Netflix's $1B Roald Dahl Deal May Be the Biggest Investment in Kids Programming Yet

Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka - Photofest - H 2018

Talk about a golden ticket.

Netflix's deal with The Roald Dahl Story Co., announced Tuesday, is ambitious, with a plan to create multiple limited animated series based on the beloved author's work. It's also an eye-popping financial transaction and could represent one of the biggest single investments ever in kids and family programming, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

The streamer has hinted at a shared universe in its adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and a number of other Dahl books. It's a page from the franchise-building playbook employed by movie studios — and increasingly, TV networks and streaming companies looking for ways to give viewers a port in the never-ending storm of content that is the Peak TV era.

First the numbers: Sources tell THR that Netflix paid a nine-figure sum just for the rights to Dahl's works. The company acquired 16 of the author's titles, including Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, The BFG, The Twits, George's Marvellous Medicine and The Enormous Crocodile. Endeavor Content, the year-old company formed from WME Global and IMG's entertainment sales and finance groups, brokered the deal.

Netflix says it will make "premium animated event series and specials" based on the stories.

"Netflix is known for innovative and high-quality storytelling," said Gideon Simeloff, strategy director for The Roald Dahl Story Co. "There is no other place in the world that can deliver animated entertainment for the whole family at such quality and scale."

The "scale" part of the equation is already in place. No writers or animators are attached to the Dahl projects yet, but the total production budget for the collection of series and specials is likely to be above $500 million and could reach $1 billion.

The mass acquisition of the Dahl titles also sets up a potential family friendly franchise for Netflix. The company says it will stay true to the spirit of Dahl's work but also create an "imaginative story universe" that may link stories and characters — a kid-centric version of the Marvel universe.

That kind of self-reinforcing ecosystem is old hat now at movie studios, and TV providers are adopting the strategy as well. Netflix alone has laid out big money for rights to C.S. Lewis' Narnia books and comics creator Mark Millar's MIllarworld.

HBO is developing several Game of Thrones prequels; AMC is sending Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes into a series of Walking Dead-adjacent feature-length movies and producer Sony TV is making a Breaking Bad follow-up film; Amazon is developing multiple Lord of the Rings series; and old-school franchise king Dick Wolf recently secured a sixth Law & Order series on NBC, along with his three Chicago shows.

"The franchise strategy in many respects is an extension of the spinoff strategy but done on a grander scale," ICM Partners co-managing director Ted Chervin told THR in a recent interview. "The idea of having a one-off hit is a great thing, but a hit that spawns additional valuable IP is better."