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Businesses Star Wars Prequels Entertainment

Disney Is Making a Fortune and Safeguarding Its Future By Buying Childhood (economist.com) 207

An anonymous reader writes: Disney has been successful for the better part of a century. But they haven't always had to work as hard to do it. Over the past couple of decades, they've been facing more and better competition than ever before, and they've had to change their business strategy in response. An article at The Economist details this strategy, which seems to have a central theme: buy up things people loved as kids, and commercialize the hell out of them. The recent Star Wars film is the latest example — the marketing blitz around it (and its related merchandise) was a sight to behold. Disney is hoping that focusing investment on great content will protect them from the massive transitions underway in the content delivery part of the entertainment industry. "The biggest doubt is the durability of the model. It is not clear for how long such franchises can be stretched. And introducing new ones is a risk. John Carter, a film based on one of a series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, flopped. Cinema-goers will also have far more choice as other firms try to establish or add to their franchises."
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Disney Is Making a Fortune and Safeguarding Its Future By Buying Childhood

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  • by known_coward_69 ( 4151743 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:26AM (#51158661)
    crazy back in the 80's it was as pure as the virgin mary. no tie in toys by Hasbro or Kenner. No tie in fast food. no lines to see ROTJ because of full page ads in the newspaper. George Lucas made the movies out of pure love of his fans
    • The irony is that Fox practically gave Lucas most of the marketing rights for the first movie thinking Lucas was a sucker for giving them bigger box office take.
      I practically drove my mother into the madhouse trying to get the original 12 figures plus tie fighter and x-wing (with laser light LED on the nose! vreeee-vreeee!)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Were you even around in the 80's?
      Who modded this up?
    • Not sure why OP was modded up. The 1977 Star Wars movie saw Kenner sell $100 million in tie-in toys by 1978 [hollywoodreporter.com]. Fox wasn't sold on the idea of a western set in space, so Lucas agreed to receive $500,000 less pay in exchange for keeping the merchandising rights for himself. You bet your ass he exploited the tie-in toys to try to make back that money. I was 8 when the movie came out, and nearly all my friends had the toys (I didn't like the movie so I never bugged my parents for toys). There were fast food t [youtube.com]
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by RavenLrD20k ( 311488 )
        He was modded up because he deserved positive points...but there's no "+1 Epic Sarcasm" option.
    • Merchant sells exactly what people want, people purchase this, merchant does well. News at 11.

      Star wars is something people loved, and giving them more is not a crime. Purchasing the rights to sell it would be a very good idea if you can do it. Letting people know it's for sale seems logical. I don't feel like star wars is forced on me. I certainly love it because things like the cantina band and all the swashbuckling fun of the old serial cliff hangers was made new again in my youth. I just saw the ne

  • The power of Disney is they are incredibly good at merchendizing. You can buy Frozen breakfast cereal. You can buy Star Wars anything (except the holiday special).
  • That's how much Avatar made at the box office and it's a good bet TFA will meet or surpass that (which I continuously read as The F***** Article...)

    When they bought Lucasfilm for 4 billion I thought they'd be hard pressed to make that money back. I knew they would but I thought it'd be several years and movies before they could recoup the cost.

    But... they're going to practically do it with the first movie!

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      TFA? What does the A stand for? Anleashed?

    • That's how much Avatar made at the box office and it's a good bet TFA will meet or surpass that (which I continuously read as The F***** Article...)

      When they bought Lucasfilm for 4 billion I thought they'd be hard pressed to make that money back. I knew they would but I thought it'd be several years and movies before they could recoup the cost.

      But... they're going to practically do it with the first movie!

      Just have to ask, why did you think a company worth 8 billion in net income last year would have trouble monetizing one of the profitable franchises of all time? 4 billion for Lucasfilms was a steal in my (unexpert) opinion.

    • When they bought Lucasfilm for 4 billion I thought they'd be hard pressed to make that money back.

      Really? You're surprised by this?

      When Disney bought Pixar, the licensing revenue from Cars alone was something ridiculous like over $1 billion annually.

      The Marvel properties have generated massive amounts of box-office and licensing revenue as well. Again, billions of dollars in box-office and merchandise.

      A full-court press by the Disney marketing folks for Star Wars? I fully expected them to be able to milk

  • John Carter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:44AM (#51158795) Homepage

    Just to clarify, John Carter flopped only because it had dismal marketing. It was not a masterpiece, but it was certainly better than many other recent blockbusters and with any sort of semi-competent marketing it would have been a (minor or major I don't know) success. I mean (at least until close to release) they had some boring trailers that didn't even tell you obvious things like "from the author of Tarzan" "from the director of Wall E / Finding Nemo" etc.

    • Re:John Carter (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 21, 2015 @11:51AM (#51158833)

      The title didn't help either. John Carter. Who?

      They should have used the actual title, A Princess of Mars, or at the very least the working title they had which was John Carter of Mars.

      • You're absolutely right about the title. "Princess of Mars" definitely would have been a better marketing title.

        I actually _liked_ the movie. Compared to most of the crap out there, while it was just a dumb action flick, it had its moments.

        Even if you don't like the movie CinemaSins did a great job pointing out all the stupidity of the movie:
        * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K2yDm-yvcQ [slashdot.org]

    • Some of it was marketing but it seemed to almost suffer the same problem as The Rocketeer. Another good (not great) movie that was put together pretty well, decent writing and acting and such but just didn't resonate with most of the movie goers.

    • Yeah, it was a nice little action movie with some magical sci-fi time travel. I have seen much worse in the name of science (fiction).

    • Agreed. I actually enjoyed the John Carter movie.

      • I'm glad a number of us are stepping forward to say this.

        Viewed through the lens of post-Y2K, yeah, it seems silly. But if you're willing to not worry about realism and enjoy the fantasy, it was a perfectly fine movie that deserved better marketing and less derision.

      • Agreed. I actually enjoyed the John Carter movie.

        And I like "Howard the Duck."

    • John Carter was actually about as good a film as The Force Awakens.
    • Marketing people tend to do this. "You might think that [X] would be successful. But we tried [X] once, and it didn't work, so obviously [X] doesn't work."

      In fairness, it's not just marketing people, but stupid people in general do this. It's just that marketing people (and this author) are stupid.

    • Speaking as a fan of the actual Edgar Rice Burroughs "John Carter" books, I think that a big problem was that the Disney version was badly written. It felt as if they removed any sections where the book version of John Carter showed any intelligence, turned the heroine into a spoiled selfish brat, combined books 1 and 2 in a blender, and then filmed the result. Very painful to watch!
    • Yeah, I'm no avengbusters:sharkgedon fan and i thought John Carter was an ok (not amazing) film that would be happily received by most sci-fi fans.

      I guess this is the problem with pay up front model - it mostly rewards marketing... what about all of those terrible films that did great at the box office and pretty much nobody thought was good?

    • Curiously, I'd *literally* (and mostly by accident) just read the first book when I happened to see it on cable or in a hotel somewhere, I was actually rather quite impressed with their fidelity to the story.

      It wasn't perfect, of course, but it was pretty good by Hollywood standards (and a quintillion times better than the Hobbit standard).

  • Every trailer and commercial I saw for that movie came across with the message that I should already know who John Carter was. Hence as I had no idea I had no interest in the commercials, trailers, or the movie itself. I'm still not familiar with the character. They could have introduced it much better to get people to care about it; think of how Rambo: First Blood was able to get us to care about a new character for example. Instead they tried to get us to care about the character through brute force, those who didn't go for it just stayed away and the movie flopped.

    Hell just a better title would have gone a long ways towards bringing in customers. Even Borat had enough of an extended title to give people some idea what they were getting in to or why they might want to see it.
  • Fuck Disney (Score:2, Troll)

    by AndyKron ( 937105 )
    If I know it's a Disney product I avoid it. I don't NEED to see Star Wars.
  • by chispito ( 1870390 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @12:03PM (#51158953)
    Here's my simpler version. With it's princess industry, Disney already owned the market for girls from birth to... well, death. They had no hooks for boys though. So they bought Marvel and Star Wars.
    • Boyhood isn't Marvel and Star Wars. Boyhood is wandering outside, following streams and throwing rocks. But that is the madness of our age, isn't it? Things have to be a certain way, and if you don't conform, you're a weirdo who shouldn't be trusted. Don't let your boys play with Marvel heroes...that's right up there with child abuse. Keep your eyes open...they might be Christians or worse. If you see something, say something.
  • by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @12:08PM (#51158983)

    An article at The Economist details this strategy, which seems to have a central theme: buy up things people loved as kids, and commercialize the hell out of them. The recent Star Wars film is the latest example — the marketing blitz around it (and its related merchandise) was a sight to behold.

    Yogurt: Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs-the T-shirt, Spaceballs-the Coloring Book, Spaceballs-the Lunch box, Spaceballs-the Breakfast Cereal, Spaceballs-the Flame Thrower.
    [turns it on]
    Dink, Dink, Dink, Dink, Dink, Dink: Ooooh!
    Yogurt: [reacts to dinks] The kids love this one.
    [a dink hands him a doll that looks likes Yogurt]
    Yogurt: And last but not least, Spaceballs the doll, me.
    [pulls string]
    Doll: May the schwartz be with you!
    Yogurt: [kisses the doll] Adorable.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @12:15PM (#51159033)

    I'm an "old" dad of 2 little kids. They're both Disney fanatics as well as big fans of other "corporate media" properties. I think some perspective is required here. Of course it makes sense for Disney to buy up things like the Star Wars franchise, LEGO (perhaps) and other 80s-kid favorites. Why? Because people who were kids in the 80s and 90s are now in their 30s and 40s, and have a lot of discretionary income to spend. I was born in '75, so I do remember my childhood being filled with a lot of true innovations in technology -- personal computers, all sorts of "new" electronic toys, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc. These days, the innovation is focused mainly on getting that computer in your pocket to do cool new things, but this era was a little different in that everything "computery" in the kid space was totally new. So, Disney is targeting the older parents for 2 reasons -- first, people are waiting longer to have kids, and second, those who do are having fewer and are in a better position to buy stuff from Disney. I'm sure they go after younger parents too, but younger parents are usually stretched pretty thin compared to someone who's had time to acquire some stability in their lives.

    I think the key is to make sure your kids understand that even though they love their media properties, they need to remain skeptical of marketing. I'm completely unaffected by advertising, but I am seeing that my 5 year old is now starting to inquire about add-ons to "free to play" apps. I don't love the fact that the marketers are manipulating his brain, but it's a fact of life. I've explained to him (in 5 year old terms) that things cost money, that parents have to work for money, that advertisers are only trying to get you to spend more money on their product and that he shouldn't believe everything they say. It's semi-effective. We don't let them sit in front of the TV, computer or iPad forever, and don't expose them to a million commercials.

    It's fine to let kids and adults enjoy Disney or whatever -- they're an entertainment business, it makes sense that people enjoy their output. The problem comes when people shut off their brains and let the advertisers in.

    • This is made worse by the fact that kids, often, lose interest in their new toys by the next day.

      • Yup, definitely agree on this, have seen it several times.

        I'm by no means a model parent, but one of the things we've been pretty good about is not succumbing to every single demand. You'd be surprised how many parents have trouble with this; it's easier to agree than say no. I've seen lots of workaholic families who replace their kid time with stuff, parents going through divorces and other major crap just buying off their kids, etc. Advertisers/marketers love this because they don't even have to try too h

      • This is made worse by the fact that kids, often, lose interest in their new toys by the next day.

        As a parent of a 5 and 7-year-old this is somewhat true, yes. The exception that causes parenting stress is apps on tablets. My kids *never* grow tired of them. They would play them day after day after day if I let them. My son has been playing Angry Birds for two years and would play tomorrow if I would let him.

        We buy them all this physical stuff, when all they want is a tablet and apps.

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          We buy them all this physical stuff, when all they want is a tablet and apps.

          And more smurfberries [slashdot.org] or other consumable "energy" IAPs to feed to the "free" apps.

      • This isnt limited to kids. In the past i would hold on to technology for a long time. I grew to LOVE my walkman over its years of operation. Now everything is dynamic, chances are even if you have something for years and love it, they company ends up updating it to something you dont love.
    • by fropenn ( 1116699 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @01:16PM (#51159535)
      Getting you to believe that you are completely unaffected by advertising is a key goal of advertisers. Beware.
      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        It's easy if you don't expose yourself to advertising. That's far harder with kids.

        I don't watch TV in the ways that come with ads, I don't listen to radio with ads (I listen to public radio, but the kind that plays music, not the kind that's mostly NPR and discussions, which are their own form of ads), I run adblock on my browser. I do see the occasional billboard, I guess.

    • by eth1 ( 94901 )

      I think the key is to make sure your kids understand that even though they love their media properties, they need to remain skeptical of marketing. I'm completely unaffected by advertising, but I am seeing that my 5 year old is now starting to inquire about add-ons to "free to play" apps. I don't love the fact that the marketers are manipulating his brain, but it's a fact of life. I've explained to him (in 5 year old terms) that things cost money, that parents have to work for money, that advertisers are only trying to get you to spend more money on their product and that he shouldn't believe everything they say. It's semi-effective. We don't let them sit in front of the TV, computer or iPad forever, and don't expose them to a million commercials.

      It's fine to let kids and adults enjoy Disney or whatever -- they're an entertainment business, it makes sense that people enjoy their output. The problem comes when people shut off their brains and let the advertisers in.

      When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s (I'm two years younger than you), my parents got me a subscription to Penny Power (later Zillions) magazine, which was published by Consumers Union as a kid-focused Consumer Reports, and taught pretty much exactly what you're talking about. I think that's mainly responsible for turning me into the anti-marketing cynic I am today. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of anything similar currently avialable (Zillions went online-only in 2000, I think). That's assuming you coul

    • I'm completely unaffected by advertising

      Ad agencies love people who think this.

  • by wakeboarder ( 2695839 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @12:16PM (#51159035)

    Disney was too stupid and released it on a busy weekend in the US, it did quite well internationally.

    • by xeno ( 2667 )

      That ain't than half of it. This was epically bad timing not because of its placement on a specific weekend, but because Disney tanked an opportunity for a 100-year anniversary of one of the seminal pieces of science fiction.

      The original John Carter story, "A Princess of Mars" was published in 1912.
      The "John Carter" movie was released in 2012.
      The utter morons who marketed this thought "Ooo, old = bad. Give it a new name, and pretend it's some fantasy epic we thought up."

      So instead of marketing something

      • "So instead of marketing something like this is the story from which virtually every modern scifi epic draws ( the princess, the alien sidekick, the man out of place, teleportation, gravity technology, planetary migration, resource wars, solar power, etc etc -- *all* drawn from Princess of Mars)"

        More than anything else, this is why i watched this movie. The story is the genesis of many things.
  • They are like the "Apple of family entertainment" a roller coaster of highs and lows. Some highs:
    Musical cartoon (1920s)
    Feature length cartoon. (1930s)
    Color TV show (1950s)
    Family friendly theme park (1950s)
    Family movies (1960s)
    Revived cartoon musical (1990s)
    Pixar, Marvel and LucasFilms (2000s)
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Their biggest challenge now, IMHO, is keeping the theme parks usable.

      IIRC, the Disneyworld property alone currently has more hotel rooms than Orlando had people when Disneyworld opened.

      They've expanded the Magic Kingdom park itself a small amount, and of course added 3 other parks, but current ride paradigm they have (and most of the rides) just can't accommodate the number of people they can actually pack into the parks.

      FastPass helps, kind of, but even then you often have long-ish waits and you end up on

  • by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @12:30PM (#51159145)

    In spite of Star Wars success, Disney is down hard. DIS in now around $108, it was over $122 a few months back.

    ESPN is a huge part of Disney's revenue, and profits, and ESPN has been losing subscribers since 2010.

    Whenever a stock analyst wants Disney cheaper, they just trumpet the "news" that ESPN is losing subscribers, and Disney gets trounced. This usually happens about two months.

    • "ESPN is a huge part of Disney's revenue, and profits, and ESPN has been losing subscribers since 2010."

      That, and content for ESPN costs a bundle to acquire. Paying for the rights to a major sport's broadcasts requires astronomical sums, so they have to be sure profit is there. They've been losing subscribers, in my opinion, because there just aren't as many sports-crazed people as there once were. There's so many other entertainment choices, many of them having nothing to do with athletic activity. Earlier

  • It isn't because John Carter is a new franchise. It's because the movie sucked and it wasn't that popular of subject matter in the first place.
    • It isn't because John Carter is a new franchise. It's because the movie sucked and it wasn't that popular of subject matter in the first place.

      sucked, agreed. Not popular... I dunno, maybe these days. There was talk of Disney acquiring the franchise back in the eighties (where we were discussing it on this thing called Usenet. (get off my lawn...)) so John Carter must have been in some form of development hell for a very long time -- long enough for the original fan base to die off or, I dunno, get interested in other things. I'm writing this as a big fan of the novels. I would really like to see a more print-accurate, or at least, a more wat

      • I'm not saying there is no fan base or the books sucked. But you need a huge fan base for major film adaptations to do well purely on that basis alone.

        If the movie had been an amazing piece of work on it's own and popularized enough it might have worked regardless but if you want a guaranteed winner you need to pick something popular enough for it to have it's own major con at the least.

        LOTR was a no brainer. Anyone who made LOTR movies that didn't suck entirely had a license to print money and even one tha
        • I don't think you have to depend on the fan base for a movie to be popular. Movies scale differently from novels. I think that a large fan base is an indication that there is material that might make a popular movie, not the bare numbers thing that print fans = movie fans, $profit$.

          The problem with going with material that has a proven track record in a different medium, is that (1) there is the issue of translation into a different medium, and (2) let's face it, if the implementation sucks, the very best

  • John Carter (Score:4, Interesting)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday December 21, 2015 @02:19PM (#51160057) Journal

    Let's get something clear: John Carter didn't flop because of the source material. John Carter flopped because it was a terrible movie. From the music choices, the casting, the horribly stilted dialog, the mishmash story, unimpressive sets, this film was Doomed. It pissed off the source material's fan base and left everyone else going "wait, what?" Disney knew ahead of time that they had a stinker, so they didn't waste much money promoting it, adding to its demise at the box office. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing -- it let the film disappear relatively quietly.) Yeah, that was a really unpleasant experience.

    TFA implies something that we all know will happen -- when Disney has a hit, they milk it until we're all highly sick of it. (Except, for some bizarre reason, The Incredibles, but that's another story.) The Golden Age of a Disney franchise is the first few entries, (sometimes only the first entry -cough-liloandstitch-cough- ) before the Calculated Excess kicks in.

  • I for one liked the new movie.
    There is room in the world for more Star Wars movies like the new one.

    I swear, if someone actually solves the energy crisis with cold fusion there will be a crusade to conserve the hydrogen as pure...
  • Well... just stop buying so much crap. Stop feeling bad about not buying your kids a bunch of useless junk that they will get tired of. My sister's kid is 3, almost 4, and the family loves to have a little kid so they can buy what is essentially a pile of plastic waste. I think it's more for the gift-giver, since most kids would be just as happy playing with sticks and digging in the dirt, if there wasn't a "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. I assume many people on here will be geared towards educatio

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