The Future of Television Is Heavily Franchised Blockbuster IP

Television is unrecognizable from even a decade ago. The Blockbuster Era of TV is now dominated by franchises and high-profile IP.

Television is unrecognizable from even a decade ago. The Blockbuster Era of TV is now dominated by franchises and high-profile IP. Marvel, Lucasfilm, HBO

As the technology and capability at the disposal of both Hollywood and the consumer develop and evolve, so too does the definitive entertainment of an era. The advent of the DVD helped audiences stay up to date with their favorite television shows without the rigid constraint of weekly scheduling. As a result, the medium began to move away from episodic procedurals and toward serialized storytelling. This pivot ushered in a new age of television.

The Sopranos revolutionized the small screen and cemented premium cable network HBO as a destination for boundary-pushing entertainment. The mob drama spawned a run of heavies headlined by notoriously problematic men that trickled down to basic cable with AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Yes, the Peak TV era was defined by the abundance of deeply compelling dramatic work that dominated headlines and siphoned national attention. But its more significant legacy is the leeway it allowed for smaller human dramas that were equally as touching, yet not nearly as popular, to emerge, flourish, and survive. Without Golden Age entries such as The Shield and The Wire, the medium may never have reached a point where it could birth even more niche successes such as Rectify and The Leftovers.

But with the arrival of The Walking Dead in 2010 and Game of Thrones in 2011, television began another metamorphosis. The dawn of the Blockbuster TV era pushed networks to find broad appeal genre-tinted commercial hits; big budget home run swings with all the flash of a big screen movie. The proliferation of content-hungry streaming services backed by well-resourced tech giants has flooded the market with oodles of money to make this possible. The Hollywood shift away from original concepts and towards known franchises and high-profile intellectual property has only expedited the transition into this new TV arena over the last decade. Now, as we look out across the upcoming horizon of the small screen, it is practically all we see.

Franchise TV

The dominant big screen pop culture franchises are spawning small screen expansions at a rapid rate. Looking ahead, the monoculture will be defined by these expensive appointment viewing titles.

Marvel (Disney (DIS)+)

  • What If…?
  • She-Hulk
  • Hawkeye
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Moon Knight
  • Secret Invasion
  • Armor Wars
  • Ironheart
  • Untitled Wakanda Series
  • Loki Season 2

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most consistently successful creation in Hollywood history. Its box office prowess knows no equal in the modern day. Thus far, through three series, the MCU’s expansion to the small screen via Disney+ is equally as successful. Soon, the shared cinematic universe will spawn more than 30 titles across both mediums.

Star Wars (Disney+)

  • The Book of Boba Fett
  • The Mandalorian Season 3
  • Andor
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • The Acolyte
  • Ahsoka
  • Lando
  • Visions
  • Rangers of the New Republic

Star Wars, arguably the original iteration of the blockbuster franchise concept, will continue its takeover of television in the upcoming years. The Mandalorian, the first-ever live-action Star Wars TV series, proved to be a unifying entry in a galaxy far, far away that has replenished audience enthusiasm for “hokey religions and ancient weapons.” One consistent theme among these many lists is the use of both live-action and animation to grow the look, feel, tone, and target demographic of these known quantities. Singular franchise titles are diversifying their approach to further broaden their appeal.

Game of Thrones (HBO/HBO Max)

  • House of the Dragon
  • 10,000 Ships
  • 9 Voyages
  • Tales of Dunk & Egg
  • Animated Golden Empire of Yi Ti series

Game of Thrones proved so overwhelmingly popular for HBO that the powers that be opted to fund not only the network’s first ever spinoff in House of the Dragon, but an entire universe set in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world. Multiple prequel spinoffs are in the works across HBO and HBO Max as Martin’s expansive fictional history offers a limitless playground for new stories.

DC (HBO Max)

  • Peacemaker
  • DC Superhero High
  • Green Lantern
  • Justice League Dark
  • GCPD
  • DMZ
  • Michael B. Jordan’s Superman series
  • Batman: The Caped Crusader
  • My Adventures With Superman
  • Constantine 
  • Doom Patrol Season 3
  • Harley Quinn Season 3
  • Titans Season 4
  • Young Justice Season 4

As always, take DC’s announcements and reported projects in the works with a grain of salt. But there’s little doubt that WarnerMedia is banking on its superhero banner to carry a heavy load, particularly as the company prepares to merge with Discovery Inc. DC encompasses a wide range of pre-existing live-action and animated hits as well as a deluge of highly-anticipated upcoming originals and spinoffs. Along with Game of Thrones, DC will be a cornerstone for HBO Max (punctuated by the release of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad in both theaters and on HBO Max this weekend).

Streaming IP

Most streaming services don’t have the luxury of a century old library from which they can build a shared cinematic universe of franchises. Instead, they must rely on big ticket one-off bets that hopefully support new franchises in the making.

Amazon (AMZN)

  • Lord of the Rings TV series
  • The Wheel of Time
  • The Boys Season 3
  • Untitled The Boys spinoff
  • Invincible Seasons 2 and 3
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith
  • Anansi Boys
  • Event Horizons
  • Ringworld 

Amazon no doubt has big reboot, revival, spinoff and continuation plans in store for MGM’s library after acquiring the studio for $8.45 billion. But before that effort can get off the ground, studio head Jennifer Salke is banking on a number of familiar IPs, comic book adaptations, reimaginings of previous titles, and more. It’s all part of Amazon’s plan to transform Prime Video from an added value streaming service to a dominant player in the entertainment market. Will it be enough to compete with the deep rooted history of Star Wars, Marvel and DC? Only time will tell.

Netflix (NFLX)

  • Assassin’s Creed
  • Knives Out 2 and 3
  • Army of the Dead franchise
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Resident Evil
  • The Sandman
  • The Wither Season 2
  • The Witcher: Blood Origin
  • Bridgerton Seasons 2 and 3
  • Vikings: Valhalla

Netflix is desperately attempting to develop its own franchises, but going about it in a few unique ways. Their approach ranges from overpaying for existing theatrical successes, mining the high-upside world of video game IP, live-action adaptations of famous animated shows, novel series adaptations, and original concepts. What Netflix is discovering as its library of licensed titles shrinks is that creating a new franchise from scratch is a lot more difficult than it seems.

The Future of Television Is Heavily Franchised Blockbuster IP