The Renewed Importance of Creative Intangibles in Media Corporations

Connor Hudson

In our market economy, providing entertainment to a body of mass consumers necessarily involves some nexus where the creative meets and is translated into the commercial. As the amount of content has ballooned, with the ability to create being democratized, the business models that constitute this nexus have shifted toward a direct-to-consumer focus.[1]

Where film and television are concerned, the era of technological disruption, spearheaded by the early streaming success of Netflix, initiated an arms-race for consolidation of intellectual property and customer acquisition at any cost.[2] During this period, the all-out pursuit of growth shifted the perception of the corporations engaged therein, with securities analysts supporting a narrative of commoditized intellectual property with predictable returns on investment, experienced by the typical consumer as regularized streams of content that may teeter on lacking creative originality.[3]

However, as consumers appear to reach a carrying capacity for the number of streaming services they can tolerate or afford, media providers have been forced to return their focus to customer affinity, seeking the form of brand loyalty that prevents churn and will allow the highly costly acquisitive pursuits of years past to be transformed into profitable business pursuits.[4] One implication of this change is that the quality of entertainment, once again, becomes a predominant consideration.

Producing quality content requires a skillset distinct from consolidation. Simple ROI calculations are replaced with the more intangible aspects of creative vision, managing a creative workforce, and exploiting intellectual property in a manner that is profitable and avoids brand dilution. The return of creative intangibles to prominence has been supported by recent events in the public markets, with recent developments at the WWE perhaps most acutely emphasizing market actors’ recognition of the value of creative leadership.

Vince McMahon initially left the WWE after reports emerged that he had made $15 million in payments to quiet sexual misconduct allegations.[5] During his absence, the aforementioned shifts in the media ecosystem rendered the WWE a uniquely valuable asset for potential acquisition, having developed a deep brand equity among its fanbase.[6] Under the company’s corporate governance regime, McMahon controls 81% of the shareholder vote, giving him functional control over all ongoing affairs.[7] With the power of the looming threat that McMahon would use his majority position to wrestle control of the company away from incumbent directors and management, including his daughter, McMahon strong-armed his way back into leadership of the company he founded.[8] The logic of the move, supported by analyst musings about potential acquisition prices, is that McMahon at the head of an acquired WWE, notwithstanding the aforementioned complaints of sexual misconduct and shareholder suits challenging his displacement of incumbent management, increases the potential sale price of the corporation.[9] This indicates that the potential market of acquirers is once more placing a premium on the creative vision at the head of the properties they are acquiring, not simply the catalog of content and the associated audience numbers. While a sale process is presumably underway, the company has yet to sell. With the appreciable legal challenges that await McMahon and the WWE, any potential purchase price may reflect just how badly incumbent media companies are looking for those executives who can maintain, and not simply acquire, an audience.



[1] Zuperly, Drowning in Content, Medium (Nov. 19, 2021),, [], [].

[2] Peter Csathy, Content Ownership Is King:  That’s Why Movie, TV & Music Libraries Are in Such High Demand, Forbes (Feb. 9, 2020), [].

[3] Oliver Darcy, Why Netflix Wants To Shift the Narrative on Subscriber Growth, Even After Bouncing Back from Losses, CNN (Oct. 18, 2022), []; Edward Jay Epstein, Why Hollywood’s Movie Business Model Is Bad News for Creativity, Wrap (Aug. 12, 2013), [].

[4] Quantilope, Streaming Wars Set To Intensity as US Consumers More Likely To Cancel Media Subscriptions, PR Newswire (Sept. 22, 2022), []; Alex Sherman, Netflix’s Message To Shareholders:  Focus on Revenue and Profit, Not Subscriber Adds, CNBC (Oct. 18, 2022), [].

[5] Marc Raimondi, Report: WWE’s Vince McMahon Paid Total of $12M To 4 Women To Quiet Sexual Misconduct Allegations, ESPN (July 8, 2022), [].

[6] Drake Oz, WWE News:  Breakdown of Ages of WWE Audience Illustrates Interesting Trend, Bleacher Report (Jan. 27, 2012), [].

[7] Eriq Gardner, Vince McMahon’s Stone Cold Legal Stunner, Puck (Jan. 16, 2023), [].

[8] Id.

[9] Alex Sherman, Vince McMahon Is Back at WWE to Ensure a Smooth Sale Process. Here’s Who Might Want To Buy It, CNBC (Jan. 7, 2023), [].