Netflix changed the way we watch television — but as it faces a critical moment amid plunging subscribers, the streaming giant is hoping to capitalise on the popularity of its most successful shows.
- The franchise strategy aims to build brands from television shows and movies
- Netflix executives say the move is inspired by Walt Disney and Star Wars
- After years of amassing subscribers, Netflix lost 200,000 customers in the first quarter of this year
When it first launched, Netflix broke Hollywood’s rules to create a $82 billion global streaming colossus that the rest of the entertainment industry rushed to copy.
But as growth slows, it is looking backwards for a way forward by borrowing a page from Walt Disney’s playbook: building brands that traverse film, television, games and consumer products.
The tech company has revealed it is plotting ways to milk more from its bigger shows and movies, with universes and characters that can be returned to again and again, like Mickey Mouse or Star Wars.
“We want to have our version of Star Wars or our version of Harry Potter, and we’re working very hard to build that,” said Matthew Thunell, the Netflix vice president credited with finding Stranger Things.
“But those are not built overnight.”
The franchise strategy comes at a critical moment, following two rounds of lay-offs amid subscriber losses.
The news also comes as the streaming company races to build a cheaper ad-supported subscription plan, which it once vowed it would never do.
Plans to give more shows the ‘Stranger Things treatment’
Netflix executives point to Stranger Things as a model, the streaming giant’s science-fiction big hitter.
The show’s fourth season has officially racked up over a billion hours viewed — a feat achieved by a Netflix show only once before with South Korean drama Squid Game.
Steven Ekstract, CEO of Global Licensing Advisors, says Stranger Things is so popular it has the potential to generate $1 billion in annual retail sales starting in 2025 from products, events and possibly a theme park ride or digital avatars.
Netflix would reap royalties of about $50 million to $75 million from those sales, plus free advertising from merchandise.
A spin-off series and stage play are also already in the works.
On its heels, Netflix executives said they plan to give at least a dozen series and films the ‘Stranger Things treatment’, including the Spanish series La Casa de Papel, the Regency-era period drama Bridgerton and The Witcher fantasy series.
They have even greenlit a reality competition inspired by Squid Game in which nobody will die, but the $US4.56 million ($6.68 million) cash prize remains.
Netflix vice president Mr Thunell said the company was aware that not every story works as a franchise.
“It has to start with the story itself. Does it sustain that kind of expansion?”
Movies created with expansions in mind — but is this the right move?
Netflix’s film studio, which was only created five years ago, sees a handful of budding franchises, they say.
This includes Enola Holmes (also starring Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), Knives Out, Old Guard, and spy thriller The Gray Man, which was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
Known for their work on films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Russo brothers are often hailed as ‘franchise builders’, who create rich worlds with expansion in mind.
“We’ve definitely specifically designed and thought of this narrative in a way to carry it forward in other forms,” co-director Anthony Russo said in an interview.
But is this what audiences want to see?
The streaming service has considerably less experience in erecting franchises than its century-old Hollywood rivals, noted Julia Alexander, director of strategy at entertainment research firm Parrot Analytics.
“Do we have the same confidence in the Netflix machine as we do the Disney machine? No, but in part that comes from Disney spending years determining what that machine looks like,” Ms Alexander said.
“For all of Netflix’s dominance in the streaming space, they’re still relatively new to building out these types of worlds.”
In the case of Stranger Things, it’s clear that the tactic is working.
But when it comes to movies, it seems the streaming giant is yet to find their Star Wars.