There’s a certain Wikipedia article that always shocks people when I show it to them. Let me know if you have the same reaction.
But first, let me ask you — what do you think is the highest grossing entertainment franchise of all time?
The Wikipedia article answers this question, the list of highest-grossing media franchises:
The article ranks the world’s biggest media/entertainment franchises, estimating the revenue that each franchise has generated from a combination of books, films, video games, merchandise, and any other method of monetisation.
According to this article, the top three highest grossing media franchises in the world are Pokémon, Hello Kitty, and Winnie the Pooh.
From my experience, people are pretty shocked by this and no one ever seems to guess these three. Sometimes people guess Pokémon but I have never heard someone guess Hello Kitty or Winnie the Pooh. People mainly guess Star Wars (#5), Marvel (#10), Harry Potter (#11), or Batman (#14).
Someone at the company Titlemax made a helpful infographic summarising this list.
Some of my observations:
The biggest source of revenue for these franchises is generally physical merchandise.
There’s a famous story about Star Wars creator, George Lucas. Before the Star Wars films were even released, Lucas negotiated with 20th Century Fox to keep control over Star Wars licensing and merchandise in exchange for getting paid less cash upfront to make the movie. That single decision eventually made George Lucas a billionaire, as Star Wars merchandise and assorted products made significantly more revenue than the actual film’s box office revenue. No matter where franchises begin (comics, films, books, etc.), the physical merchandise based off franchises drive the most revenue.
For a country of 120 Million, Japan is significantly overrepresented in this list, being the source of creation for 40% of the world’s top twenty franchises.
The Japanese franchise Anpanman made $60 Billion in revenue from merchandise and is the sixth largest in the world, bigger than Harry Potter. Yet not a single person from the US or UK has told me that they recognise Anpanman.
Does Japan just create better, more relatable stories and characters? Do Japanese franchises do a better job monetising their IP? Do Japanese fans spend more money on products related to their favourite franchises?
Here is another thing to consider — Japan was one of the largest and wealthiest countries in the second half of the twentieth century. And with many huge emerging markets getting wealthier, we will probably start seeing Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Nigerian franchises on this list within the next twenty years.
As you go further down the list, you start seeing younger video game franchises, like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and FIFA.
The gaming industry is already larger than music and film industries combined. We’ll soon start seeing more characters and franchises created from video games first, rather than from films, comics, or TV shows. The creative energy and storytelling quality of video games has improved dramatically over the last few decades, which also makes video game franchises so much richer commercial opportunities.
If you start a new entertainment franchise today, you can learn a lot from this list.
A) Your biggest source of revenue from a franchise is likely going to be merchandise and assorted products. You should also consider how merchandise is evolving — it’s likely that digital merchandise (i.e. Fortnite skins, virtual stickers, in-app purchases) will eventually overtake physical merchandise.
B) Your biggest audience might be in Japan, or an emerging economy, rather than a developed Western economy. If you could create something as huge as Anpanman, with its primarily Asian audience, you will already be bigger than 99% of Western entertainment franchises like James Bond, Lord of The Rings, and The Simpsons.
C) Your new franchise doesn’t need to come from a book or series. Video games are already one of the world’s richest forms of storytelling and media. Approaching video games as another content channel will keep you on the right media trends.
And even if you’re an old brand, you can learn from some of the more vintage brands on this list and how they have stayed relevant.
If you take a closer look at Hello Kitty (created in 1974), you’ll see that they have recently partnered with e-sports brand FNATIC to launch a line of clothing.