Why Streaming Services Strive for Multi-Medium Magic
There have never been so many mediums to tell a single compelling story, and that’s good news for media companies spending billions to create content for streaming services. Where content traditionally flowed in only one direction — from books to movies or TV shows — the best stories are now circulating and being reinforced between many mediums. This explosion in successful cross-medium content not only provides rich source material for production companies but also mitigates the risk of backing stories that don’t sell.
The concept of film adaptation itself is nothing new, but it has never been as prominent. Movie adaptions of books gross on average 53 percent more revenue than original screenplays (excluding comic-based films). I’m seeing this trend develop first-hand: Novels were also the inspiration for five of the top 10 TV shows/movies last month on the Likewise recommendation app (Where the Crawdads Sing, The Terminal List, Persuasion, The Black Phone and The Gray Man).
Content That’s Market-Tested
Successful books bring a natural and already-interested audience to their film and television adaptations. This increases the upside for studios and mitigates downside risks as well. Research from Frontier Economics found that films adapted from novels are more likely to win awards and are easier to market because they have a pre-existing audience and draw on more fully developed storylines.
The same research showed that the smart money is on proven content even if it comes at the expense of originality. Of the 20 highest-grossing films of all time, only six were original stories; of those, only one was a non-sequel. The third incarnation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings book series is an example of popular books’ enduring appeal. After Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy reaped nearly $3 billion worldwide, Prime is now adapting the original novels for a TV series of prequels. That should make great fodder for the seemingly two dozen Lord of the Rings podcasts out there — talk about a built-in audience.
Delia Owens’ debut novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, is also a case study on how to leverage popular literature. After the book sold 189,000 copies in the six months after its August 2018 release in the U.S., that figure leaped to more than a million after being hand-picked by Reese Witherspoon for inclusion on her curation platform, Reese’s Book Club. The film adaptation of the book was released in July 2022.
Enter the Podcast
While adapting books for the screen is a tried-and-true formula, podcasts have opened up a new avenue for content creators. John Carreyrouby’s book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, proved that success in one medium influences the success of a well-told story in another, creating a positive flywheel for providers. The story of the blood-testing fraud of biotech Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes’ fall from grace was first broken after a long investigation by John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal. Carreyrou’s book then spawned an acclaimed podcast by the same name produced by ABC News, as well as an original TV series on Hulu and a documentary on HBO.
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Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors of all time, has also been one of the best bets at the box office, with many adaptations of his novels resulting in some of our finest and most popular films. But he has also created audio originals and an internet search shows there are more than three dozen podcasts dedicated to discussing his collective works. Oh, and remember Lord of the Rings is the subject of more than two dozen podcasts.
Reinventing much-loved content is another variation of mutually informing success across mediums. Two of the co-stars of the NBC series The Office, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, developed a bankable product when they began hosting a rewatch podcast of the cult classic. Office Ladies was an immediate success when it launched in October 2019 and the podcast has now been spun off into a book.
Meanwhile, Audible and Apple are stepping up the film and TV adaptations of their podcast and audiobook content, including audio-first originals that bypass the print-book and ebook markets such as Jesse Eisenberg’s When You Finish Saving the World. Spotify has also partnered with Chernin Entertainment to give the production company the first look at adapting its original podcast series into films or television shows. But that is not the end of how to leverage good content for maximum profitability.
Nothing Beats a Franchise
Cross-medium content allows the value of a franchise to be drastically increased across film, gaming, television, podcasts, e-sports and even theme parks. Film production houses have tapped into a rich trove of comic books and graphic novels to develop franchise content. Disney’s acquisitions of Lucasfilms and Marvel Entertainment have proven to be among the most successful acquisitions in the history of media.
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Disney gained true franchises, which dramatically expanded its value by producing sequels, prequels, spin-offs, television shows and more. Perhaps most importantly, they used this content to launch Disney+, the company’s flagship streaming product which now has 221 million subscribers less than three years after its initial launch.
The Future Is Multi-Medium
Content will continue to be king and now more than ever the IP pipeline will be multi-medium. Media companies gain maximum traction on stories that are popular by drawing inspiration from a variety of sources. As streaming industry behemoths continue to battle for market share in the global streaming market, the demand for new content will continue to grow. One of the safest ways to create content with maximum appeal while also reducing investment risk is to leverage great stories that have already found large audiences in other content categories.
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- Culture Council