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Netflix’s ‘Avatar’ Boom Convinced Nickelodeon to Reunite with Creators and Expand Franchise

The popularity of "The Last Airbender" on Netflix is also driving viewers to stream spinoff series "The Legend of Korra" on Paramount+.

"Avatar: The Last Airbender"

“Avatar: The Last Airbender”

Nickelodeon / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Fans of Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” got extraordinary news in February when ViacomCBS announced it was bringing creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko back to expand the franchise with new series and films via the creation of Avatar Studios. The show experienced a boom in popularity during the pandemic when all three seasons became available to stream on Netflix starting May 15, 2020. It was this Netflix-created surge in “Last Airbender” interest that drove ViacomCBS and Nickelodeon to go all in on the franchise expansion.

“‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ was a series that ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon and was never a huge show, but had an amazing following. We licensed that show to Netflix and it exploded,” Nickelodeon president and CEO Brian Robbins recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “Then we put this spinoff of ‘Avatar,’ ‘The Legend of Korra,’ on Paramount+, and it crushed it. That led us to our new relationship and bringing the creators of ‘Avatar’ back to Nickelodeon to form Avatar Studios. We are now on our way to a full-fledged franchise strategy, creating films and spinoffs out of ‘Avatar.'”

Licensing “Avatar” to Netflix paid off in two ways: It proved Nickelodeon should invest in the expansion of the franchise and it drove viewers to ViacomCBS’ streaming platform Paramount+ in order to stream “The Legend of Korra.” As Robbins revealed, it’s not the only time the new streamer got a significant boost thanks to Netflix.

“The second example, which actually has paid off this month, is ‘iCarly,'” Robbins said. “We knew we were going to do a reboot of ‘iCarly,’ it just took us a while to put it together. Once we knew we had it going, we licensed just a season or two of ‘iCarly’ to Netflix and it exploded with new kids discovering it for the first time, and fans who grew up on it rediscovered it. The demand for the new show was at such a fever pitch by the time [the new show] launched that it propelled ‘iCarly’ to be, if not the most successful show on Paramount+, one of the most successful shows.”

Netflix inspiring Nickelodeon to create Avatar Studios is a bit ironic considering Netflix itself had courted DiMartino and Konietzko to develop a live-action “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series. The original creators parted ways with Netflix over creative differences, but the series’ success on Netflix has allowed them to expand the franchise back home at Nickelodeon. First up is an animated movie to be directed by DiMartino and Konietzko, production on which begins later this year.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 19 years since we created ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’ But even after all that time, there are still many stories and time periods in Aang’s world that we are eager to bring to life,” Konietzko and DiMartino said in a statement earlier this year. “We are fortunate to have an ever-growing community of passionate fans that enjoys exploring the Avatarverse as much as we do. And with this new Avatar Studios venture, we have an unparalleled opportunity to develop our franchise and its storytelling on a vast scale, in myriad exciting ways and mediums.”

Click here to read more about the creation of Avatar Studios.

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