Opinion: Netflix Has Changed Since Acquiring Narnia - NarniaWeb
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Opinion: Netflix Has Changed Since Acquiring Narnia – NarniaWeb

Netflix’s Chronicles of Narnia movies and series were announced in 2018, but little has been heard since. The following is one Narnia Webber’s opinion about the situation. “Icarus” has been a frequent contributor to the NarniaWeb forum since 2006.

Author: Icarus

We recently passed the four-year anniversary of Netflix announcing they had acquired the rights to The Chronicles of Narnia series. In the period since that announcement I have spent a lot of time scouring the internet in search of news regarding the project’s ongoing development. I have summarized this information into the timeline below, which not only shows just how much Netflix has changed as a company over the past 5 years, but also may go some way to explaining why we haven’t seen any significant development on the Narnia project for quite some time.

Nov. 2017: Netflix was #1

Flashback just five years ago, and Netflix was a very different company than it is today. Its share price was rocketing upwards, it had near total market domination in the streaming sector, and it was backed by a senior leadership who were prepared to spend big on expensive prestige productions – none less so than The Lord of the Ringswhich we now know the company fought an aggressive bidding war to try and obtain.

Despite the fact that Netflix actually managed to outbid multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Amazon with a staggering $250 million offer, Netflix ultimately lost out to Amazon’s preferred pitch for the series with the JRR Tolkien Estate.

Not wanting to be outdone however, Netflix seemingly went on the hunt for alternatives…

Oct. 2018: Narnia and Beyond

Just under a year later, Netflix secured the rights to CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narniahaving paid a figure which was reported at the time to be slightly less than the previous $250 million offer for The Lord of the Rings.

The pace at which this deal was concluded, and the comparable size of the fee paid, signals to me that Netflix had a clear intention at this stage to compete directly with Amazon Prime using its own rival fantasy series.

Not long after announcing their Narnia deal, Netflix also secured the rights to the entire back catalog of the children’s author Roald Dahl (later going on to buy out his entire estate a few years later). Again, I believe this was highly indicative of Netflix’s overall corporate strategy at this time; with a strong commitment towards delivering high-quality family-oriented content and being prepared to spend large sums of money for the rights to do so.

June 2019: The Architect

Just over 8 months after announcing the Narnia project, Netflix hires Matthew Aldrich to be its “Creative Architect”. At this stage, everything appears to be moving along with the sort of momentum you would expect from an active production, and had things continued at the same pace, it would likely have put the project on a par with the development timeframes associated with other Netflix fantasy shows being developed around this sort of time, such as The Witcher, Shadow & Bone, sandmanand Locke & Key.

Indeed, Netflix also remained on course to compete directly with Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings series, which was also going through the process of hiring senior consultants around this time.

Unfortunately, the hiring of Matthew Aldrich is the last piece of substantive news we have heard on the Narnia project.

Aug. 2019: Competition Emerges

For me, this is when the first cracks started to show, with Netflix firing their head of Kids & Family Original Series. Although it was mentioned at the time that this was not expected to result in a downturn in kids and family programming, we have subsequently seen that when Netflix needs to make staff cuts for financial reasons, it always tends to come from the Kids & Family division or the Animation division.

In November 2019, within the space of just a few weeks of each other, two rival streaming services, Apple TV+ and Disney Plus, launched onto the market. (HBO Max would join them some 6 months later)

Although Netflix had likely seen these moves coming for a while, the impact on the company was significant. Suddenly the entire streaming industry was starting to look like a very different place then it did just over a year before when Netflix first announced its Narnia deal.

By all accounts though, Netflix had been gradually starting to shift its corporate strategy for a while in order to adjust to this new reality, particularly as all the major studios had been gradually withdrawing content from Netflix in order to put it onto their own studio- backed streaming services.


Sept. 2020: Quantity Over Quality

In September 2020, Netflix fired Cindy Hollandthe Vice-President in charge of original TV content at the company. Numerous Netflix insiders have since cited this as the symbolic moment that Netflix definitively moved away from its old approach of producing high-quality (and expensive) award winning shows, towards producing a greater volume of lower-quality (and much cheaper) types of content that would be favored by the algorithm.

Earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter discussed the significance of Cindy Holland’s firing as a pivotal moment for the company:

Several important Netflix creators voice a very consistent theory about what’s gone wrong with the streamer’s culture. They see a link between Netflix’s problems and the 2020 fall of Cindy Holland, who played a key role in launching the service’s originals — brilliantly and often expensively — with House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things, among others.

These sources say Holland was the one who nurtured strong relationships with talent and took time to offer thoughtful development notes while still making people feel safe and supported in pursuing their passion projects.”

The Hollywood Reporter

The Hollywood Reporter also discussed how this moment was the culmination of a much longer shift in the company’s overall corporate strategy, a shift which likely started not long after Netflix acquired the rights to Narnia:

According to a former insider, Netflix knew years ago that it would have to increase its volume of original shows substantially year-over-year to compete…. but [that] strategy began to prove destructive to the culture and the quality of the service’s offerings…

Whether Holland’s spendy approach itself would have proved sustainable is a question, but several creators believe Netflix lost much of its early cachet by over-rotating to less expensive, less curated and less compelling — or, the company might say, broader — fare that simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed some subscribers.”

The Hollywood Reporter

If Netflix had been slowly drifting away from producing expensive prestige productions for a while then, I believe that after this defining moment it would have been virtually impossible for a production like Narnia, a filmmaking project which is inherently costly in just about every regard one can imagine, to really get off the ground at the company.

April 2022: Losing Subscribers

After a decade of near continuous market growth, Netflix announced a decline in subscriber numbers, causing it to lose almost $50 Billion from its stock market value.

Billionaire William Ackman, who liquidated a $1.1 billion investment on Netflix as a result of this unexpected market plunge, explained his decision thusly:

While Netflix’s business is fundamentally simple to understand, in light of recent events, we have lost confidence in our ability to predict the company’s future prospects with a sufficient degree of certainty.

William Ackman

Later in the same month, Netflix laid off much of its Animation Division and canceled a whole bunch of family-oriented projects that had been in development, including one of its Roald Dahl productions (The Twits). It does however seem that many of the other Roald Dahl projects in work at this time were able to survive, perhaps because unlike Narnia they are the sorts of stories that can be produced relatively cheaply, even in live action.

More comments though from Netflix insiders at this time paint a picture of just how radical the changes behind-the-scenes have been:

Netflix Animation, especially when it came to Kids & Family content, was once considered a glittery Utopia. Superstar creators and visionary young talent were swayed by promises of unprecedented creative freedom and healthy production budgets, backed by the financial and promotional might of the Netflix empire.

A few years ago, there was no place more welcoming or seductive to artists and animators than Netflix Animation. Netflix’s animation units, like its live-action divisions, were known for being a place that you could bring a project that might not have gained traction anywhere else, and suddenly have it produced, without much studio interference….

But now you are seeing fewer of these creator-driven projects. New series aren’t as exciting as they once were. Many animators have left the studio… and Netflix’s focus has shifted noticeably too.

One producer… said that when they got to Netflix, Phil Rynda (Netflix’s Director of Creative Leadership and Development for Original Animation) told Netflix creators: “We want to be the home of everybody’s favorite show.

[But] by the time the producer left several years later, there was a “new thesis statement”: “We want to make what our audience wants to see,” Reed Hastings, Netflix’s Co-CEO, now told animation talent.

As far as mission statements go, those are vastly different.

Yahoo

Similarly, a few months later, Netflix laid off even more people from its Animation division, again emphasizing that due to its increasingly precarious financial position, Netflix has found itself having to ruthlessly prioritise certain types of content over others in order to sustain its subscriber numbers, with many projects aimed at Children and Families unfortunately falling by the wayside.

Aug. 2022: Disney is #1

Disney Plus recently surpassed Netflix to become the market leader in streaming subscriptions. Furthermore, new information has come to light which suggests that Netflix’s period of unprecedented market growth may have been based on unsustainable means, with the company blighted by short-term decision making, and undermined by a “growth at all costs” mentality.

Whilst Netflix’s financial problems ought to be a concern in themselves, perhaps the most worrying aspect from a Narnia perspective is that in all the articles I’ve read about Netflix’s current crisis, literally none of the Executives, Producers or Staffers interviewed have mentioned Narnia at all.

Granted, none of them have said they’ve abandoned the project just yet, but equally none of them have cited Narnia as being something on the horizon to turn things around for the company. To me this suggests that Narnia is a complete non-entity at Netflix, and that the project is not really at the top of anyone’s minds right now.

Whilst Netflix’s one-time rival to Narnia, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powerhas long since sailed past the finishing line at Amazon, Netflix’s own Narnia project is nowhere in sight, and with the company’s ongoing financial problems, we may end up having to wait a while longer to see it still.


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