As more networks and streaming media companies seek to differentiate themselves through original TV shows and movies, they're having to look at unconventional sources to find their big hits.
What they're finding is that the next water-cooler show or movie could be inspired by existing franchises, musicians, or concepts — and written by die-hard fans themselves.
"Entertainment is going through a period of disruption," Wattpad CEO Allen Lau told Cheddar. "There's never been more demand on original content. Everyone is looking to us to bring amazing, proven, original IP [intellectual property] with a built-in audience."
Wattpad started out as a platform for people to upload their stories 13 years ago, quickly drawing the attention of fan fiction writers who write fantasies about their favorite musicians, actors, and fictional characters.
As media companies began looking for more material to make movies and TV shows, Wattpad's 500+ million uploads became a source for original content. Many of the stories come with built-in fans from Wattpad's more than 70 million users. Studios hope they will follow their favorite tales to streaming platforms.
Wattpad launched its Wattpad Studios division three years ago to help co-produce some of the projects. Netflix's "The Kissing Booth" and Hulu's "Light As A Feather" started out as Wattpad stories. More than 70 stories were turned into TV episodes for the Philippines' "Wattpad Presents" TV series.
Over the last year, the company has signed deals with eight international studios, including Sony Television Entertainment, Huayi Bros (Korea), Lagardere (France), Mediaset (Italy), Mediacorp (Singapore) and NL Film (the Netherlands). It also has existing deals with Universal Cable Productions, eOne, Bavaria Fiction (Germany), and iflix (Indonesia), among others.
Wattpad's greatest success story is "After," which started out as fanfic about a person going to college with the One Direction members. After the company noticed the story gaining traction on its platform, it reached out to the author, Anna Todd, to see if they could partner up to turn her story into in different forms of content. "After" turned into five novels.
"It was the most popular story on our platform five years ago," Lau explained. "We noticed some anomalies in our data. It was trending really fast. Then we started contacting Anna Todd, the author of the story. A year later we struck a deal with Simon Schuster. We co-published the story, and before we knew it we sold 15 million copies in many different languages around the world."
"After" also became a major motion picture, bringing in more than $69.5 million in the global box office. A movie sequel is in the works, with filming starting next week.
Authors retain the rights to their stories, but Wattpad helps facilitate partnerships to bring the online materials to other mediums. Using artificial intelligence and other data mining methods, the company determines which stories are gaining traction with which kinds of fans. From that, it finds the right projects for its production partners. The company also launched a publishing division, Wattpad Books, to publish the right projects in print. Its first book "The QB Bad Boy and Me," will be released on August 20th.
"At the end of the day our goal is to help writers to get rewarded, whether its gaining a fan base or financial reward through these partnerships," Lau said.