The possibly-pseudonymous (ya think?) Twilight Farkle defends My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, not for its cultural impact, but for its near-seismic shift in attitudes toward intellectual property:
The traditional business model:
1) Make content.
3) PROFIT! (sell ad space, sell toys)
Step 2 is the hard part. The sensible move is to lock down the IP, keep it in the vault, and let it out only on special occasions, or when the price is right. Disney is the traditional example of this approach. But then, what fun is there in making sense?
There are times when I wonder if there is any sense in making fun. But maybe that’s just me.
Hasbro took the opposite tack. They’ve been incredibly generous with permitting the use of their IP. In part, because they never expected this to happen in the first place, and it takes a while for a large corporation to react to anything. When they realized that something was happening, even if they didn’t understand what or why, they made the brilliant (but highly unorthodox) move of just going with it.
Letting the internet remix your IP turned out to be a low-risk, high-reward bet. If it’s just a fad, it dies out in a few months and doesn’t affect sales. If it actually goes viral, the experiment succeeds. In this case, it succeeded beyond any expectation. There are now hundreds of thousands of young adults who will be watching reruns of the show with their kids in 5-10 years, and Hasbro doesn’t have to spend a dime to reach them.
This assumes we’re not presented with Generation 5, which I suspect will be a trifle less inspired than G4, if only because there will be a bunch of new faces in the Hasbro conference rooms.
Step 2 — the magical step that comes before profit — is that you maintain ownership of the IP, but otherwise let the fans run wild with it. It’s profitable to let your fans remix and mash your property up, than it is to lock it down.
If the Brony phenomenon teaches content producers that lesson, and nothing else, the world will be a better place for it.
It may be too much to assume that content producers can be taught anything, but it’s surely worth the effort.