It’s the Wrong Time to Further Monetize the “Harry Potter” Brand
Earlier today, MuggleNet exclusively reported that Wizarding World Digital, the newly formed merger between Pottermore and Warner Bros., will offer “Wizarding World Gold,” a premium-tier membership package for Harry Potter fans. Joining Wizarding World Gold will give fans, among other things, chances to participate in special contests, exclusive entry to gatherings in the Wizarding World theme parks, and priority access to tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (but more on those features here).
It is the opinion of this journalist that the move on Warner Bros.’ part to form Wizarding World Gold is a grave mistake.
It has been five years since Warner Bros. announced the formation of the Harry Potter Global Franchise Development team, bridging the gap between Burbank, CA and London, UK and essentially unifying control of the Harry Potter brand. Five years down the line, its vision to “develop and execute a high-level strategic vision for the Harry Potter brand and its ancillary businesses” is really going strong.
The HPGFD team oversees Wizarding World theme park expansions (including into Japan but more recently the upcoming addition of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure to Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, FL), the Watford-based Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter attraction, the now global-phenomenon stage play that is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (with productions in London, New York, Melbourne, San Francisco, and Hamburg), and many digital services, including Rowling’s own website, Pottermore.
Now that Pottermore is transferring much of its content to Wizarding World Digital, and with the announcement of its Wizarding World Gold exclusive membership service, the HPGFD team and Warner Bros. have really shown their hand. They are going to monetize Harry Potter in as many ways as possible, and though this is not a new or fresh concept, it’s going to hit the wallets of Harry Potter fans much more regularly. This is not as altruistic as the HPGFD team’s original mission, “helping to bring Harry Potter in all its future incarnations to fans all over the world.”
Warner Bros. has some chutzpah. It already more or less runs the world for Harry Potter fans, controlling all the rights, operating the theme parks, stage plays, both the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts film franchises, and meanwhile setting its crosshairs on what small, fan-formed community gatherings it can find. But this is not enough. Now, Warner Bros. is going to incentivize Harry Potter fans paying them (I am presuming monthly) fees to be considered Wizarding World Gold members. And it comes with a special gold button that they can wear. Give me a break.
This news comes two weeks after it was confirmed that Fantastic Beasts 3 will be released a full year after it was originally scheduled, ostensibly to allow the filmmakers as much time as possible (with J.K. Rowling reportedly reworking the script). Let’s be honest. The second film was barely coherent. It was far less than what the ever-devoted Harry Potter fans have come to expect and deserve from Warner Bros. or Rowling.
This journalist also finds the story for the Cursed Child stage play to be a meandering mess, a who’s who of characters that plays to the lowest common denominator of audiences. (Sorry to the millions of people who paid $400+ to see it these last five years, myself included.) If you couple the lackluster second entry in Fantastic Beasts with a disappointingly written Cursed Child that, to be fair, was only partially written by Jo, the result is millions upon millions of dollars being made off of Harry Potter fans already, every month. At least the theme parks are excellent fun (at roughly $100 per day for a ticket).
Every time I visit a bookstore, I find another shelf overflowing with official Harry Potter merchandise. The US Potter books themselves keep getting released with different covers. Funko Pop! vinyl figurines, board games, and more burst out from the shelves. Saturation for Harry Potter merchandise has reached an all-time high, and as I mentioned, quality for the largest properties is at an all-time low. Now Warner Bros. is taking Pottermore (which began as an earnest, delightful, and free companion to the Harry Potter books before it was gutted and replaced by the official-movie-photo-riddled, listicle-laden, soulless entry it is currently) and moving the content to a site where fans are going to be charged for access to the Potter e-books and to get decent seats at the overpriced, under-planned stage show. Count me out.