But the show has a rabid fan base that’s brought it back from the dead not once, but twice. And it’s the basis of a $2 billion empire for creator Seth McFarlane.
Whether you like the show or not, you can learn a lot about the business of creativity from peeking behind the scenes. Seth McFarlane was featured in a recent issue of Fast Company as an example of the new breed of creative entrepreneur who plays by a different set of rules.
Here are 5 areas where Family Guy can help you succeed with your own business:
1. Catering to the Core
Trying to appeal to everyone is the kiss of death in modern business. Family Guy goes to great lengths to demonstrate this edict better than just about any other example.
Not only does the show stick to pleasing the core fans, it delights in offending the non-core (mainly the easily offended). Having a relatively small group of rabid fans is so much more powerful that a larger group of lukewarm people who you carefully avoid offending. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference… and indifference kills.
2. Selling the Free
The Family Guy story is instructive to every entrepreneur who is trying to attract attention online with free content. Family Guy was cancelled in 2000 and again in 2002, but Fox was convinced to bring the show back not once, but twice (most recently in 2005). Why?
Strong DVD sales of past episode compilations. Family Guy’s rabid fan base was more than willing to pay to own beloved episodes, which was too powerful for Fox to ignore. McFarlane used this as leverage to ink a record $100 million-plus contract with Fox last year.
3. Doing an End Around
With his show resurrected from the dead twice and a huge new contract, McFarlane was willing to trust Fox with his future, right? Not exactly. Shortly after the deal was cut, Seth sidestepped Hollywood and headed for Silicon Valley. Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy is distributed by Google via its AdSense network.
These 30-second to two-minute animated shorts are sponsored by advertisers and represent a new method of entertainment content distribution that demonstrates Google is not satisfied with its current level of domination. With social media, you can do an end around the traditional entertainment powers, the venture capitalists, and your competition. And, like McFarlane with Cavalcade, you retain ownership of your work.
4. Delegating the Un-fun
For years, Seth McFarlane involved himself in every aspect of Family Guy and his other animated projects. This led to a serious case of creative burnout that landed him in the hospital.
Now, McFarlane delegates much of the production of his shows, but stays deeply involved in what he loves—he voices three of the main characters on Family Guy, plus scores of supporting characters. He also obsessively coordinates the music for the show, which is powered by a full orchestra. It may take a while, but the best part of being a creative entrepreneur is focusing on the fun and letting go of stuff others can handle.
5. Exploiting Intellectual Property
Why is a successful animated series the most profitable for a network? In a word… merchandising.
T-shirts, action figures, stickers, posters, video games, song clips, ring tones… the core fans are hungry for it all. Fox owns the intellectual property rights to Family Guy, so McFarlane gets only a percentage of these sales. But even a solo entrepreneur with the right creative product can start thinking in lateral directions when it comes to her intellectual property. What can you give away in order to create desire for something related that sells?
The Business of Creativity… is Business
Perhaps you see parallels between your own ideas, art or business and an animated television series. If not, perhaps a shift in thinking will help you see that we’ve entered a phase of human history where all business is essentially a function of creativity.
Richard Florida said it best in The Rise of the Creative Class:
Today’s economy is fundamentally a Creative Economy. I certainly agree with those who say that the advanced nations are shifting to information-based, knowledge-driven economies… Yet I see creativity… as the key driver. In my formulation, ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ are the tools and materials of creativity.
No matter your business model, you’re working with intangible information and knowledge to create value for others and wealth for yourself. If that’s not a creative function, I don’t know what is.
About the Author: Brian Clark is a new media entrepreneur and co-founder of Lateral Action. Subscribe today to get free updates by email or RSS.