The 5 phases of Corporate IP Ownership

For the purposes of this discussion, “IP” means “Intellectual
Property” and comprises copyright and trademark ownership – such as the
ownership of franchises like Star Wars.

Phase 1: Creation

A lone visionary or small team create something that is an
unexpected success, usually on a small budget.

Phase 2: Explosion

The corporation looks to capitalize on the unexpected
success of the creation. They buy up the IP to make movie and game adaptations,
or order sequels to quickly deliver additional products to the market. The
original team is still mostly intact with increased salaries to ensure they
participate in initial follow-ups.

Phase 3: Milking

Having established the IP as an asset that can generate
returns, the corporation moves to maximize the returns on the investment from
phase 2. Budgets may decline. The original talent starts to move away, either
because they are problematic (like Lucas and Roddenberry) or because they can
command higher payment elsewhere.

Creatives such as writers and directors are the first to go
in the movie business, as these are the personalities least important to consumers.
Younger, cheaper creative talent is brought in to replace them, while actors
are maintained as the face of the product, often at ever increasing salaries.
This has the effect of reducing quality or pushing the produce in creative
directions the audience may not accept, or else the product becomes boring and

During this phase the corporation leverages the good will of
the first two phases heavily to promote a litany of licensed products – games,
toys, clothing, collectibles, etc. They saturate the market to cash in on their
investment quickly.

Eventually though, interest from the public begins to wane
as quality declines. Budgets decrease. The space between projects increases. Licensed
merchandise begins to rot on shelves.

Phase 4: Death

Without an ability to profit on individual new iterations of
the IP, the franchise dies. No new movies are made. No new TV shows go into
production. A few licensed products might remain. Occasionally, a tie-in comic
or novel might come out, but the main product of the IP is missing.

Phase 5: Reboot

After a sufficient amount of time in stasis, the studio
announces a remake, reboot, or requel (a sequel that also acts as a reboot).
This leverages nostalgia for the explosion phase of the franchise, and banks on
the public not remembering or holding against the corporation any low quality
that happened during the milking phase.

They ask the public to remember the good times, but don’t
mention the bad times. This can actually excite fans, some of whom want to
pretend that parts of the franchise simply don’t exist.

If successful, return to phase 3 and milk it until it dies once again. If unsuccessful, wait another few years, then reboot it again or sell the IP.

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