Netflix is working harder than ever to keep subscribers engaged and reaching for their wallets. The streaming giant is selling action figures and apparel inspired by a new show based on a popular Japanese manga called One Piece.
The move breaks new ground for the company, which has sold merchandise for its shows in the past, including Stranger Things, Sex Education, and The Witcher, but only after they had proven themselves successful. Here, Netflix put all its eggs in its One Piece basket before it knew whether the show would be a hit.
This is the company’s latest effort to wring more dollars from its subscribers, from raising subscription prices and cracking down on password-sharing, to hosting Bridgerton-themed balls and Squid Game virtual reality experiences.
One Piece tells the story of a young pirate who sets off on an adventure to find the ultimate treasure known as the “One Piece.” The series is wildly popular: More than 516 million copies of the manga have been sold worldwide since it was released in July 1997, and last year, One Piece Film: Red, an animated movie adaptation of the manga, hit No. 1 in the Japanese box office, outperforming blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick by over 6 billion yen (or over $40 million).
The new live-action adaptation made its Netflix debut on August 31, and it’s already a huge success. But Netflix took a gamble by creating merchandise months before it knew whether fans would even like the show.
“It’s a way for us to continue a conversation with a fan base that’s really into a show, that really wants to purchase something to show their love for characters,” Marian Lee, Netflix’s chief marketing officer, told the Wall Street Journal.
What Wednesday Addams taught Netflix
After sunsetting its DVD mailing system on Friday—the company’s original business, started 25 years ago, that was eventually overshadowed by the streaming boom—Netflix is looking for other ways to wring every last dollar out of its customers. Since May, Netflix has successfully cracked down on sharing account passwords. And in July, it raised its monthly subscription prices and eliminated its cheapest ad-free subscription tier.
Utilizing merchandise and experiences to keep fans engaged between seasons of shows is a relatively new strategy for the company. It indicates Netflix is taking a page from the book of its new streaming competitor, Disney, whose popular theme parks and cruises that bring its content to life and create revenue streams outside box-office results. Before it started producing its own pipeline of original shows and movies, Netflix lacked the rights to sell show-inspired products as it licensed other studios’ content for years.
Just look at what happened with Jenna Ortega’s goth-inspired dance to The Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck” in Wednesday: The scene went viral as people recreated the dance on social media and the tag #wednesdaydance amassed over 2.3 billion views on TikTok. But Netflix didn’t own the merchandising rights to the show, the Wall Street Journal reported, so fans of the Tim Burton show instead bought unofficial merchandise inspired by the Addams Family character from third-party retailers. Netflix has since partnered with MGM, the studio that owns the intellectual property rights to the franchise, on goods, according to the Journal.
But now that Netflix has original hits on its hands, the company has been building out its array of experiences. For example, the events series The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience invites fans of the romance hit to dress up and attend a Regency-era-inspired ball. Similarly, Netflix created a virtual reality experience mimicking the Korean survival drama Squid Game. Since 2021, over four million people have attended Netflix’s various pop-up events, the Journal reported.