Netflix broke Hollywood’s rules to create an $82 billion global streaming giant that rushed the rest of the entertainment industry to copy. But as growth slows, it’s looking back at a way forward, borrowing a page from Walt Disney’s playbook.
The company that changed the way we watch television and movies wants to match the success of Mickey Mouse and “Star Wars” by trying to build brands that cross film, television, games and consumer products, executives told Reuters in recent interview.
Netflix teams are coming up with ways to get more out of Netflix’s bigger shows and movies with universes and characters they can return to again and again. The franchise strategy, details of which are listed here for the first time, is intended to complement Netflix’s efforts to build a massive library of original programming with something for everyone.
“We want to have our version of ‘Star Wars’ or our version of ‘Harry Potter,’ and we’re working hard to build it,” said Matthew Thunell, the Netflix vice president credited with finding “ Stranger Things”. “But they weren’t built overnight.”
Netflix’s franchise initiative comes at a critical time, after two rounds of layoffs amid loss of subscribers. It’s racing to build a cheaper, ad-supported version of the service, which it once promised never to do. On Tuesday, the company is expected to lose 2 million additional subscribers when it releases quarterly results. The stock has fallen 70% this year.
Some of Netflix’s current partners, who have requested anonymity to protect their ongoing business relationships, said they were frustrated by what they see as a lack of collaboration between the film and television groups. This has hampered efforts to capitalize on success through hit series sequels, spin-offs or film adaptations, they said.
“It feels like you have to fight your way to build a franchise there,” said one studio manager.
Thunell offered a different view. He and a company spokesperson described an environment of close collaboration between creative executives, who can independently green light projects but work towards the same goals.
“In a traditional studio, there are big walls between the feature team and the animation team and the series team,” he said. “Because Netflix is a very young organization, those walls just never had time to build.”
‘Strange Things’ Treatment
Netflix executives point to “Stranger Things” as a model. Now in its fourth season, the sci-fi series has inspired merchandise from a Surfer Boy frozen pizza at Walmart to Magic 8 Ball toys from Hasbro, plus live experiences. A “Stranger Things” spin-off series and play are in the works.
On the heels, Netflix executives said they plan or are in the process of giving at least a dozen series and movies the “Stranger Things” treatment.
The Spanish series “La Casa de Papel” has been remade in Korean and has a spin-off in the works. A prequel has been ordered to the Regency-era period drama ‘Bridgerton’, as well as a reality game where no one dies inspired by the South Korean drama ‘Squid Game’. The fantasy series “The Witcher” spawned an animated film and is getting a prequel.
The company also identified three upcoming shows as potential franchises because the stories are well known and have built-in audiences.
Adapted from the first book in a Chinese science-fiction trilogy, The Three-Body Problem is in production with Game of Thrones co-creators David Benioff and DB Weiss as executive producers. “One Piece,” based on a Japanese manga series, recordings, and a live-action adaptation of the animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has just finished filming.
Sure, not every story works like a franchise.
Executives aim to produce franchises from Millarworld, the comics publishing company that Netflix acquired in 2017. The first Millarworld series, “Jupiter’s Legacy”, was canceled after the first season. There are currently six new projects in development and another in production, a spokesperson said, adding that Netflix has plans to investigate “Jupiter’s Legacy” villains in a new series.
“It has to start with the story itself. Does it keep up with those kinds of expansions?” Thunell said. “There are some series like ‘Stranger Things’ that are hugely successful, that have the depth of mythology and extra stories that let you go into animation or features or anime. “
Emerging Movie Franchises
The film studio, which started from scratch five years ago, sees a handful of burgeoning franchises: “Enola Holmes”, about Sherlock’s teenage sister, “Knives Out”, an Agatha Christie-style mystery, “Old Guard”, about a team of immortal mercenaries, action thriller “Extraction” and zombie story “Army of the Dead”.
The spy thriller “The Gray Man” premieres Friday. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, hailed as “franchise builders” by film chief Scott Stuber at the film’s Los Angeles premiere, said they created a rich world with expansion in mind.
“We certainly specifically designed and conceived this story in a way to bring it forward in other forms,” co-director Anthony Russo said in an interview.
Netflix stepped up its franchise-building efforts through an October 2020 restructuring under new global TV chief Bela Bajaria, a former director of Universal Television who developed Netflix comedies like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Master of None.” .
As subscriber growth slowed in the fall of 2020, Bajaria tried to get more out of expensive deals with producers like “Bridgerton’s” Shonda Rhimes. She also teamed up to develop prestigious series and spectacles (often large, effect-driven fantasy series) that could grow into franchises.
Netflix added consumer products staff and hired in-house book explorers to find works to adapt, rather than waiting for outside agents or publishers to bring material to its executives. Thunell called this move a “game changer.” It also created a video games unit.
The company started early involving marketing and consumer products associates in the franchise process. For example, these teams recently traveled to London to meet Benioff and Weiss on the “Three-Body Problem” set.
According to Josh Simon, Netflix’s head of consumer products and live experiences, “Army of the Dead” producers Zack and Deborah Snyder provided input for a virtual reality experience while they were filming. His team is now working with the Snyders on ideas related to their next movie, “Rebel Moon.”
“We’re really deeply immersed in production meetings,” Simon said. “We can work years ahead because we have that level of trust and collaboration with the creators.”
Steven Ekstract, CEO of Global Licensing Advisors, said “Stranger Things” alone has the potential to drive $1 billion in annual retail sales by 2025 from products, events, and possibly an amusement park ride or digital avatars.
Netflix would receive royalties of about $50 million to $75 million from those sales, plus free merchandise ads. To get to that level, Netflix needs to keep people engaged in the “Stranger Things” world, he said.
The streaming service has significantly less franchise-building experience than its age-old Hollywood rivals, noted Julia Alexander, director of strategy at entertainment research firm Parrot Analytics.
“Do we have the same faith in the Netflix machine as we do in the Disney machine? No, but that’s partly because Disney spends years defining what that machine looks like,” Alexander said. “Despite all of Netflix’s dominance in the streaming space, they’re still relatively new to building these kinds of worlds.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)