Netflix can plug YA adaptation gap, says Norton

Netflix can plug YA adaptation gap, says Norton

The success of Netflix's recent adaptation of 13 Reasons Why “clears the path” for more streaming-style young adult (YA) adaptations according to one media executive, forming part of the “golden age” of children’s TV.

Writer and producer Jeff Norton told The Bookseller that Netflix is filling the gap in the market for YA adaptations left by outlets such as BBC3 moving to go online-only last year.

Norton founded transmedia production company Awesome Media & Entertainment Ltd, based in Sussex, and spoke at the Children’s Media Conference (CMC) in Sheffield on Tuesday (6th July). He works with various publishers and partners with producers and broadcasters to "create immersive worlds" in books and television. The company is currently working with more than 20 with major publishers and has five TV shows in development around the world. 

Norton told The Bookseller: “There’s been a gap in the market for YA adaptations left by [companies such as] FreeForm, the CW Network and BBC3 that I’m buoyed to see Netflix is now filling.  The success of '13 Reasons Why' clears the path for more YA adaptations on the svod [streaming or video on demand] service.” The 2007 novel by Jay Asher (Penguin) about a teenage girl's suicide was recently adapted into a 13-episode season by Netflix and a second season was confirmed in May.

Norton also emphasised the importance of picture books for the TV market. In 2015, Little Tiger Press acquired the license to publish Norton’s digital picture book Stomp School in print.  He said: “I maintain that picture books are a great place to start when creating a pre-school TV show. I’m very much looking forward to August when my very first picture book, Stomp School , publishes." Norton said they were “already well into development on the TV” aspect of the book.

The Canadian, who previously helped managed the literary estates of Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, said that books offer TV executives an opportunity to tap into a pre-existing audience. He said: “The one perennial trend is that TV buyers desire built-in audiences, which gives books a distinct advantage as a source of creative IP.  Over the years, we’ve had (and turned down) multiple option offers on our best-selling Princess Ponies franchise [created by Norton and Julie Sykes] (Bloomsbury) because it has a global brand platform and we can be patient to work with the right network of partners to gallop the ponies to the screen.”

However the gap between the reading age suggestions in books and TV can cause issues, Norton warned. He said: “One of the biggest challenges is that the reading age segmentation that publishers and booksellers use doesn’t match up perfectly with the age segments that broadcasters use. That’s less of an issue with streamers, but it creates a mismatch when going from book to screen.  For example, many kids broadcasters have a category called “six to 11,” which straddles chapter books and middle grade novels.”

The higher costs and the complex process of adaptations can also make adapting for the screen more difficult according to Norton, as All3Media's head of literary acquisitions, Hannah Griffiths, also recently told The Bookseller. Norton said: “The other major challenge is that the capital cost of publishing a book is relatively low compared to mounting a TV series. With children’s TV, producers must cobble together the financing through a variety of means, including broadcaster license fees, distributor advances, and if lucky, licensing revenue.”

Norton said it could be a “long, complex and often fraught” process compared to publishing but said he believed overall it was a “golden age” for children’s TV and publishing.