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Netflix’s golden ticket

Netflix’s golden ticket

Streaming giant Netflix has bought the rights to children’s author Roald Dahl’s stories. Is this the start of a new cinematic universe?

Transcript

Nimo Omer: Hi, I’m Nimo and this is the Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, Netflix’s plans for a Roald Dahl cinematic universe.

***

“It’s terrifically demanding. you know – what do I write – four – four and a half hours a day so a quarter of my waking hours I am completely immersed in a dotty world of fantasy and you come out in a kind of moony state.” 

Roald Dahl

If you don’t recognise his voice, you’ll certainly recognise the “dotty world of fantasy” he created. 

That was author Roald Dahl speaking in 1983 – seven years before his death.

From the delights of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory to the magic powers of Matilda, his stories are beloved… 300 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide.

And now… they’ll come to a big screen near you. Or perhaps, more accurately, to your laptop screen. 

The streaming giant Netflix announced this week that they have acquired the Roald Dahl Story Company – and with it the rights to his stories.

But is this a story of a Big Friendly Giant – or a greedy Augustus Gloop?

***

I’m looking at Netflix’s announcement on Twitter that they are acquiring the Roald Dahl stories. There’s a Willy Wonka chocolate bar which slowly unwraps revealing a golden ticket with Netflix’s logo across it. 

On the other side of the ticket is one of the iconic lines from James and the Giant Peach – “There is no knowing what we shall see.”

They’ve announced “an event series” based on the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory directed by Taika Waititi and a “live action feature film adaptation” of Matilda, to be released in 2022. 

The Roald Dahl estate includes 49 books, endless possibilities for Netflix, who have transformed from a streaming platform to a major producer in their own right. 

At the recent Emmys, they won 44 awards for their own shows with The Crown and Queen’s Gambit pulling 11 awards a piece. 

Netflix knows they’ve bought the golden ticket – with numerous stories and character spin-offs and series.

There will be competition, of course: there are already other films currently in the works with Warners Bros after the semi-success of the live action Witches adaptation last year. 

But there is a word in Netflix’s announcement that really shows the company’s goals – “universe”. 

***

“Cinematic universe” is the way to describe a fantasy world that crosses film and TV with a similar stylistic feel and characters. 

It’s a lesson learned from the success of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and its seemingly endless content, merchandise, theme park rides and more. 

“I love being with people it’s the most incredible thing in the world. That world may change and evolve but the one thing that will never change we are all part of one big family.”

Stan Lee

All of those 25 Marvel films are now available on Disney’s own streaming platform – Disney plus. 

It’s a new, innovative business model that has Disney as producer and distributor – earning 4.3 billion dollars in total streaming revenue last year, 57 per cent more than in 2019.

***

Netflix now has over 200 million global subscribers – and that number continues to grow. In fact – thanks to the pandemic – they added more subscribers in the first half of 2020 than in the entirety of 2019. 

Their revenue matches their growth too – with revenue up 19 per cent to 7.3 billion dollars in the second quarter of 2021. 

Although it hasn’t officially been announced, people close to the deal between the two companies have reported it was upwards of 500 million pounds. 

The Roald Dhal Story Company – which is run by Dahl’s grandson – have said that a significant part of the Netflix sale proceeds will be used to establish a charitable trust which focuses on children’s health and anti racism. 

So perhaps there are golden tickets all around here. 

The acquisition is a clear sign: the streaming platforms are in the movie-making game, and for them, the glass elevator is rising faster and faster. 

Today’s story was written by Phoebe Davis and produced by Imy Harper.