Following news of Amazon acquiring the adaptation rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, there is now no question that Harry Potter will be adapted into a TV show. And likely by a streaming platform.
In a mind-boggling deal, Amazon has outbid Netflix and HBO to secure the rights to Lord of the Rings for a reported price tag of over $200 million. They paid that just for the pleasure of being able to adapt the story — this does not include the cost of making this show, and if they want this to look as good as the movies do, you know that these episodes are going to cost a lot of money.
And make no mistake, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings must look as good as Peter Jackson’s does. It’s difficult enough to establish the visual language of an adaptation when fans’ imaginations are the only competition. After six films loaded with iconic imagery and incredible worldbuilding, viewers know what Middle Earth looks like. Meeting those expectations will be a crucial ingredient in the success of Amazon’s attempt.
Big properties come with big risks. Big property remakes, prequels, spinoffs, and sequels come with even bigger ones. Reinvented fantasy classics are a challenging trend, but one that may very well break across the entertainment genre in years to come.
What’s clear is that Amazon and the other streamers want to pursue the fantasy genre, most likely in light of Game of Thrones’ incredible success. Game of Thrones itself is Exhibit A in this new wave; even though the “final” season airs next year, Westeros isn’t going anywhere. HBO has five separate spinoff ideas in development, keeping the gravy train of dragons rolling hard.
As the streaming TV wars continue to cook at a hot temperature, everyone needs a big fantasy property to convince consumers to pay for their service. HBO will have the Thrones spinoff(s). CBS All Access has Star Trek and The Good Wife. Amazon has The Lord of the Rings. The upcoming Disney-flix will have a live-action Star Wars show, a Marvel show, a High School Musical show, and a Monsters, Inc. show.
That leaves Hulu and Apple. What do they have that competes with HBO, CBS, and now Amazon?
Netflix’s Game of Thrones is arguably Stranger Things — more restrained than the swords-and-sex drama, but with its own intense mythology and a an increasingly rabid fanbase. There’ve been rumors about adapting The Legend of Zelda, but that hasn’t happened yet. (Also: It’s Netflix. They just need to continue being their usual Netflix-y selves in order to remain king).
Hulu’s been competing by offering complete archives of classics like Seinfeld and Will & Grace. The Handmaid’s Tale is a critical hit, but it’s no fantasy smash, and we’ve yet to see how well Marvel’s teen-dramedy Runaways will perform.
And Apple, king of all other things digital, is just starting to get into the streaming wars — The two big titles they have are a Carpool Karaoke show and a new Reese Witherspoon / Jennifer Aniston project.
That leaves a significant gap in the must-see TV slot for both services. So what are Hulu and Apple going to do to secure their spot as a must-subscribe streaming platform? There’s only one answer: Harry Potter.
Hulu, Apple, or someone needs to buy Harry Potter to remain competitive. Lord of the Rings may be older, Game of Thrones sexier, and Marvel more sprawling. But as franchises go, nothing comes close to the universal appeal, recognition, and — to be cynical about it — pure marketability of Harry Potter.
The only problem is: Will Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling sell? Putting the complex web of money and merchandising rights aside, it might take a convincing pitch to put the world of Potter in new hands. A promise of doing things differently than the movies did might do it though, or WB/JKR may ask that Apple adapt something outside of the Harry Potter and Newt Scamander storylines.
(Shhhh, nobody mention the Marauders.)
It’s hard to imagine that there is an area of #franchising that Harry Potter hasn’t touched yet. We have books, movies, theme parks, plays, video games. We have Pottermore, assaulting us with grand and bizarre detail, wands that actually work, and soon we’ll all literally be walking around casting spells on the Wizarding version of Pokemon Go.
But television remains the series’ undiscovered country, and even after eight wildly successful movies, the small screen has a powerful draw. The amount of detail Rowling put into her seven books begs to be adapted into high quality, commercial-free episodes of TV. They could put EVERY sentence from the books into the TV show and fans would eat it up, second by second.
I could see Apple making a serious play for the rights to Harry Potter. They’re getting close to becoming the world’s first trillion-dollar company, so they could throw as much money as Rowling asked for. And WB and Team Rowling would probably like to associate with Apple because they have a big brand that screams “high quality”.
And facial recognition. Don’t forget that.
In what might be a sign of things to come, Apple and Team Rowling have already teamed up on multiple exclusives over the years. Most recently Apple has become the home of special edition Harry Potter books, which consist of animations from Pottermore. They were also the original home of the Harry Potter audiobooks. At the same keynote touting the audiobooks, Steve Jobs showed off Harry Potter podcasts in the iTunes store (He downloaded one called “MuggleCast”).
In other words, Apple and Harry are already acquainted with one another. Friendly, you might say. Open to a mutually-agreeable partnership.
As Amazon’s acquisition of The Lord of the Rings demonstrates, no property is too sacred or too newly-adapted to enjoy translation into another medium. And while adapting Harry Potter for streaming television would be a colossal undertaking, it’s not like Apple to back away from a challenge.
What was so long a lingering possibility now seems inevitable: Accio HPTV.