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By reading this article you will learn:

  1. How Hollywood came to overly-rely on familiar IP over the last 15 years.
  2. The strategies that helped new franchises blossom across the big and small screens.
  3. Which specific elements to try and recreate with new franchise launching pads.


Here’s a not-so-hypothetical scenario for you: you’re a high-level executive in a well-established industry that’s suddenly beset with disruption. The normal ways of doing business are being totally upended by new technology and competition. What was already an industry that fluctuated greatly year-to-year becomes infinitely more unpredictable. 

Do you boldly strike out with game-changing innovation and untested ideas that may or may not fail spectacularly? Or do you stick to the perceived security of familiarity that recent trends suggest is more reliable? 

If you opted for Option A, congratulations, you either have more gumption than most of Hollywood in the last 15 years or you’re flat out lying to yourself. Because in that time, the entertainment industry has embraced recycling its own libraries of pre-existing intellectual property. 

When looking at the 10 highest-grossing domestic films every year from 2013-2023 (excluding 2020), 76% of them are reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels or spinoffs. This does not include new-to-screen entries in well-established popular franchises such as Marvel and DC (DeadpoolSuicide SquadDoctor StrangeWonder WomanBlack PantherJokerShang-Chi, Eternals) or new films connected to major IP (The LEGO MovieBarbie). In 2023, reboots, remakes and revivals accounted for a sturdy 3.4% share of all scripted TV shows released in the US. This was an increase from 2022 (2.4%), though down from the five-year high set in 2021 (5.2%). 

Either way you slice it, Hollywood’s thirst for repetitive cash flow takes the form of popular franchises across the big and small screens. And when it comes to franchises over the last decade-plus, known quantities with a proven track record of success largely have the advantage over new concepts. 

But that doesn’t mean Hollywood forgot how create a tentpole TV or film title out of fresh material. The tolerance for risk changed, not good taste. 

By exploring specific creative qualities and unique data insights into the performance of recent franchiseable IP such as BridgertonDune: Part One and Dune: Part Two, and Taylor Sheridan’s growing roster of Yellowstone inspired originals, we can better understand how new franchises are created in an era of recycling. 

Bridgerton

I’m a strong opponent of the term “guilty pleasure,” which has been bandied about to describe uber-producer Shonda Rhimes’ sexy historical romance saga. Entertainment is meant to be entertaining and needs no qualifiers or caveats, especially when it’s as successful as this. 

Before we go any further, we must note that data alone cannot reverse engineer the magic of creative talent. Quality usually is the most important factor when determining success in entertainment; even the big familiar franchises are execution dependent. However, data can help guide development, direct content investment, and understand how and why a given title is succeeding in order to replicate that formula. 

Parrot Pulse

Bridgerton now encompasses three seasons on Netflix as well as one spinoff season in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story plus pop up events, merchandise, gifts and a video game. The first two seasons of Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte have spent time among Netflix’s 10 most-watched English TV series globally at one point or another (let’s wait and see if the recently released thid season earns its way into the Top 10 too). It’s easy to see why as the centerpiece title performs remarkably well across Parrot Analytics’ Pulse Metrics. These measure:

  • Momentum: Indicates how fast demand for a title grows over the past 12 months compared to the speed of demand growth for the average title. (Bridgerton ranks among the top 1.55% of all TV titles.)
  • Travelability: Indicates the popularity of a show outside of its home market. (Top 0.58% of titles. More on this down below). 
  • Longevity: Indicates how well the title’s demand is maintained over time. (Top 3.58% of titles)
  • Franchiseability: Indicates the spin-off potential for a title. (Top 1.04% of all titles)
  • Reach: Indicates the breadth of a title’s popularity as it represents the total number of unique users expressing demand for a title. (Top 1.26% of all titles)
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From Bridgerton’s debut on December 25, 2020 through May 1, 2024, it is one of Netflix’s most in-demand originals worldwide. Specific contributing factors to its undeniable success include: exceptional travelability, core audience demographic targets, and the halo effect of in-franchise consumption affinity. 

Travelability

Since debuting, Bridgerton boasts 32.55x more travelability, or the ability to resonate in markets beyond its country of origin, versus the average title. As such, the show is particularly popular in the US as well as Brazil, UK, France, Germany, Spain and others. Queen Charlotte ranks among the top 2.49% of travelability since debuting. 

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In fact, Bridgerton ranks among the top 100 all time shows in travelability. Entertainment is an increasingly global chess board, as we’ve previously explored. Even as the greatest exporter of content in entertainment history, Hollywood can no longer only program for American audiences. The show’s success is a testament to its worldwide appeal. 

Specifically, audiences are most drawn to Bridgerton for its diverse representation and inclusivity as well as its modern take on a period drama, according to Parrot Analytics’ Sentiment Analysis. Audiences have praised the show for representing various ethnicities in prominent roles and for tackling relevant themes such as gender dynamics, social class and the constraints of societal expectations. These elements have made it relatable to contemporary audiences on a global scale while still maintaining the allure of a historical setting. This has similarly spilled over into Queen Charlotte, where positive sentiment has led to many expressing their desire for a continuation of the spinoff. 

Audience Demographics

Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte help Netflix double down on its primary audience target. The market-leading streamer over-indexes with female viewers while nearly 60% of its audience is between 13-29, according to Parrot Analytics Audience Demographic data. Both shows are overwhelmingly female-driven while also counting at least 66% of its audience in that same age group. 

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Yes, mass market streamers like Netflix love to expand the audience demographic profile with complementary programming (which is partly why the older male-leaning NFL is a good bet). But playing into a core viewership target helps to set up a new title for more immediate success. Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte feed directly into the pre-existing Netflix audience. At their peak, the two shows combined to account for an impressive 0.8% of Netflix’s entire TV catalog demand (which includes both licensed and original series across more than 2,000 TV titles in the US). 

Affinity

Consumption affinity, or what titles viewers watch together, is a crucial element of content investment efficiency, engagement and retention, and churn reduction. The longer you keep a paying subscriber on the hook, the greater the lifetime value of that customer becomes. Doing so requires strategic programming, recommendation and discoverability. Franchises help ease this burden thanks to the built in audience and organic cross-pollinating interest between entries. To best understand Ahsoka, TV audiences are likely to catch up on The MandalorianThe Clone Wars and Rebels; in order to fully appreciate Loki, MCU fans may rewatch the major movies the character appeared in. 

From January 1-May 1 of this year, Bridgerton has been the TV show with the highest affinity to Queen Charlotte and vice versa during most weeks, per Parrot’s Consumption Affinity data. Dating back to May 2023, when Queen Charlotte first premiered, the two shows have ranked within the top 10 for one another in all but five weeks. 

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This is reflected in Netflix’s own data as successful franchises tend to produce a halo effect. Bridgerton Season 1 (929.3 million global hours viewed) and Bridgerton Season 2 (797.2 million hours) are both among Netflix’s 10 most-watched English originals ever as of this writing. When Queen Charlotte premiered May 4, 2023, both Bridgerton seasons re-appeared in Netflix’s global top 10 during the ensuring weeks, racking up more than 91 million hours of additional global viewership (at virtually no extra cost to Netflix). 

Worldwide demand for Bridgerton within the first month of Queen Charlotte’s release was 80% higher compared the prior month. New seasons of successful TV series often drive catch-up viewing of previous seasons ahead of premiere. Spinoffs, such as Queen Charlotte, often drive interest back to the original after completion. Reviving interest in previously delivered entries is a key element of successful franchises and Bridgerton is designed to run for eight seasons

Dune: Part One and Dune: Part Two

Dune isn't technically new-to-screen. However, one infamous failed adaptation in the 1980s and a smaller Syfy channel TV adaptation of sequel novels in the early 2000s did not generate much of a footprint with contemporary audiences. 

On a combined reported production budget of $355 million, the two films have earned more than $1.1 billion at the global box office despite the first entry contending with COVID and a dual US release on streaming. A spinoff series, Dune: Prophecy, is coming to Max later this year. 

So how did Warner Bros. deliver a critically acclaimed new box office hit franchise at a time when well-known superheroes, Jedi, dinosaurs, giant apes, and action spies seem to be the only sure things? Besides filmmaker Denis Villeneuve crafting spectacular tales that beg for premium format viewing, WB deployed an effective marketing strategy and embraced non-exclusivity.

Marketing an Ensemble 

Villeneuve cast an impressive roster of talented actors for the Dune franchise. In an age where traditional movie star power is waning and the name of the IP and/or main character is often more of a draw than the name of the actor, Warner Bros. took a more holistic approach to selling the films to moviegoers. 

The marketing for both films highlighted the ensemble nature of the cast, promoting the deep bench of recognizable actors that were set to appear. These included (deep breath): Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Christopher Walken, Lea Seydoux and others. 

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brand affinity analysis can identify the opportunity to leverage brands, outlets, talents, etc. with the most affinity — or shared audience overlap — with a given entity. As such, we can better understand how casting and marketing helped to appeal to both a broad and specific audience. In this analysis, affinity speaks to how big the audience overlap is between two entities while reach speaks to the size of the overall following. 

Audiences that socially engaged with the first trailer for Dune: Part One exhibit a significant affinity to the highlighted Dune cast members. This means many that engaged with the Dune trailer were already following, or began to follow, key talent involved in the film. This helps to showcase the effectiveness of quality casting in tapping into and/or activating audience interest. By specifically marketing the film as an epic collection of talent, Warner Bros. was able to plug into a vast network of fandoms. (Brand affinity can also be used to inform casting for future sequels, prequels and spinoffs. As we can see above, Dune: Part One trailer audiences already shared impressive affinity with Butler, Seydoux and Pugh, who did not appear in the franchise until the second film). 

The right side of the chart reflects high affinity, though the scale of audience following for the talent listed is different when comparing the two quadrants. The bottom right quadrant represents extreme affinity between the trailer audience and key cast members who may not boast massive individual online followings. The top right quadrant represents larger individual followings with passionate fanbases that still overlap with the Dune trailer audience. This speaks to WB’s ability to activate a core target demo and expand to ancillary audiences based on the cast’s respective footprints. Instead of selling audiences on one movie star, the studio sold ticket buyers on several. 

Brand affinity analysis helps to understand what else a specific audience is interested in. Two of the largest audience clusters within the general profile for the Dune: Part One trailer audience were fans of mainstream actors and sci-fi/superhero buffs. 

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Dune cast members that fall within the first cluster included Zendaya, Chalamet, Pugh, Butler, and Isaac. Cast members that fell in the second cluster included Bautista, Bardem and Ferguson. Warner Bros. rightly promoted the franchise’s acclaimed talent and the epic otherworldly nature of the stories — a marketing two-hander focused on prestige and genre entertainment that appealed to both clusters. 

Excitement and anticipation surrounding both Dune movies were largely due to the impressive cast and performances, per Parrot’s Sentiment data. Specifically, the work from Chalamet, Zendaya, Ferguson, Butler, Bardem and Isaac, have been highlighted as major strengths through the first two films. Viewers have appreciated the depth and emotional range that the actors brought to their characters, adding layers of complexity to the story and proving Warner Bros. right in the way it publicly positioned the tale. 

Non-Exclusive Licensing

WB smartly aimed to maximize catch-up viewing of Part One leading into the sequel’s release by licensing it to Netflix and Hulu while it was also streaming on Max. This helped the IP leave a more significant pop cultural footprint right as Part Two’s marketing campaign kicked into high gear, creating a natural funnel of interest. 

It worked. Worldwide demand for Part One was 52% higher in the first two months of 2024 — ahead of Part Two’s March 1 premiere — versus the last two months of 2023. This helped Part Two earn $82.5 million in its opening weekend, the best theatrical debut of 2024 as of this writing. Global demand for Dune jumped another 47% in the first month of the sequel’s release compared to the prior month. Audiences were ping-ponging back-and-forth between both films; even 1984’s Dune saw a 162% spike in global demand in the first month of Part Two’s release. 

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In Dune: Part Two’s first two months of release, neither feature dropped out of the top 12 most in-demand movies worldwide. WBD’s effective non-exclusive licensing strategy not only helped Dune: Part Two breakout at the box office, but bolstered the halo effect between franchise entries. We can likely expect demand for both films to spike surrounding the upcoming TV spinoff. 

Taylor Sheridan

Baby boomers rejoice — cowboys are cool again! 

Paramount Global has a different type of franchise on its hands here. Rather than (just) a single piece of IP, writer/producer Taylor Sheridan boasts a singular creative vision that has spawned a prolific output, both within the Yellowstone franchise (which includes 1923 and 1883) and beyond (Special Ops: LionessTulsa KingMayor of Kingstown, and Lawmen: Bass Reeves). Rich overall talent deals rarely earn their money back in Hollywood, but studios continue to deploy them as a means to unearth exactly what Sheridan provides. He has become a brand unto himself and is undoubtedly Paramount+’s Golden Goose. 

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Sheridan’s growing roster of Neo-Western crime thrillers help to fill a void in the genre landscape and build out Paramount+’s audience demographic profile. These are valuable insights into how new concepts can succeed in today’s market. 

Demand vs Supply

From June 20, 2018 (when Yellowstone premiered) through May 1, 2024, the crime, action and thriller genres have been in high demand and high supply worldwide. In other words, they are among the most popular genres. In that same timeframe, Westerns and mysteries have been in high demand but low supply, representing an opportunity. Based on this, both areas warrant continued and/or added investment. 

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Sheridan’s shows fit exactly into these popular/underserved content lanes. The titles help Paramount+ offer subscribers unique programming that they don’t find in abundance elsewhere, thus improving the service’s perceived value among higher usage customers. As a result, the creator’s originals have accounted for a peak of 3.1% of Paramount+’s entire TV catalog, underscoring his immense contribution to the company. 

Much like the other franchises, this has also led to significant consumption affinity between titles with Yellowstone as the driving force behind this halo effect (note: Yellowstone airs on basic cable channel Paramount Network and currently streams on Peacock). At its peak, around 33% of viewers who consumed Yellowstone also watched 1923 in a given week. This is followed by 1883 (nearly 30%), Mayor of Kingstown (27%), and Tulsa King (20%). Since January 2024, Yellowstone, 1923 and 1883 all largely rank in the top five in affinity to one another. 

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This is likely due to the shared narrative and thematic DNA between the three series. Per Parrot’s Sentiment data, all three have been praised for historical accuracy and cinematography (who doesn’t love a sweeping Western vista?). Relevant themes such as cultural shifts and political intrigue help the two prequels reflect contemporary ideas, bolstering audience connection to them. 

The longer a platform can maintain viewer interest, the stickier the subscription becomes. More extended engagement leads to better ad sales. Connected high quality material helps address both issues. 

Audience Demographics

As a platform in the US, Paramount+ over-indexes with female viewers and audiences in the 23-29 age range. Sheridan’s shows help to complement this core audience by attracting a different subset of viewers. His series mostly resonate with older-skewing male audiences. 

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This provides advertisers with a broader range of prospective customers to market to, enhancing the value of ad placement on the service, which ideally increases the CPM to drive more revenue. (Paramount+ began rolling out its international ad-supported Basic subscription offering and Premium plan in March). 

Lessons Learned

Successful franchise strategy is not a one size fits all game. Even with pre-established IP leading the way recently thanks to audience familiarity and risk averse studio decision making, new concepts and ideas can and do break through. It just takes a bit more of a targeted approach. 

There are many paths to the hopeful creation of a tentpole title that can help support a big or small screen release calendar. By considering the audience demographic profile of a service, studios can focus on doubling down on an existing core or building it out. The travelability of programming is a necessary consideration for international performance and strategic regional market share efforts. The demand vs supply of the marketplace can help unearth whitespace opportunities as well as over-saturated genres. Understanding audience journeys through consumption affinity helps to direct engagement and squeeze more efficient value out of content investment. Non-exclusive licensing can be deployed to drive interest to an upcoming title and maximize its launch. Casting and marketing are key to tapping into existing fanbases and activating new ones while selling something fresh and attractive to savvy consumers. 

We may be drowning in remakes, reboots, revivals, sequels, prequels and spinoffs, but originality still stands a fighting chance. 

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