Were you surprised about the announcement earlier this week about a brand-new series of Avatar: The Last Airbender? I sure was, but outside what was discussed around the net this week, there’s a few things that make the announcement really interesting, and potentially game-changing.
It came out of the blue. Not only is this a brand new series, it’s also run by the creators of the original series (and its sequel) Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino. Yet what’s even more curious is the fact that it will be live-action, and also that it will be available as a Netflix original. Both these last two facts are by far the most surprising.
First of all, the live-action aspect. Besides the usual questions of ‘why???’ and that no ‘known’ attempt at a live-action version of the series is admitted to exist, there is the curiousness of using a medium for a property that is so well known as animation. We can speculate on the reasons until the cows come home, but my hunch is that it’s because Netflix was not allowed to make an animated version lest it hit either a bit to close to the original series. It’s also entirely probable that since Voltron embodies many of the features that made A:TLA so great, there is little appetite for following the former series too closely. Instead Netflix is taking the property in a different direction in the hopes of being sufficiently different.
Live-action will almost-certainly alter the context of the original series and Legend of Korra. What this means for both series’ legacy remains unknown until the new series is released, but it will change it. Current fans and admirers should be prepared for the inevitable influx of new fans and the soul searching that will result.
Nickelodeon + Netflix
The second, and actually far more interesting aspect is that Netflix were able to acquire an existing cable network property. In this case, Viacom-owned Nickelodeon is partnering with the tech giant in a highly unusual move. Details are scant unfortunately, which makes it all the more curious why the cable network is partnering up with one of its competitors.
Which is kind of bizarre considering that Nickelodeon already has an OTT service of its own, AND it is launching a service through VRV for its library of content.
It’s entirely possible that Netflix simply pulled out a giant wad of cash and bought the rights, but its also entirely possible that the two companies see a mutual benefit. For Nickelodeon their property regains the spotlight and hopefully drives sales of the episodes it owns along with the licensing rights. Netflix survives and thrives on eyeballs. It does not particularly care about marketing or licensing its content but does care fanatically about whether viewers are watching its shows or not. It will pay for content that viewers will watch and you’d be a fool to think that people won’t check this series out.
To that end, Netflix is emphatic about giving the viewer what they want to see. Its algorithms and genres are famous and deliver the company’s revenues in the form of monthly subscriptions. Growth continues, but will eventually flatten out. The company knows this because its spent the better part of the last decade building up its own library of content to which it controls. Where the new A:TLA series comes in is that it will be content that Netflix owns the rights to, or rather, bought the rights to. Nickelodeon is the (well-compensated) junior partner but has no control over the new series.
In that regard the deal says more about the respective business models and modus operandi of the two companies. On the one hand you have the established cable network with a library of shows that is concerned about its quarterly results, and on the other is a technology-driven company whose focus is near-solely on making content that will be watched. The two attitudes couldn’t be different and the fact they have somehow found a way to collaborate is amazing.
Good or bad?
So is it a good deal or a bad one? Honestly even I’m not too sure. I have doubts that it will become a regular occurrence for the simple reason that the deal is too unusual. In a time when Netflix is busy producing truly original content and cable networks (and their corporate parents) are busy building their own OTT services, this deal really does stand out. Whether it works out as well as both parties intent is up for debate though. The quality of the content will be key, which we won’t know for a good while yet.
Nonetheless while this is good news for fans, it is less so for animators. The original series is an fine example of what animation can achieve, and one wonders why Netflix simply didn’t hire Konietzko and DiMartino to create a new show instead of reheating their most famous one.