Welcome to the first of a series of six articles that look at Netflix and its efforts in the competitive space of children’s programming. In this first post, Emily Horgan, an independent media analyst with a background in television for kids’ IP will assert her opinion on Julie and the Phantoms being Netflix’s biggest shot yet at having a big franchise in the kids space.
Check out the Netflix family socials and you will see that they are pretty excited about Julie and the Phantoms, and why shouldn’t they be? The series represents the first thoroughbred past the post from the stable of top showrunners unceremoniously poached from Disney Channel. Kenny Ortega, the series director and choreographer, was the driving force behind Disney Channel’s High School Musical and Descendants. He’s working alongside David Lawrence, the composer who brought these franchises musically to life. Finally, throw in producers David Hoge and Dan Cross and you’ve got a team that has outputted a serious volume of successful children’s programming.
The themes of the series hit a number of known sweet spots of this audience. Mystery and music in a relatable high school setting, topped off with a pinch of spook will definitely hook the kids in. Ditching the laughter track, that has been a grating fixture of these types of shows, whilst layering in a diversity of role models and playing to some nice 90s fashion and culture nostalgia will get the parents watching too. The music is strong, and laid on generously, with a standout moment at the end of episode 1 that would melt granite. Looking at the Netflix Futures YouTube channel you’ll see they have the Disney Channel playbook in hand here too, where all the songs are available in multiple formats, giving the audience a chance to get into the music before they’re even into the show. Given the target audience it’s a puzzler why they haven’t gone heavier on TikTok also.
The formula seems to be working though, with Julie and the Phantoms consistently cutting through in the top 10 Netflix series since it’s September 10th launch, including ranking for Australia, Canada and the US. This is not a typical achievement from a kids show on the platform. The broad success in over 30 countries may be attributable to the origin DNA of its Brazilian source material, Julie e os Fantasmas. The larger than life drama delivered by these types of series are known to have kid appeal in markets across LATAM and Europe, making the show an efficient commission for Netflix.
What’s upcoming for the series will be interesting to see. Kenny Ortega has spoken about season 2 plans, the suggestion of which is reinforced by the ending of the final episode. He’s also spoken about a live musical experience that would blow the IP status up to franchise levels. He certainly has the credentials to make this huge, though one can assume any plans here are firmly on hold in the current world situation. There’s been no word on any licensing deals seen to date either which would mean that a hardline doll or toy ambition isn’t in the offing. At this stage, this would likely skew the series too young, however, but we might see a last-minute clothing play by someone like a Walmart or Primark if the success continues.