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Netflix Acquires The Roald Dahl Story Company

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

Streaming leader Netflix fired another shot in its ongoing war with competitors, announcing Sept. 22 it has acquired the works of beloved children’s writer Roald Dahl.

“We’re excited to announce that the Roald Dahl Story Company (RDSC) and Netflix are joining forces to bring some of the world’s most loved stories to current and future fans in creative new ways,” said Netflix in a statement. “This acquisition builds on the partnership we started three years ago to create a slate of animated TV series.

“For example, Academy Award winning filmmaker Taika Waititi and Academy Award nominee Phil Johnston are now hard at work on a series based on the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In addition, we’re working with Sony and Working Title on an adaptation of Matilda The Musical.”

Netflix made the announcement accompanied by a short video teaser showing the wrapper for a ‘Willy Wonka bar’ being peeled open to reveal a Netflix-branded Golden Ticket, in a reference to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory series now in production.

“These projects opened our eyes to a much more ambitious venture—the creation of a unique universe across animated and live action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theaterlanguages and sold more than 300 million copies worldwide, with characters like Matilda, The BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Willy Wonka and The Twits delighting generations of children and adults. These stories and their messages of the power and possibility of young people have never felt more pertinent.”

In this case, Netflix didn’t just acquire licensing rights to the works of Roald Dahl—the company acquired the Roald Dahl Story Company itself, which holds the rights to the author’s works.

The Roald Dahl Story Company says its brief has been to protect and grow the cultural value of The Roald Dahl stories, and its obviously done a good job up to now. Dahl’s various books have sold more than 300 million books to date, and continue grow in popularity with an estimated one new book sold every 2.6 seconds. The RDSC has also worked on a wide variety of successful films and TV series based on Dahl’s novels and short stories.

The deal with Netflix, however, virtually guarantees a growing audience for both new shows and for the books. Netflix is still the largest streaming service in the world, with 209 million paid subscribers in more than 190 countries.

Prior to the acquisition, Netflix held licensing rights to 16 works by Dahl, and had set aside a staggering production budget of roughly $1 billion. Among those productions, acclaimed director Taika Waititi—who helmed Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok, and the soon-to-be-released Thor: Love and Thunder—is 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 RDSC is also ecstatic with the content deal, certainly one of the largest ever signed by Netflix or any other streaming company, although it pales in comparison to Amazon’s recent acquisition of MGM for $8.5 billion.

 “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,” said Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly, the managing director of RDSC, in a message to staff. “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.”

Netflix is expected to spend roughly $17 billion on various productions this year, but over the past two years the pace of competition in the Streaming Video On Demand (SVOD) sector has heated up in a big way.

For example, Amazon-owned Prime Video next year will debut its $1 billion-plus adaptation of the Lord of the Rings series, after paying $250 million to secure the rights.

And while Netflix remains the largest streaming company, Disney is the world’s largest and most successful conglomerate, and is investing heavily in content for both box office and its own Disney+ service.

Disney now has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide, acquired in just 16 months; a number that took Netflix a decade to achieve, although it is also true that Netflix was the pioneer in streaming, and paved the way for cable cord cutters in America and around the world.

Disney’s success has been attributed to its foresight in acquiring many of the best content producers and intellectual property on the market.

In 2006, Disney spent $7.4bn buying Pixar, the pioneering CGI animation studio behind Finding Nemo, Toy Story and The Incredibles. In 2009 Disney purchased the entire Marvel Comics superhero universe for $4 billion, an amount that was criticized at the time but is now seen as the content deal of the century. Three years later, in 2012, Disney also bought out Lucasfilm for $4 billion, which owned the rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

In that context, Netflix’s acquisition of the Roald Dahl library can be seen as a long-term investment in content that can not only bolster the company’s library of streaming content, but also provide revenue from other licensed products, including video games, toys, clothing, and, of course, publishing.

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