Don’t You Dare Make Us Cool: Nintendo, Saban, and ‘Power/Rangers’

This week, the internet gave us something great in the form of director Joseph Kahn’s ridiculous, over-the-top, very NSFW short film based on the Power Rangers children’s show. It’s violent. It’s self-aware. It’s awesome. But, it’s not easy to see the unedited cut. Not anymore. Not since Saban pressured Vimeo into taking the video down.

This isn’t the first time a short film like this has emerged. A few years ago, Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, which also featured a well-known cast, gave the franchise new legs in the adaptation marketplace. The video was so successful that Tancharoen was given the greenlight for a web series, now filming its third season, and was briefly attached to the planned cinematic reboot, before dropping out.

Ed Boon, the series creator, had no idea the short film was being made, but when he saw it, his reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Not once did he or Warner Bros. make any attempt to have the film taken down. Instead, they embraced it as an opportunity.

Now, I can see the difference with Power Rangers. A reboot had already been planned, and, as it’s based on a children’s show, the independent project isn’t quite as “in tone” with its inspiration as the aforementioned MK short and series. Still, all this film does is bring positive attention to the property, reminding an entire generation of nostalgia-driven consumers in their late twenties and early thirties that they use to love this show. Instead of embracing those fans, they’re shunning them.

I’m not a lawyer. I can’t speak to whether or not Saban is arguing in good faith when they try to pressure Kahn into removing the film, although, from a layman’s perspective, it certainly seems like protected parody to me. Much like the situation with Nintendo and their new revenue sharing program regarding YouTube videos of their games, the conversation about whether or not they’re within their legal rights misses the point. These companies shouldn’t only be thinking about what they can get away with; they should be thinking about what the best policies are, not just from a moral perspective, but from a business mindset as well.

Companies like Saban and Nintendo can bully around independent filmmakers and content creators as much as they want. That’s the reality of a legal struggle between an enormous company and your average person. Their financial resources are too great, their influence on the system too powerful. Saban likely knows that, if they had to argue over the matter in court, Kahn would win. But, to get there, he would have to invest a lot of capital, and an untold amount of time, into fighting it, and that’s likely just a practical impossibility. This kind of bullying might get a company the outcome it (or, primarily, its lawyers) wants, but it’s also morally repugnant, and a PR nightmare.

A recent article argued that game companies should claim the revenue generated by videos of their products because there “are only a select handful of YouTube personalities that have the following to turn unknown games into fads, and even they have barely a fraction of Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft’s clout… If everyone stopped uploading Mario let’s plays it wouldn’t put a dent in [Nintendo’s] sales.” I don’t know how anyone who pays attention to this space could believe a word of that. Sure, there aren’t more than a few dozen gaming channels with subscriber-bases in the millions, but hundreds of thousands? I have no idea how many channels there are. Too many to count. You don’t think hundreds of thousands of viewers, millions of views, is good advertising? You don’t think that influences purchasing decisions?

Gaming video might be huge, but it’s also still exploding. The influence YouTubers hold over the space isn’t just real, it’s going to grow, exactly because the big companies don’t have the kind of “clout” that they used to. Gamers don’t trust developers and advertisers, they trust other gamers. They trust YouTubers. Meanwhile, the money they make from those videos is a practical pittance compared to the company’s overall revenue. They’re sacrificing free-advertising and a good relationship with fans for the amount of cash they proverbially leave between the cushions of their couch, the same way Saban is exchanging good will and buzz for what I can only interpret as a sense of complete control over their franchise.

Which I understand. I understand wanting to micromanage every little stick of content out there. It’s your property. It belongs to you. But, when you’ve made something successful, and it achieves a level of ubiquity, people are going to take it and make it their own, in different ways, depending on what we’re talking about. That’s what love, fandom, nostalgia, take your pick, creates. Especially in today’s marketplace, with the voice of the people so loud, piped through the megaphone of the internet, decisions that stem that tide yield minimal financial gains, and can really come back to bite you.

The whole internet is talking about you. You haven’t spent a dime, but your product is everywhere. And you’re upset. Talk about myopic.

Originally published at Feb 26, 2015.

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