The power of owning top-shelf intellectual property was on full display this week on both sides of the country. Avengers Campus, a sprawling extension of the superhero brand, opened its three-acre spread at Disney’s California Adventure Park in Anaheim. Not to be outdone on the opposite coast in New York City, Warner Bros. cut tape on the first flagship store featuring all things Harry Potter.
Of course, Avengers and Harry Potter aren’t merely the centerpieces of hit movies. They are big, honking franchises with a capital F — inexhaustible cinematic universes spawning an endless supply of new titles and ancillary revenue streams including theme parks and retail.
So can you blame Netflix for having franchise fever?
Certainly not, but planet Earth’s leading streaming service got an expensive reminder this week that curing its own envy won’t come easy.
Just one day after debuting atop Nielsen’s weekly count of the top streaming original titles, new series “Jupiter’s Legacy” got its plug pulled by Netflix — not that it was characterized as a formal “cancellation.” Instead, there was the announcement of a decision to let the cast out of their contracts in lieu of ordering a second season. In addition, Netflix ordered a separate series with IP emanating from the same source, with a focus on the villains instead of the heroes from the original story.
The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit indicated this was a costly closure for Netflix, with season one of "Jupiter's Legacy" costing in the neighborhood of $200 million; other sources indicate it was closer to $130 million. Maybe that's a drop in the bucket when you think about the $17 billion Netflix is scheduled to spend on content this year, but what we've got here is more than just a one-off misfire.
“Jupiter’s Legacy” was intended to be the first step in a strategy Netflix set in place as far back as 2017 with the company’s sole acquisition to date: Millarworld, the company started by Scottish comics wunderkind Mark Millar that experienced some success converting its IP to film and TV but with a deep catalog ripe for further exploitation.
If Millarworld brings to mind Disney’s Marvel, that’s no coincidence. Millarworld was Netflix’s small but important bet that it could hatch its own IP in the mold of Marvel, which is without peer (sorry, DC Comics) within the industry in its ability to maximize monetization of superhero franchises.
For all the envy Netflix inspires with its ability to crank out hit programming, it doesn't own the underlying IP to it biggest hits, be it "Stranger Things" or "Bridgerton." Millarworld was Netflix's attempt to crack the Marvel code, to generate its own homemade franchises.
"Jupiter's Legacy" is proof positive that slapping tights and capes on actors is not quite as simple as it seems. What Netflix is figuring out the hard way here is if it wants to create its own superhero phenomenon, there's a learning curve ahead.
In that respect, Millarworld won't be much different than Marvel or DC Comics, neither of which were overnight successes in Hollywood. But with Netflix's Midas touch, you'd be forgiven for having unrealistic expectations.
The major players in the streaming wars are realizing that original programming is not just a volume game in which you pray your portfolio appeals to as many audience segments as possible. What matters most is The Next Big Thing — content that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the field in its appeal across all four quadrants. That's why we already saw Netflix pay a pretty penny for the second and third sequels in the "Knives Out" franchise.
Netflix archrival Amazon wants to hit a programming grand slam as well. That's why exiting CEO Jeff Bezos scooped up MGM, with the hope of drawing from its library of franchise-friendly titles.
And it's why Amazon Studios has already bet unprecedented sums on a "Lord of the Rings" TV reboot. The superhero genre has already been good to this streamer, with "The Boys" one of its biggest hits (but produced by Sony Pictures Television).
Netflix is moving on from "Jupiter's Legacy" just as the company is set to convene its first-ever virtual event for fans, Netflix Geeked. The hype machine will no doubt go into overdrive on any number of programs. There's no reason to doubt Netflix's hitmaking abilities, and it's a good bet that in time the streamer will figure out franchises. But "Jupiter’s Legacy" is indication it may not be happening as quickly as the company might like.