With around 520 original series set to premiere on television in 2019, a 69% increase in the past five years, the demand for source material and existing intellectual property in Hollywood is greater than ever.
“With the advent of so many new streaming services, there is more available bandwidth,” says Rich Green, head of media rights at ICM. “In the search for original programming, those purveyors of original content want to take advantage of all these new opportunities. If you are a show creator, perhaps you’re capable of coming up with one, two, three original ideas on your own in a given season, but you have five, six, seven, eight opportunities to sell multiple shows for television. So where do you go?”
That’s where departments such as Green’s come in. The increase in buyers means more opportunity to sell existing material adapted for a new medium. Novels and other source material such as podcasts and articles come with some built-in knowledge of what the property will be, which at times can feel like a smaller risk for buyers. It’s all about combing “through the carefully curated material,” including many backlist titles, to find the right ones to bring to the marketplace at the right time, Green says.
Jason Richman, a media-rights agent at UTA, says when he started at the agency, his department was selling book rights to film 95% of the time. Now, however, agents are selling more than 60% to television. There’s a simple explanation: “The distribution model is changing, but they still need content to help drive all of that.”
Michelle Weiner, who heads CAA’s books department, says the increasing demand for adaptations has changed the internal structure of companies supplying the content.
“We have almost 15 people now doing books to film and television,” she says. “It is a culture of reading as much as you can get your hands on.”
The same approach to finding adaptations has trickled over to the programming side, says Beatrice Springborn, Hulu’s vice president of originals development.
“We’re really looking for books that we and our audience are going to emotionally connect to, books that have a world that exists beyond the page — worlds in which you can expand beyond the imagination of the reader,” Springborn says.
“For us it’s not about a trend; it’s not about a fad; it’s about just wanting to capture that feeling and hopefully that translates into the shows that are based on these books,” she says.
She and her team saw the potential for that audience connection and expansion beyond the page in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was published in 1985 and long past its bestseller days — until Hulu adapted it.
Thanks to the adaptation explosion, a diverse range of voices have gotten the opportunity to be heard, with more women, people of color and LGBTQ voices making waves in the marketplace.
“I feel like I naturally gravitate towards being able to give a voice to those that I believe should have or need a bigger voice out there, through film and television,” says Richman, who helped sell “” based on a book proposal. “And I think it’s important for us as representatives to be able to embolden those voices.”
Right now Richman has also noticed a larger interest in “literature that has a hopeful bent” so audiences can “take their mind off of the world.” But overall, quality writing and a unique voice are key for players on both sides of the business when they are looking for material to adapt.
“Some of the reasons why there’s been such a demand for good content is wherever there are good stories, you’re going to get the best and top talent,” Springborn says. “The demand for the types of stories are because we want to be able to attract talent that want to tell stories that haven’t been told before. You can only do that when you have the best materials to do so.”