When Ted Sarandos said over the summer that Netflix’s young adult film “The Kissing Booth” was “one of the most-watched movies in the country, and maybe the world,” ears pricked up across the industry. The comment from the Netflix content chief underlined that the YA audience, far from being lost to TV, is tuning in. But the rules of engagement are different.
“The critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave us 13, but the audience [rating] was at 82 at one point,” says Andrew Cole-Bulgin, chief creative officer of the “The Kissing Booth” producer Komixx Entertainment. “There’s disconnect because most of the critics are in their 40s and it’s not aimed at them.”
Komixx has mined digital self-publishing platform Wattpad for IP in this space. In the wake of “The Kissing Booth,” the shingle is now packaging Kelly Anne Blount’s thriller, “Captured,” and Ali Novak’s “My Life With the Waterboys,” which have 17 million and 71 million Wattpad views respectively.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s indie production company Stolen Picture is also looking at new ways to work up YA properties.
“There are a lot of people piling into YA because they can see a great commercial opportunity,” says Stolen CEO Miles Ketley. “None of it is going to work unless it feels authentic and if you want to come up with something authentic for that audience you have to come up with different models and take a risk.”
Stolen set up its IP Rights Incubator and brought in five young writers to work on two projects, a procedural thriller “We Never Sleep” and sci-fi adventure “Chemistry.” Both are moving forward.
Linking Stolen Picture and Komixx is Sony Pictures Television. Under international production chief Wayne Garvie, SPT has invested in both. It has also bought into Eleventh Hour Films, which is adapting “Point Blanc.” It is the second book in Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, following the adventures of the titular teen super spy.
The SVOD platforms are a natural home for YA fare. “If you are talking to a digital audience you need to put it across to a digital platform,” Cole-Bulgin says. “If you move a digitally-sourced property into a linear area you are going to lose 50% or more of the audience.”
It’s a point not lost on Amazon, which announced a trio of YA pilots in June: “Panic,” from writer Lauren Oliver and based on the New York Times best-selling book; “The Wilds” from Sarah Streicher; and drama series “College” from creator Marja-Lewis Ryan. The shows were the first orders from Jennifer Salke after she joined Amazon as head of content.
“What’s interesting about a lot of these international SVOD buyers is they absolutely get what those audiences want in a way that traditional broadcasters don’t, because [broadcasters] are looking for a mass audience,” Garvie says.
The broadcast and cable nets are not, however, rolling over and letting the streamers own the YA space. Warner Bros. Intl. TV Distribution will be in Cannes with two titles from U.S. network the CW: American football drama “All American” and supernatural-themed “Legacies.”
In cable, HBO is remaking Israeli series “Euphoria.” A24 is producing, with Zendaya in the lead. Drake is executive producing. A story of “drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love and friendship,” it will appeal to young adults — and to those who want to understand their world,” says Hadas Mozes Lichtenstein, also an exec producer, and founder of ADD Content, which distributes the format.
More buyers and commissioners are getting involved. Facebook Watch has launched “SKAM Austin” and Snapchat is in the market acquiring content. Relationship-themed programming will remain a YA staple, and issues around social media and body image also pique interest. Sci-fi and fantasy are tipped as growth areas for this post-“Harry Potter” generation.
Endemol Shine recently struck a production deal with Black Sheep Films, the France-based producer that majors in YA content. Lisa Perrin, Endemol Shine CEO of creative networks, says the YA opportunity is there for producers that can work out how to harness it.
“The myth that age group isn’t consuming [TV] content is nonsense,” she says. “They are used to consuming a lot of content all the time and curating it. Once they find something they like they will watch it again and again. And if they can’t watch it all at once they find it incredibly frustrating.”
Viacom has kids and teen-skewed cable nets Nickelodeon and MTV. Its research unit says globally, teens now access content on 13 devices but TV sets remain the preferred screen. Over half say they prefer to watch content on a TV set.
What’s clear is a lot of players want to come to the YA party, but unless the content is bingeable, available on various screens, and truly authentic, they might not be invited.