For the last several years, Hasbro has aligned their Transformers properties primarily with Michael Bay’s live action movies. Financially, this makes sense because this trilogy has been a cash cow since 2007. However, this move has been to the detriment of other Transformers lines that Hasbro has maintained, such as Transformers Animated and Transformers Classics. No one likes to see their shows cut short. Now that the trilogy is complete, with no immediate live action sequel coming, Hasbro is having trouble getting out of their rut.
Enter Transformers: Prime, the latest non-movie entry into the Transformers mythos. Prime (the show, not the character) debuted to promote the new Hub channel when it launched in the Fall of 2010. However, this overlapped with the tail end of the Transformers 3 marketing wave. Once again choosing to push the movie properties over everything else, Prime got little coverage and no toys to go along with the show. Sure there were plans, but none would commence until the movie stuff was over. All bets were off once the final wave of movie toys failed to sell well and were canceled.
Cartoons have basically been toy commercials since the early 80’s. Toys that don’t have shows behind them do not sell, and shows without toys are kind of a waste of marketing dollars. Action figures for Prime didn’t come out until the middle of its second season because Hasbro still had some Dark Of The Moon waves in the production. Movie toys historically sold well, so big chain stores wouldn’t risk buying into a new line while sure sellers could be had (see: Transformers Animated toys). Thanks, Wal-Mart…
The first figures released were only for the San Diego Comic-Con. This is a huge event and many toy companies make exclusives for the show, but these are limited in number. Then the first figures announced, dubbed First Edition, were only released in Europe and Australia. Prime toys didn’t actually reach stores in the US for a while after that, and the molds and color designs had been changed since the First Edition run. Collectors paid exorbitant prices to import the First Edition toys while regular toys trickled into domestic stores.
It didn’t help that The Hub was still a fledgling channel when Prime started. On the Dish Network, which I subscribed to, the channel bounced back and forth between subscription packages. At first, it was included in my package, so I watched it. A few months later, it was pushed into the next higher subscription package. I could still watch the episodes online, but I don’t think that the show got as much market share among its target demographic when parents would have to pay extra for the privilege of seeing it. And then wait a year for merchandise to show up.
Once again, Japan shows us how to do things right. The Japanese version of the the Prime toys didn’t launch until the show aired there in April, 2012. Then TakaraTomy released the figures with value-add extras in the form of new mini-cons, smaller partner figures that transform into weapons to be used in both vehicle and robot modes. The molds were changed slightly to include mini-con ports. Supplementing the line will be the Power Core Combiner sets, which died on the vine here in the states. The Japanese figures also have some alternative paint decos that look great.
Hasbro now seems to have gotten the Prime train back on the tracks. The show has been approved for a third season, the toys are now out at retail, and the movie-related toys are slowly exiting the stores (leaving the bulk of the shelf space for (piles of Bumblebee) Prime merchandise). However, the Transformers movies made a gazillion dollars, so Michael Bay was coerced into making a fourth film. It’s so far off that no one can predict anything yet, but I’m guessing that Prime will be canceled once the fourth marketing extravaganza gets under way. Hasbro hates its fans.