At the New York Rights Fair, “The Rise of the Streaming Giants” panel discussion drew audience questions for 15 minutes as authors and publishing professionals sought to learn more about a book-to-film marketplace that’s been disrupted by a proliferation of streaming services. Throughout the conversation, panelists highlighted how backlist authors and diverse voices benefit from a bidding environment that now includes such streaming services as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu alongside technology companies or platforms including YouTube, Facebook, and Apple.
“Yes, the streamers are still looking for traditional big blockbuster books,” said John Delaney, founder of John Delaney Literary Consulting who scouts material for HBO. “They are also looking for stuff deemed less conventional. It’s a widening, not an exclusion.”
Panelist Sean Daily, a film rights associate at Hotchkiss & Associates, summed up the promise of adapting content in this landscape. Daily spent years trying to get Josh Karp’s history of National Lampoon magazine, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, adapted. The script had been written nine years ago and the film almost got made four times. But it wasn’t until Netflix had a series of hits with director David Wain’s episodic follow-ups to Wet Hot American Summer that the streaming service came knocking for Wain’s other pet project, A Futile and Stupid Gesture.
Netflix picked up the project based on its internal audience data, and the service also leveraged data to market the final product. “When they put the film on Netflix, they can send an email to everyone who watched Wet, Hot American Summer and say, ‘Look, we’ve got this movie now!’” Daily said. “And they put it at the top of that person’s banner when they log on to Netflix.”
Panelist Mac Hawkins, a literary consultant at Pragmatic, sees the new streaming landscape as a boon for backlist books like Karp’s. “There are only so many books published every year, so eventually you have to look at the backlist,” he said.
All the panelists agreed that these new buyers have started telling more diverse stories. “Diversity is huge,” said Delaney. “Both for characters and geography as well—not just telling stories about New York or Los Angeles. Also, there’s been a huge push for women at the center of movies.”
Despite the success of dark stories like A Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu or 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, Conner Literary founder Emily Conner saw huge potential for family-oriented stories as well. “There have been so many very serious, sobering and wonderful pieces of content,” she said. “There is a sincere interest in not just sincere, poppy material, but also warm, affecting, affirming content.”
“There are so many places for things to go now,” said consultant Hawkins. “It opens up the field to all sorts of books that publishers, book buyers authors and editors are thinking, ‘This could never be a movie. This could never be a TV show.’ But we are living in a place where it might be a movie or TV show. And that’s exciting.”