Monday, January 5, 2009


One of the most oddly used buzzwords at the moment is ‘franchise,’ which has somehow slipped into descriptions of pop culture.

Dictionaries already cover a variety of definitions for the word, from a franchise business (i.e. a store, restaurant or other entity authorized to sell a franchisor’s services and/or products) to the right to vote in elections, from a league-authorized sports team to a legal exemption or immunity.

To these established meanings has been added the conceit of describing pretty much any major pop-culture property—e.g. Harry Potter, Batman or James Bond—as a media franchise. The reason this context seems ill-fitting, however, is that these entities, while perhaps more nebulous than tangible, are in themselves closer to goods and services—so-called ‘intellectual property’—than they are to an act of authorization or those who might benefit from such an act.

A city’s sports team can benefit from being part of a high-profile major league, much as a corner coffee shop can benefit from being part of a popular national chain. A ‘media franchise’ like Indiana Jones, however, is not the local beneficiary of being associated with a larger brand—it is the larger brand. It is what is being sold to consumers. It’s the coffee or the football game, it’s not the barista or the quarterback.

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