Content is king, and intellectual property (IP) makes it easier to draw eyeballs to content. Consumers are inherently more likely to watch a movie, television show, hologram, or any other medium if they already know its characters and/or universe. Basically, it's a lot easier to get the public to sample new programming if it has Darth Vader or Wolverine in it than it is to create something new. Dark Badguy and Wolferish may be excellent new characters, but it's an uphill battle to get the public to want to see them in anything.

That's why Walt Disney (DIS -0.70%) and Comcast (CMCSA -0.66%) have spent billions of dollars to lock down familiar IP. It's a recipe for long-term success that defies cord-cutting and changes in consumer behavior. 

Two women eat popcorn in a movie theater.

Familiar characters bring eyeballs no matter what the forum is. Image source: Getty Images.

It's all about IP

Disney has led the way when it comes to developing and buying top-tier IP. It owns Star Wars, Marvel, its own animated characters, and Pixar's. That gives it a strong leg up when it enters any new space. The company has already shown the power of this model with its nearly perfect box office performance, and it should be able to leverage the same model to make its Disney+ streaming service a hit.

Consumers want to see shows starring The Avengers or set in the Star Wars universe, and kids will want to watch the animated characters from Frozen or Toy Story in any new adventures they go on. That makes Disney+ a streaming service that can't miss, because it's the exclusive home for this new content as well as the company's archive of beloved programming.

Take those characters and bring them to any platform and it's likely people will follow. That insulates Disney (and to a lesser extent Comcast) from the changing business model of the content world. We may be five years from having TV shows pumped directly into our brains -- but if that happens, well, we'll be more likely to allow it if Iron Man is involved in the story.

Comcast has followed this model, but it has not succeeded quite as well as Disney. Its signature movie hits -- films including Jurassic Park, The Fast & the Furious, The Minions/Despicable Me, and the Dreamworks animated characters -- are not as strong as the Disney lineup, but they are a clear number two.

The company may not have quite as deep a lineup as Disney, but it still has a deep enough roster of IP to win the box office in some years. That may not allow Comcast to launch a hit streaming network, but it puts it in position to deliver shows featuring familiar characters that platforms will fight over.

It's all about familiarity

The streaming world has gotten crowded, and few people have an endless budget. That means that any new entrants must have familiar IP that people want to see to lure subscribers. It's easier to lure eyeballs to familiar content than it is to something new -- essentially, you're more likely to have a hit with decent Marvel or Star Wars show than a good one based on new characters.

That's true of The Fast & the Furious and many other Comcast properties as well. It's not an infallible strategy -- Solo shows that even beloved series can produce duds -- but there have been countless box office bombs based on lesser-known sci-fi properties that failed worse than the one Disney failure with Star Wars.

IP means flexibility. The Jurassic Park dinosaurs can be in movies, TV shows, and/or whatever programming comes next. That's true for all the characters mentioned here, and that sets Disney and Comcast up for enduring success.