Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Money From Fictional Characters

George Lucas knew about the magic (and moolah) involved with licensing characters from movies early in his career. And others figured it out long before Mr. Lucas.

... The lucrative business of licensing imaginary friends can be traced back to the Buster Brown era of the early 1900s, when books, games, toys and especially shoes derived from the popular comic-strip character began showing up in stores. ...

Walt Disney, a young Kansas City filmmaker who ventured to California in the mid-1920s, recognized early on the power of merchandising. He made his breakthrough deal for the first of his cartoon creations, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Mickey (formerly Mortimer) Mouse came next, followed by Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Clarabelle Cow, Snow White and Goofy (originally Dippy Dawg). Over time other animation studios jumped into the business with their ever growing menagerie of characters eager to invade theaters and funny papers: Warner Bros. licensed Porky Pig; MGM farmed out Tom and Jerry; Universal shopped Woody Woodpecker. ...

Licensing of merchandise has made many creators rich, and kept more than a few studios afloat when movie receipts were thin.

One of the reasons our fine entertainment conglomerates eagerly produce so much animation is -- besides the movies and television shows being profitable -- the dolls, games, action figures and books -- are gobbled up by the elementary school set, who twenty years later introduce their children to the cartoon characters of their own formative years.

Which is why animation is ever-green and a perpetual money-making machine. One-season wonder The Jetsons has gone on decade after decade, spinning off cereal and lunch boxes (among other things) as it rockets through time. Name another network half-hour show from 1962 that's managed to do that. There aren't any.


Tim said...

I think it's no secret that the real money in animation is in licensing. Most TV shows are lucky to break even on their production costs, but the studios make their profit on lunch boxes and bedsheets and t-shirts.
And on the feature side, as many box office record that Lion King broke, Disney made twice as much on stuffed animals.
And though actors get participation on tots & t-shirts that bear their likeness, how many animators get a cut of the profits of all the products that bear the likeness of the characters they designed? Hmmm?

Steve Hulett said...

Like pretty much ZERO.

But we can thank a 1912 Supreme Court decision for that, and the charming "work for hire" decision that came out of it. In other parts of the world, creators have "moral rights" and a share of cash flow. But not here in the Land of the Free.

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