Media Franchises: Creative Collab?

MassMediaWorldI’ve never been a fan of franchises. It’s not the idea of the franchise itself that bothers me per se; I’ve just never felt particularly drawn in by films of the Fast and Furious and Twilight variety. That said, I do feel that the media landscape of today is quickly becoming more and more homogenous, and that this is undoubtedly a result of conglomeration in the media industries.

In the introduction to Derek Johnson’s book, entitled Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Johnson employs a quote from Disney president and CEO Robert Iger to introduce the concept of collaborative content production and its relation to media franchising. He writes, “to adapt a basic definition from [Iger]… the franchising of media content production came to be understood as “something that creates value across multiple businesses and across multiple territories over a long period of time.”” (6) Here, the word value sticks out to me most. Does Iger believe media franchising creates cultural value and/or meaning? Or is he simply pointing to the potential of franchises to increase monetary gain?

It would be nice to think that Disney’s head honcho genuinely desired to bring different media creators and businesses together to collaborate and explore new avenues of cultural production. However, I would argue that’s certainly not the case with today’s media franchises. Franchises, to me, mean mergers, not creative collaboration. If collaboration were the primary goal of a media franchise, stories like this one about an avid fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series getting sued by both Rowling and Warner Bros. for creating a lexicon of popular Potter terms would never be written.

Another quote in the book’s introduction points to a few of the inherent problems that media franchises bring to the fore:

“Particularly in the past three decades, [media] franchising has put into tension the conglomerate consolidation of intellectual property and a drive toward sharing it; the utility of emerging media to established institutions and the potential threat of those same media; market expansion through multiplication and niche market contraction; economic rationalization and the affective imagination of new models for generating culture.” (6-7)

This quote is wordy, to say the least, and I had to reread it a few times before I felt like I understood what Johnson was attempting to get at. I decided to break each part of this quote down and think about each piece individually:

  1. Conglomerate consolidation of intellectual property vs. a drive toward sharing it:
  • What happens when conglomerates own every piece of the operation behind a franchise? What room does that leave for fans/followers to expand on and contribute to that franchise?
  1. Utility of emerging media to established institutions vs. the potential threat of those same media:
  • Conglomerates must adapt and embrace new technologies and platforms to continue to thrive; however, if the threat of losing control of the market comes into question… merger, anyone?
  1. Market expansion through multiplication vs. niche market contraction:
  • Franchises and formulas for sameness across media platforms have certainly proven to secure the mass audience, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a niche market to be tapped.
  1. Economic rationalization vs. the affective imagination of new models for generating culture:
  • Conglomerates can benefit from thinking about what the next big thing could be, so long as it doesn’t involve losing any money.

Overall, I’m still grappling with how I feel about franchises and the potential risks they pose to creativity and cultural production. Looking forward to discussing Johnson’s book in class, and gaging others’ opinions on the issue.


Image found on Creative Commons.


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