citters noted that their status is "on hold" and there was still no determination on when we will see them.
Preliminary cover for "Refugees" one of the ‘on hold’ movie-tie ins – but new Star Trek movie tie-in novels currently being planned
Non-fiction: Haynes Guide & Star Trek 365 (maybe Encyclopedia update)
Another area of Star Trek books that fans have been asking for is more non-fiction and reference style books. The "Star Trek Encyclopedia" remains one of the most popular Star Trek products of all time. In recent years, new Star Trek non-fiction has become rarer and rare, but Van Citters says that the "future is bright" for Star Trek non-fiction, with a couple of projects currently in development. Firstly Van Citters confirmed the previously announced "Haynes Guide to the Enterprise" is still in development, and he also revealed some great info about it:
I am very excited about the Haynes Manual. Mike and Denise Okuda are working on that, which excites me even more as to what the content will be.
The book will be written like the Haynes guides for cars, but instead it will be a guide to the USS Enterprises (that is multiple Enterprises, although which ones is still being decided). It is exciting that Mike and Denise Okuda have been brought on board to help with the Haynes guide. No publication date is set yet.
USS Enterprises to get the Haynes guide treatment
Another exciting nonfiction book coming this year is "Star Trek 365", a coffee-table book all about the original Star Trek, full of behind-the-scenes images and information. The "Star Trek 365" book will be part of a series of books from Abrams publishing. Van Citters :
The 365 books are thick and packed full of all sorts of great photography. We are doing a Star Trek 365 book that is focused on the original series. That is going to be quite a great book to have. Having read the manuscript now and seen the level of material that is in it, it is going to be a very exciting book for Star Trek fans. It was written by Paula Block (who co-authored the "Deep Space Nine Companion") and she has just done a fabulous job with the book.
Star Trek getting a ‘365’ book, like ‘Star Wars 365’
As for an update to the popular "Star Trek Encyclopedia," Van Citters noted that it was one of the most frequent questions he gets from fans. He also stated:
We would love to see the Encyclopedia updated. It is one of my favorite books and something I use every day, and I can’t wait for an update. That said, it is a tremendous amount of work. I don’t think fans can conceive of how much time, effort and care Mike and Denise put into creating that book and updating that book. At this time, they are not prepared to dive back in, but it is one thing they would like to see happen at some point in time.
Attractions: Update on Star Trek The Experience + ST: The Exhibition & ST: Live!
It was recently reported that CBS was going to auction off parts of Star Trek: The Experience which was housed at the Las Vegas Hilton up until 2008. Van Citters, expanded a on the sale, saying:
We are excited to make some of these items available to fans of The Experience. We know we are not going to use a great many of the elements that were used in the original Experience, so we are going to make them available for direct sale or auction.
And regarding the future of the Experience, Van Citters could not give any details on the timing for a return, but noted that CBS was currently working on developing the new Experience, and that getting it right is more important than getting something out quickly:
It is very important to us that we do the right kind of Experience. There was a lot of speculation from fans online about just taking what was at the Hilton and just moving it down the road and we know that would not be the right approach. We don’t want to do something that is not right for Star Trek and not right for the fans and not the right kind of Experience. So whatever we do with this, we want to make sure it is done right and correctly, and sometimes that takes time.
CBS still working on a plan to bring back a new Star Trek The Experience – in the mean time they are going to auction off much of what was in the first one
As for Star Trek: The Exhibition, the two touring exhibits of Star Trek props and replicas mainly showing at museums. Right now one of the Exhibitions is at The Tech Museum in San Jose, CA through to April. Van Citters says the other exhibit (which was most recently in Hollywood, CA) is currently undergoing refurbishment. Van Citters said that there should be an announcement of new dates and cities "shortly".
The final Star Trek attraction to discuss was Star Trek Live, which is a traveling live show filled with science demonstrations using Star Trek. CBS is working with the educational company Mad Science. Van Citters, gave a little more detail on Mad Science and what they will do for Trek:
What they do is a very high energy show, very entertaining and educational for kids, with lots of real-world applications of science, which makes it a perfect fit for Star Trek.
An announcement on where when Star Trek Live! will be made "in the near future."
Fan Club: Not dead yet
In 2008 CBS announced they were bringing back an official Star Trek Fan Club, but nothing has been heard since. Van Citters explains there were issues that arose that he says "would have prevented the club from being all that we wanted it to be, and all that fans deserve" so they didn’t proceed with the partner they had at the time. However, he still holds out hope that a new official Star Trek Fan Club can be developed, saying:
We would like to see a fan club. We also wanted to offer value. In today’s world with the Internet and things that are constantly changing, what a fan club is, or should be, has changed as well. We are a long way from sending in for the decoder ring. We are working on what is the best way to proceed with a fan club that truly offers something to Star Trek fans.
Toys and Games: More Hot Wheels + No Playmates in 2010 + new licensees?
Regarding Toys, in 2009 Star Trek saw toys from Diamond Select, Funko, Mattel and Playmates Toys. Of course last year was a movie year and so it is expected to be much larger. Van Citters pointed to the Diamond Select showings at Toy Fair as the latest update from them. Regarding Playmates, he said he "I don’t think we will see anything new from Playmates" in 2010. As for Mattel, Van Citters said they were still an active licensee and even though we will not see as much product from them as last year (with SceneIt, 20Q, Barbies, and more), there should still be new products, including more from the "very successful" Hot Wheels Die-cast ship line.
First wave of Star Trek Hot Wheels proved popular –
Mattel plans more to come
But what about new licensees for 2010 or 2011? Could we see Star Trek Lego or other licensees pick up the brand? Van Citters wouldn’t get specific, but did say companies are now more open to Trek:
I can’t really comment on any deals for licenses that are not announced at present. But we are constantly talking with people about developing new product lines and moving into new areas. There is a lot of interest in Star Trek, and we are very excited about what the future will hold for Star Trek toys.
Harry Potter is latest franchise to get the Lego treatment – will they and other licensees jump on the newly hot Trek bandwagon?
Star Trek Online ahead of expectations & ‘just the beginning’
Switching to games, Van Citters gave an assessment of how things are going with the launch of Atari’s Star Trek Online:
The game launch has been a phenomenal success. Everything from the open beta, to the launch, to the first weeks, has far succeeded our projections for it. Atari and Cryptic have already more than doubled the server capacity and adding more all the time. It is the number one PC game launch in 2010. Player response has been great, and everyone is learning about what a great experience they have made for Star Trek fans. What I am most excited about with regards to the game, as vast as it is now, is that players have not seen anything yet. This is just the tip of the iceberg. They already have the first big expansion to the game, which brings the Borg to the forefront. There is an entire galaxy to explore, and a ton of stories to tell. You will see things like Rura Penthe, and Q and a ton of new things to explore. They way it is set up for Star Trek fans is like mini-seasons of a show of Star Trek, with missions playing like episodes.
Van Citters was also very excited about the upcoming Star Trek Online tie-in novel "The Needs of the Many", saying
It is not your average Star Trek novel, in that it is told in the fashion of a Studs Turkel book or similar to Max Brooks "World War Z." It is written by Michael Martin and it plays out like a series of interviews with key figures from the Star Trek universe. It is a really new and interesting way of Star Trek storytelling and really helps take you into the world of Star Trek Online in an experiential way. It really helps explain the two political events that are going on within the game. It is really a great companion to the game.
Star Trek Online is ahead of expectations
Video Games: Things are ‘in the works’
But what about traditional video games for the PC and console? With the exception of the $10 download-only Star Trek DAC in 2009, Trek gaming has been a desert for the last few years. Bethesda Softworks released a handful of lackluster games from 2006-2007, but there is currently is no game licensee. However, Van Citters says that is going to change:
Right now we are absolutely most heavily focused on Star Trek Online and it deserves a clear playing field right now. That said, we are aware of the demand for more traditional games with Star Trek and we are working towards that end and expanding the entire world of Star Trek gaming in the long-term. There are definitely things in the works. There is a great deal of interest in developing new games for Star Trek and we will definitely have more to say about it in the future. I am very excited about what the future is going to hold for Star Trek gaming as a whole.
2007’s Star Trek Conquest – the last Trek videogame
– how long to wait for the next one?
Apparel: Airwalks a success + more apparel to come
One of the coolest products of 2009 was the Star Trek sneakers from Airwalk. They were very popular and supplies have become very limited. When asked if we will see more shoes or Trek apparel Van Citters commented:
The Airwalks are a great product and definitely been very successful. I can’t comment right now if there is going to be additional ones. What I can say is that if there is a product like Airwalks that people were aware of but delayed buying and they missed out, I wouldn’t recommend doing that too often. More and more we will likely be doing products like that, which are really great involving partnerships with designers and if you want something, that is the nature of the way retail works right now, you should buy it, because it might not be there in a couple of weeks
Star Trek sneakers proved popular – more Trek apparel on the way
More movie products in 2010 & 2011?
As noted before, 2009 was a big year for Star Trek merchandise, with Trek products at big retailers for the first time in years. Things are calming down in 2010 as we look forward to the next big push in 2012 for the Star Trek sequel. However, there is an irony that although the new Star Trek movie has made Trek more popular, there is very little merchandise related to the new movie universe slated for 2010. Van Citters explained that plans are now under way to ensure the ‘JJ verse’ gets the right attention moving forward:
There may not be a great deal in the marketplace right now. We are in fairly constant communication with Paramount and Bad Robot about plans for the next movie, and plans for upcoming merchandise. You will definitely see additional stuff, but right now we are just aren’t ready to talk about what those things are.
Recently announced Star Trek badges – more movie-related products coming
Watch this space
Obviously much of what was discussed with Van Citters is preliminary and so there will be more updates on each of the individual projects. And although the above interview with Van Citters was extensive, there are still active areas that we didn’t have time to cover. TrekMovie will continue to monitor all the activity with Star Trek products, events and other projects, so stay tuned.