Rebecca Candeland, head of broadcast at Total Media, reflects on what Netflix could do with its recent acquisition of Roald Dahl’s extensive IP (its latest being its first games studio earlier this week).
Late last week it was reported that Netflix paid £500m to buy the rights to the full Roald Dahl back catalog. The deal is a considerable development on its existing 16-title licence agreement with the Roald Dahl Story Company (RDSC), and allows the streaming giant to create films and TV shows around beloved children’s books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Twits.
With Amazon acquiring the rights to James Bond through its recent deal with MGM and Disney+ owning a number of high-profile properties including Marvel and Star Wars, the Roald Dahl deal allows Netflix to build out its content and remain competitive.
However, turning the deal into success is easier said than done. Currently, the Dahl estate is believed to earn about £25m a year, so it could be a challenge for the streaming giant to justify the sum paid – its biggest acquisition to date. The question, therefore, is whether the deal is just another power move in the streaming wars, and if it will generate long-term success for Netflix.
Netflix’s content problems
It’s no secret that Netflix has struggled in the past to make and produce content that lasts in the long term. A great example of this is Jupiter’s Legacy. Netflix struck a deal with the comic publishing company ‘Millarworld’ in the hope of creating a franchise that could compete with the likes of Marvel and Star Wars. After just one series and poor reviews, the show was cancelled, despite apparent decent viewership.
The world of Dahl is more well-known and beloved compared to Jupiter’s Legacy. Roald Dahl’s stories are familiar, nostalgic and a part of all people’s childhoods ever since he wrote James and The Giant Peach in 1961. However, the streaming giant could fall into the same trap as Jupiter’s Legacy with the Dahl stories if it doesn’t make high-quality shows that are marketed properly.
Creating a franchise
The hope with the Roald Dahl deal is that it will allow Netflix to bring in more viewers through the creation of franchise content. For example, even though the deal was only signed last Friday, there are already murmurs of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film (from Taika Waititi of Jojo Rabbit fame), as well as an adaptation of the Matilda musical.
With such a wealth of characters in the Roald Dahl back catalog there are limitless possibilities, but will they dare to merge these, as has also been seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to bring in viewers? It could be a risky tactic as each story is treasured by the many who have grown with them, but the streaming giant has released a statement to this effect stating they wish to “protect and grow the great legacy of these beloved stories”.
Creating a franchise of content is smart as it will help retain subscriptions as consumers will want to tune in to watch the next installment in the cinematic universe. However, many have tried and failed to replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (think the DCEU and the Dark Universe), and it isn’t clear if people want to see a film that combines the BFG and Willy Wonka.
Every streaming service seems to be on the hunt to find the next shiny jewel in their crown to win and retain viewers. This includes Amazon and MGM as well as Amazon and the LOTR Franchise; Disney with its attainment of Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars over the last decade; or even the AT&T Warner/Discovery deal.
The likelihood, in reality, is that this acquisition will be more for retention of the considerable reach they have into UK households, allowing them to offer more children’s content and put them in a much stronger position in this fight for attention, and in this instance, against the giant of Disney+. This puts Netflix in a strong position to hook in the whole family from the youngest to the oldest through their expanded range of content.
It isn’t just about viewership, however, although we all still agree wholeheartedly with Bill Gates that ‘content is king’; it gives Netflix the opportunity to take its content outside of our TV screens and spread out into books, theater, games and everything else that the ‘Dahliverse’ encompasses.