There’s an ongoing question around kids’ content in streaming: Is distribution via SVODs alone enough to drive franchise-level success? This can be defined as content engagement at a critical mass of scale where it’s possible to extensively commercialize the IP across other businesses, notably toys. Up until now there has only been one major example of this, Spirit Riding Free from DreamWorks.
DreamWorks and Netflix
DreamWorks went all in on streaming many years before it was fashionable. Their 2013 Netflix deal saw them commit hefty first-run windows on TV content supporting franchises like Shrek and Madagascar. If the streaming landscape were a person, it probably wouldn’t remember a time when this deal wasn’t part of the furniture.
The collaboration has seen over 1200 episodes of TV outputted. Derivative content for The Croods, Trolls, How to Train Your Dragon, and The Boss Baby has all flowed through. There has also been standalone success with Guillermo del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia trilogy. Add to this the franchise rebirth of Spirit Riding Free and it’s fair to say the partnership has been a win-win.
Editorial Pivot in the Deal
Following DreamWorks’ acquisition by NBC Universal, a clear editorial pivot was visible. Series hitting Netflix started to diversify away from the DreamWorks franchise film catalog. Derivatives from Universal Pictures were favored, including Fast & Furious and Jurassic Park. Alongside this shift, the proverbial streaming wars gathered pace, with DreamWorks Animation Television furiously accumulating output partners; added to Netflix and Amazon Prime were Hulu and Apple TV+, as well as NBCU’s own SVOD, Peacock.
Even with a vast film catalog available for inspiration, DreamWorks needed to dig a little deeper to keep up with all this output. Although books and comics remained a trusted source, an original preschool concept, Gabby’s Dollhouse, was greenlit. This is notable in the current streaming landscape where there’s a strong instinct to place bets on existing IP. DreamWorks themselves weren’t particularly in the habit of creating brand new TV concepts.
Gabby’s Dollhouse Launch
In the show, we follow Gabby, who uses her magical cat ears to transport herself into her dollhouse where she goes on adventures and solves problems alongside a host of kitty characters. The concept unashamedly hits every imaginable sweet spot for young girls: cute cats/kittens, fun hair accessories, baking, crafting, mermaids… the list goes on. It’s pink and sparkly in esthetic. It even has an aspirational angle in each episode’s live-action opening. Viewers are brought into the show by the slightly older Laila Lockhart Kraner. Despite trends away from over-gendering for kids’ media in recent years, what’s cliché is still often bullseye.
Gabby’s Dollhouse premiered on Netflix in January 2021. But wait—that isn’t the start of the story. The series had already gotten some special attention. Clips of the show were seeded in the latter end of 2020 on a YouTube channel DreamWorks had dedicated to another Netflix Original, nursery rhyme focused Rhyme Time Town.
More than the YouTube activity, master toy licensee Spin Master had come on board with a plan for playsets, figures, plush, games, and puzzles. In collaboration with NBCU, they would also launch an interactive mobile app ahead of the series premiere.
The launch of Gabby’s Dollhouse was followed a few weeks later by another DreamWorks preschool stablemate, Go, Dog. Go! Both Gabby’s Dollhouse and Go, Dog. Go! pinged the Nielsen SVOD Top Ten around their premieres. Gabby’s Dollhouse would go on to chart again at its second and third season launches. Global monthly views on the YouTube channel, now rebranded Gabby & Friends, averaged in excess of 18 million throughout 2021. The series also featured in Netflix’s Global Hours Viewed Top 10, when these charts were introduced in the second half of that year.
Gabby’s Dollhouse Year 1 Performance
These shark fins of performance hint at the series impact across the whole of 2021. It’s fair to say that Gabby’s Dollhouse had a stunning show, particularly given it was running a mere 10 episodes of content until August. In US Nielsen Streaming Ratings it came out as the Top Original for Kids 2–11, beating Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous and even the more established Boss Baby: Back in Business. Within the overall ranking, it rubbed shoulders with household franchises like Peppa Pig and Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, trumping Bluey and PJ Masks.
It holds similar bedfellows in the FlixPatrol Kids Trending Top 10. Here it ranked 2nd for 2021 globally, behind PAW Patrol but ahead of Peppa Pig and even the viewing behemoth that is CoComelon. Looking internationally, FIGSUK data from Digital i has Gabby’s Dollhouse as Netflix’s most popular Kids Original, second only to Peppa Pig in the overall ranking.
Do we have a new Netflix Original Kids franchise?
So do we have a new Netflix Original Kids franchise? Content performance metrics certainly tell a positive story. Although we’re bereft of public benchmarks for when this has happened before, it’s clear that the numbers Gabby’s Dollhouse has seen as a year 1 property are exceptional. In addition to this success, the IP had an extensive merchandise licensing line, claiming a spot in NPD’s top five new toy properties in North America, with a European roll-out in hand for 2022. The property was mentioned multiple times in Spin Master’s latest earnings call, suggesting that they are quite happy with the business it has done in 2021.
Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence is from Netflix themselves. The series was recently given a further 20-episode order. In the words of Netflix Preschool Lead Heather Tilert:
“Kids absolutely love the world of Gabby’s Dollhouse.”
This is in addition to greenlights on two new DreamWorks preschool Originals: Not Quite Narwhal, based on a book, and Dew Drop Diaries, another fresh IP. These are definitely signals that the Netflix–DreamWorks relationship is alive and well, and that franchise-level IP is of interest to Netflix, even when it’s not their own.