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Prequel or Reboot: Which Drives More Interest in Franchises?

Roku Search data reveals how the revival of a series can serve as a marketing tool for retaining subscribers and increasing engagement

Courtesy of Roku
Courtesy of Roku

Two of the most anticipated streaming titles this year — “House of the Dragon” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” — have a familiar ring to them. Both explore untold stories from beloved franchises and are part of a growing trend of reboots and prequels being made to satisfy audiences’ craving for familiarity. Still highly invested in cinematic universes years after the original stories were released, fans want more — and studios are happy to oblige.  

It’s not just the new properties that benefit, however. Prequels and reboots drive viewers to original titles in a franchise, bringing in longtime loyalists who are happy for a stroll down memory lane, as well as newcomers eager to learn what the fuss is all about.  

New research from Roku — America’s No. 1 TV streaming platform in terms of hours streamed — examines the search interest effect of prequels and reboots on original TV series. As it turns out, both give franchises a lift to the original production.  

The Rewards of Reboots 

The Sept. 1 debut of “The Rings of Power” brought about an explosion of interest in the entire “Lord of the Rings” film franchise, which saw a 124% increase in searches during the week of its release. Among people who had not searched for the franchise until the new show’s release, 97% searched for titles from the original film series.  

Television franchises also get a large boost from reboots. When a series is revived, the search habits of users tend to gravitate toward a franchise’s original story. The release of the new “iCarly” series, for example, resulted in a 75% week-over-week increase in search results for the original, while “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” saw a 91% surge. “The Wonder Years,” “Sex and the City” and “Dexter” all saw week-over-week searches jump by over 100% as well when their reboots were released. While these shows have long been off the air — the original runs of “The Wonder Years” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” ended 29 and 26 years ago, respectively — nostalgia plays a role in a reboot’s popularity. 

“Reboots allow much-loved stories to be retold in a present-day context while still creating nostalgia for a time past,” said Janice Chung, Roku’s AVOD vertical specialist. “Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool, especially for connecting with Millennials and Gen Z, who are seeking comfort in today’s uncertain times.”   

Power of Prequels 

Prequels are also effective at motivating viewers to seek out the original titles in a franchise. Storied, long-standing franchises draw notable numbers of new fans to the original content through prequels. 

In fact, the release of a prequel often leads to increased new fan searches of titles from the original franchise. For example, the “Fantastic Beasts” films saw 84% of searches tied to the original “Harry Potter” films, while the release of the “1883” TV series — the prequel to “Yellowstone” — saw 78% of searches go to the original.  

The original “Star Wars” films received 67% of search interest as prequels were released, while 63% of viewers were looking for the original TV series “The Sopranos” when “The Many Saints of Newark” was released.  

Early numbers for “House of the Dragon” are promising. Among new fan searches for the franchise, 43% were people looking for the original “Game of Thrones” series.  

The Takeaway 

It’s no surprise prequels and reboots come with a built-in audience. But their ability to rope viewers into rewatching the original franchise and lure an entirely new fan base is potentially valuable for marketers. Generating buzz in these two types of films and TV series can be opportunities to help mitigate churn.  

Some 28% of streaming service cancellations happen when users finish a TV show or movie they wanted to watch. And 58% of those cancellations are premeditated: 22% planned to cancel after the end of the show and 36% planned to cancel and then resubscribe later. To retain and engage subscribers, marketers need to immerse streamers in the entire franchise experience both in and out of the living room. Going beyond the traditional 30 second spot to a 360-marketing campaign allows users to truly experience the content and become ardent fans. 

“Promoting both new titles and continually marketing original franchise titles is a strategy that marketers should use to grow the overall fan base,” said Grace Lam, Roku’s director for partner growth. “Fandom is a powerful tool to create channel loyalists and champions who are less likely to cancel, have your channel top-of-mind and are telling their friends and family about your service.”  

August’s Top 10 Searches on Roku 

Although warmer temperatures may be fleeting, the changing weather and back-to-school sales didn’t mean the appeal of summer blockbusters fizzled out. Four of the month’s top searches were for some of the year’s biggest theatrical releases, as viewers either perused the trailers from home or sought information about when they’d be able to watch them from their living room.  

  1. “Top Gun: Maverick” 
  2. “The Black Phone” 
  3. “Minions: The Rise of Gru” 
  4. “SpongeBob SquarePants” 
  5. “Better Call Saul” 
  6. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” 
  7. “Jurassic World: Dominion” 
  8. “Yellowstone” 
  9. “Minions” 
  10. “Elvis”