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 repetitive.

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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