January 21, 2001

Coming, Lord of the Clicks
Sue Lowe

True Hobbit fans, prepare to watch and weep as the commercial juggernaut that will carry tonnes of Lord of the Rings merchandise into stores builds speed online and off.

The first film of the trilogy will hit cinema screens in December, but will be pre-empted in October by the world-wide release of Hobbit action figures, watches, marbles and remote-controlled, flying and fluffy toys.

It is hoped that the Internet build-up will make the online frenzy around The Blair Witch Project seem tame.

The first screening in the US of the Fellowship of the Ring trailer coincided with the launch of a Web site that generated 41 million hits in the first five days. The site incorporates virtual reality set tours, screensavers and an interactive map of "Middle Earth".

Mr David Hendy, managing director of toy distributor Funtastic, is rubbing his hands. Funtastic has an exclusive distribution agreement with American toy company Toy Biz, which holds licensing rights from the movie studio to produce toys based on the series.

Mr Hendy bullishly predicts that in the first two years distribution could generate as much as $20 million in revenue for his company.

But he expressed some disappointment that the log jams on the Lord of the Rings Web site were unlikely to be translated into record sales of toys online in Australia.

Funtastic stopped dealing with dStore and following last year's buyouts, but will sell toys online through ToysRUs, MyerDirect and Kmart.

Funtastic's own Web site will also allow retail partners to order product and chase up deliveries.