Image source: MTV

Breaking Constraints – Reimagining Intellectual Property

img Image source: MTV
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The Current Landscape

The collision of creativity and commerce is at a pivotal juncture, as Intellectual Property (IP) rights fuel and fetter the boundless potential of innovation in the entertainment and media landscape. As discussed in my previous articles, the digital age is beginning to demand a revolution, a critical reevaluation, and a bold reimagination of the prevailing IP norms that have long held the reins of creative expression. At the heart of this discourse is a call for a transformative licensing model that transcends transactional exchanges and cultivates a growth-centric symbiosis between creator and corporation. The rise of non-linear and interactive content is a testament to our shifting landscape, signaling a general appetite for immersive, participatory experiences that blur the lines between creator and consumer.

The rise of User Generated Content (UGC) platforms and the unparalleled engagement witnessed in interactive digital realms underscore a clear and present evolution – the public’s insatiable desire for non-traditional media is reshaping the industry. Audiences are more ready to participate with artists, brands, and companies they love than ever before, reshaping how IP is engaged. Yet restrictive and dated licensing models keep dozens of properties people love behind closed doors, collecting dust on a shelf until an opportunity with limited perceived financial risk is presented. Creators are begging for the chance to take risks with properties they love, yet license holders bind themselves into hoarding IPs, letting them lie dormant. What if we changed the story? What if we looked at a narrative of untapped potential, of risk and reward, and of a future where inclusive, daring approaches could redefine the boundaries of creativity and recalibrate the dynamics between IP holders and creators. The time for change is now; the canvas of possibilities is vast, and the brushstrokes of innovation are bold.

The Changing Landscape of Content Consumption

Content consumption is undergoing a transformation that is nothing short of revolutionary. Traditional media platforms, once the uncontested titans of the entertainment realm, are witnessing a challenge to their supremacy as audiences worldwide pivot towards more interactive, immersive, and user-generated experiences. Interactivity is reaching a scale some might only have dreamed of several years ago, yet most IPs seem to hold themselves to the standards of those days long gone - and it’s not to the owners’ benefit. 

Consider the Oscars, a venerable institution in the film industry, amassing a viewership of approximately 18.7 million, a fantastic audience to be sure. The Oscars are viewable effectively on a single channel and enjoyed as a linear program, with almost nothing in the way of audience interactivity or platform accessibility. Contrast this with the Game Awards, a celebration of interactive media, which garnered a staggering 103 million views across multiple platforms, including UGC platforms like YouTube and Twitch. The show features audience voting, giveaways, announcements for major upcoming games, and more. This is not a mere deviation in preference but a testament to a global shift in appetite, a declaration of the growing allure of engagement over passive observation. When IP owners put skin in the game, it ensures bold and creative work that people flock to enjoy.

Subscription numbers narrate a similar story. Hulu, a behemoth in the streaming sphere, boasts 45.6 million subscribers yet finds a formidable counterpart in PlayStation+ (PS+), which commands a user base of 47.4 million. The scales are tipping, and the traditional and non-linear content equilibrium is being recalibrated. What does it look like if an IP truly opens up, where the creative and business ends seamlessly meet and encourage others to participate in the brand without high entry costs or the threat of legal action?

Enter MrBeast, a YouTube sensation whose channel, with over 187 million subscribers and videos amassing between 100 to 500 million views, stands as a figurehead of this transformative era. To put this into perspective, the entirety of the Super Bowl, a hallmark event, drew 113 million viewers across both TV and streaming. Imagine if you were able to watch the Superbowl with your friends inside Fortnite or if your favorite YouTube personality had the rights to stream the game on his channel while commenting and engaging with the chat. Is it a risk to put your product in the hands of others? Sure, but the results could be momentous for the product…

My final example blew me away while researching. Taylor Swift, a global music icon and arguably the most famous artist on the planet, drew in 2.8 million attendees to her Reputation Stadium Tour throughout 53 shows. Indeed, a staggering number and a massive amount of fans are engaging with Taylor and her IP. To compare, Travis Scott held a concert in Fortnite for a single night. While popular, Travis hardly commands the worldwide enthusiasm of Taylor Swift’s fanbase. Yet, he drew in a mind-boggling 12.3 million attendees, over four times as many people in a single night compared to weeks of touring and dozens of shows.

The Untapped Potential of Intellectual Property

So, what exactly does this all have to do with IP? Whether it’s a single artist like Taylor Swift, a program like The Oscars, or an entire world like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, audiences and creators want a piece of the pie. In pursuit of control and security, studios and companies have enveloped IPs in contracts that more often resemble straitjackets than enablers of creativity, and it’s starting to limit their potential. This enclosure has left many brilliant minds on the outskirts; their vision and innovation stifled their access to IPs, a distant dream overshadowed by unaffordable licenses and the looming threat of legal repercussions. Meanwhile, millions of excited audience members are left untouched - less able or unwilling to engage with yet another risk-free corporate project. 

What if the gates were opened? What if, for example, McDonald’s reached out to the massive community of creators, hosting game jams and offering official full releases to the most captivating entries? The potential for success is not just conceivable; it is almost undeniable. Yet the decision-makers at studios and companies still find themselves clinging to high licensing deals, locking up IPs for extended periods, leaving them either underutilized or gathering dust. This is not just a loss for the creators but a disservice to those IPs. Imagine the explosion of creativity, the renaissance of innovation that could be unleashed if artists were free to touch, mold, and redefine these IPs. The possibilities are limitless, the potential astronomical, and the rewards mutual.

A single activation by McDonald’s commands a rough budget of a few million dollars and, if successful, may reach a few thousand people. Contrast this with the prospect of investing a fraction of that amount in indie creators on platforms like Roblox, encouraging the community to take everything that comes with the IP - the logo, the characters, the menu - and create something exciting and new. Fundamentally, this would get people excited to engage with McDonald’s as a brand, and it would ignite a young and focused community to celebrate a corporate entity, all while allowing artists to access an IP normally out of their reach. The audience who participates would also be exponentially greater, the engagement deeper, and the community’s goodwill invaluable, all while saving costs and attracting many new customers.

Rethinking IP Utilization: The Call for Creative Freedoms

There’s a resonance in the air, a beckoning for change, a call for the giants of industries to rethink their strategies. Why do we witness IPs, rich in possibilities, either mishandled or left untouched, collecting dust in the vast vaults of studios? What if more skin was put in the game? What if the shackles of minimum guarantees were shattered, paving the way for collaborative creativity and equitable distribution? There lies a world where belief in the work transcends contractual bindings, where revenue sharing is not a gamble but a testament to mutual faith.

What if IP holders truly eliminated minimum guarantees, got heavily involved with the creative and distribution aspects, and bet on revenue sharing because they believed in the potential of their product? Bring in hungry and ambitious creative talent who currently want an opportunity to work with these already unused IPs, and give them free creative reign to utilize what many of these studios are leaving on the shelf. It would involve bold risk-taking, a belief in the product, and a complete reimagining of IP licensing, but the results could be transformative for artists and companies alike. 

The unequivocal metrics from platforms like PS+ and phenomena like Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert demonstrate the audience’s desire for a departure from the linear towards more interactive ownership. They are sincerely willing to engage with brands through the lens of user-generated content. With its rigid structures and constrictive IP contracts, traditional media is yielding ground to the innovative and bold. The numbers validate a resounding truth: millions seek engagement, interaction, and a sense of connectivity that the conventional has failed to satiate. The success of platforms like PS+ or Twitch and phenomena like Mr. Beast and Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert show that this change isn’t around the corner; it’s already here. 

It’s time to rethink the current strategies, embrace the unconventional, bet on bold talent, and foster creative freedom. It’s about eliminating minimum guarantees, delving into the creative and distribution processes, and championing revenue sharing. The question is not whether this shift will occur but who will have the foresight to lead it. It’s a vision of symbiotic success, of companies and artists ascending together, of audiences engaged and connected. It’s time to seize the moment, unlock potential, and dare to envision a world where creativity knows no bounds and where every artist has the opportunity to touch the stars.