Understanding Franchising and its Applications

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Franchising, a practice through which a series of licensed works can be appropriated for mass cultural consumption by a general populace, has become increasingly prevalent and popular, especially in the world of Cinema and other media such as Video Gaming. In the Johnson reading entitled Media FranchisingCreative licensing and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Johnson basically defines the process of franchising by stating that

…one could define media franchising in the terms of products and intellectual properties extended in an ongoing fashion within the culture industries.” (Johnson, Media Franchising…, 28)

Franchises span many different types of media in order to popularize it across a vast audience. The franchise and franchising licensing deals are the tools through which things such as television shows and movies can outlive their lives onscreen. Some examples of modern franchises that Johnson points out in the reading include High School Musical, Jurassic Park, and one of the most popular franchises, Star Wars. Franchising commodifies this media into a form that extends its life in the form of various toys, movies, television spin-offs and cartoons, and even soundtracks and albums.

In order for these hit movies to connect further and for a franchise to have a relationship with the consumer, a franchisor may acquire licensing deals with various companies giving them the rights to promote and distribute products based upon the franchise’s material. Some of the most common examples of this are toys and toy distribution. The franchise, like the movie tends to target particular audiences, whether by gender or by other factors such as race and ethnicity. Some of my favorite and most popular examples of franchise versatility come in the form of Star Wars and Transformers. Most would argue that had it not been for the incredible success of these licensing deals, which neither series would have caught on or retained such a vast following decades after their creation.

The Star Wars franchise alone is believed by many to be the most successful franchise ever created, with hundreds upon hundreds of toys manufactured by various licensing deals with various companies such as Hasbro, LEGO,  and Kenner, which sold over 300 million Star Wars toys from 1978-1985 before merging with Hasbro.  The LEGO Star Wars sets, which even I used to collect and play with as a child, have even allowed for the franchise to appeal to a wider audience of children, through making comedic LEGO Star Wars video games and other products, for a collaborative win for both Star Wars and LEGO. Video games based on Star Wars have been around for decades, with the most recent effort being the Star Wars: the Old Republic MMORPG (which, as an avid Star Wars fan, I spend WAAYYY too much time playing…), which was published by EA and developed by Bioware for PC’s.

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Transformers, on the other hand, presented its main audience with complex toys and even three different television series based off of the original G1 series, two of which I followed as a child (Transformers the Animated Series, Beast Wars: Transformers, and Beast Machines: Transformers). The franchise, though being highly influenced by Japanese toys of the time has now effectively evolved into something entirely unique, as the main difference between the American transformers and the Japanese counterparts was the fact that the American Transformers series  of toys created by Hasbro sought to make their characters more relatable and give them more personality as well as background information on the characters that the toys represented, which the Japanese Transformers lacked as they were all generic and possessed of no “personality”. This thought process led to the production of action Television shows aimed at young boys and teens in particular to promote the characters as well as the franchise.
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When all is said and done, these two franchises were perhaps the two most influential toy and movie franchises ever created, and they have dictated how to approach successful licensing and toy manufacturing ever since their inception into popular culture. Without the influence of these series and their setting the bar on just how wide-spanning and pervasive a series can be, franchising would be much different from today, as these franchises have revolutionized how we ultimately view a movie series or a typical toy.

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