Netflix acquires works of Roald Dahl as it escalates streaming wars

Content deal over author of children’s classics such as Matilda and The BFG is firm’s biggest to date

Netflix has acquired the works of Roald Dahl, the author of children’s classics including the BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox and the Witches, in the streaming company’s biggest content deal to date.

The agreement struck by Netflix, which already has a deal in place with the Roald Dahl Story Company (RDSC) to license 16 titles, will help it build its content arsenal in the streaming wars against rivals including Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max.

Netflix’s total production budget under the existing licensing deal is $1bn and includes the Jojo Rabbit director, Taika Waititi, creating a TV series based on the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and an adaptation of Matilda the Musical.

“These projects opened our eyes to a much more ambitious venture,” Netflix said. “The creation of a unique universe across animated and live-action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theatre consumer products and more.”

The Roald Dahl estate offers a huge global opportunity for Netflix as his books have been translated into 63 languages and sold more than 300m copies.

Acquisitions of back catalogues are rare for Netflix, which has built up a customer base of more than 200 million subscribers partly on the back of spending billions of dollars striking deals with big-name film-makers and producers to make exclusive content.

Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly, the managing director of RDSC, said in a message to staff: “Our mission at the Roald Dahl Story Company is to share the stories’ messages of hope and of the power and the possibility of young people.

“We believe being part of a larger company will give us the additional support to continue in that mission. Netflix has agreed to acquire RDSC in a transaction that will build on the success that we have achieved in recent years.”

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Kelly said one of Dahl’s books was sold every 2.6 seconds, and the company had plans in place for 19 TV shows, films, stage shows and live experiences.

“With Netflix’s support we will be able to reach even more young people and families around the world,” he said, adding that the company had made sure “that all our staff are able to benefit financially from the sale”.

Kelly said a significant part of the proceeds of the sale were being used to set up a charitable trust, which will focus on supporting existing and new charity partners in the areas of children’s health, anti-hate and anti-racism.

Dahl, who died in 1990 at the age of 74, made antisemitic remarks over his lifetime. The Dahl family and RDSC released an apology for the remarks last year.

Netflix, which is spending $17bn this year making and licensing TV shows and films, has a string of exclusive big-money deals with Hollywood A-list producers and stars.

The company spent $150m on Ryan Reynolds’ blockbuster 6 Underground and has deals in place with talent including Shonda Rhimes, the creator of hits including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, and a $300m deal with Ryan Murphy, whose credits include Glee, Nip/Tuck and American Crime Story.

The fight to secure must-watch programming is fuelling a fierce war for “crown jewel” content to win and retain subscribers in the battle for global streaming supremacy.

In May, Amazon paid an eye-watering $8.5bn for MGM, the storied Hollywood studio behind franchises including James Bond and Rocky, the second-largest takeover deal the company has ever struck. Both Apple and Comcast, the owner of Sky, also courted MGM but balked at the size of the cheque Amazon was willing to write.

And next year Amazon will premiere its $1bn-plus Lord of the Rings TV series on its Prime Video service, five years after paying $250m to secure the TV rights to JRR Tolkien’s works, after founder Jeff Bezos demanded a Game of Thrones-style hit for the streaming platform.

Disney+ passed 100 million global subscribers within just 16 months of the streaming service’s launch, a feat that took Netflix a decade to achieve, thanks to a fifteen-year strategy of acquiring and building the most valuable franchises in Hollywood. In 2006, Disney spent $7.4bn buying Pixar, the hit factory behind Finding Nemo, Toy Story and The Incredibles.

This was followed in 2009 with the surprise $4bn purchase of the Marvel Comics’ superhero universe, securing the rights to thousands of characters including Iron Man and Captain America, a move criticised at the time but now viewed as a masterstroke.

And in 2012, another $4bn deal saw George Lucas’s Lucasfilm, the maker of Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchises, rounding out Disney’s formidable content arsenal.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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