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Feb. 17, 2016, 4:33 p.m. EST

Tie-ins, teaching tools in for 2016 at annual toy fair

Toys for girls, things that fly also among top trends

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By Tonya Garcia, MarketWatch

Toy Industry Association Inc.
Some of the characters featured at this year’s Toy Fair were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers.

Hoping to build on 2015 sales momentum, toy companies used the 2016 Toy Fair in New York City to showcase a roster of recognizable brands that have been tweaked with digital upgrades.

The event also revealed a number other trends to look for this year, however, including: the continued presence of popular movie and TV characters, flying objects soaring overhead (and, in some cases, crashing to the ground), toys that teach science and math, and more toys that target girls.

The Toy Fair spanned across Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center over three days ending Tuesday, covering old-school toys, well-known names and the whirring, flashing, talking and moving toys shoppers will see on shelves this year.

U.S. toy sales grew 6.7% in 2015 to $19.4 billion, one of the strongest showings for the category in years, according to January data from The NPD Group. Top categories that grew included games and puzzles (up 10.8%), vehicles (up 9.7%), building sets (up 9.4%), outdoor and sports toys (up 8.8%), action figures and accessories (up 8.7%) and dolls (up 8.4%).

Toy Industry Association, Inc.
The Toy Fair floor was filled with familiar brands and digital items.

Stifel analysts said they got an “encouraging update on Barbie” at a Mattel Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209819189/composite MAT +1.65% investor event on Friday, with new products in its toy gallery including the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse, a “smart” dollhouse that takes voice commands, and the Fisher-Price Think and Learn line of toys that teaches coding basics to preschoolers.

See also: Mattel’s turnaround still called into question despite earnings gains

Analysts also attended a Hasbro Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201249319/composite HAS +0.69%  investor event where the company highlighted its “franchise brands,” which include familiar names like Transformers, Nerf, Monopoly and My Little Pony. In 2015, these brands saw sales decline by 2% to $2.3 billion—they were up 7% excluding currency exchange—but made up 52% of total revenue, according to a note published by Stifel on Tuesday.

See also: Monopoly trades colorful currency for bank cards in its ultimate banking game

“We believe Hasbro’s franchise brands command premium shelf space, offer unlimited creative flexibility, while yielding superior operating profit margins (19%+ according to management),” said Stifel in a note published Wednesday.

Many companies are taking the brands and toys we’ve come to know and integrating apps and other technology upgrades for a modern twist.

“Technology is giving us the opportunity to move away from screens,” said Tiffany Kayar, community manager and social media specialist at Spin Master Corp. /zigman2/quotes/209607883/delayed CA:TOY +0.05%  

One section of Spin Master’s massive booth focused on the Meccano line of building toys. New for fall will be the Meccasaur, an intricate-looking dinosaur that children and their parents can build together. The toy walks, burps, lights up, and responds to touch.

At the Lego booth, sets like Lego Friends aren’t just about colorful bricks, but also bring digital and television content into the play experience.

Besides tech integration there were four other trends worth noting:

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