Netflix’s “The Kissing Booth” may have an approval rating of under 20 per cent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s still one of the most popular movies in the world right now.
The teenage romantic comedy is the latest in a string of successful onscreen adaptations from self-published writers on Wattpad, a website where aspiring novelists can share their books, often one chapter at a time.
The Toronto-based company wants to branch out beyond e-books and believes it can tap into loyal fanbases and a trove of user data to help movie and TV producers discover the next big hit.
“I think it is an exceptionally unique time in entertainment,” said Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios, a roughly two-year-old division that is responsible for taking stories from the website and turning them into adaptations for movies, film, TV, games and any other possible avenue.
He sees opportunity in a world where big budget movies expected to be box office hits fail to turn significant profits, and where television networks cancel many shows after a one-year run — leaving studios with scarce returns on big investments. Streaming services like Netflix and YouTube have also been pumping out original content to lure traditional movie and TV audiences.
Wattpad determined it could help producers avoid duds by scouring readership data to determine popular texts.
“It isn’t using data at any one point in the process,” said Levitz. “It’s actually using it continually.”
In May, the company announced Hulu picked up supernatural thriller “Light as a Feather” for a straight-to-series deal, and Sony Pictures Television acquired the rights to “Death is my BFF.”
Wattpad looks at both what readers are reading and writers are writing from millions of subgenres in order to select a story it believes will resonate.
Once a story is selected, the company continues to use data to develop it into marketable content. They may, for example, use reader comments on specific lines or sections of text and opt to eliminate a secondary character from a script if enough readers indicate they didn’t love that person. The company profits as a producer, Levitz said, while writers earn money selling the rights to their text. He did not provide further details and, as Wattpad is a private company, would not say how much of their revenue stems from the studio arm.
Wattpad relies on its data to help companies market the projects and reach that promised built-in audience of readers before an adaptation is released to help ensure its success.
“It means we can use that data to motivate audiences to go, go to box offices, turn on streaming services or go to bookstores,” said Levitz.
The company ran a contest that asked writers to submit their real-life teenage love stories to re-energize “The Kissing Booth” fans who were first introduced to the then 15-year-old author’s tale in 2011.
After it’s Netflix premiere date, “The Kissing Booth” rose to one of the top 10 most popular movies in the world, according to movie site IMDB. It’s now sitting at the no. 12 spot.
Isabelle Ronin, a 31-year-old author who turned her self-published Wattpad writing into a book deal, was thrilled to see the success of “The Kissing Booth” and excited by how many Wattpad stories are being turned into movies and TV shows. She’s hopeful an opportunity will emerge for her too.
“Oh my god, I hope so,” she said. “I hope so.”
She self-published “Chasing Red,” which has been read about 187 million times, on the website in 2014.
She landed a publishing deal and turned her romance novel about a college student who finds herself suddenly homeless and the basketball player who offers her a place to stay into two books, “Chasing Red” and “Always Red.”
Wattpad increasingly wants to showcase stories like Ronin’s on other platforms. The company is working to expand its studio operations. It grew its L.A. and Asia teams this year.
“Wattpad sees the studio business as an important part and cornerstone of strategy,” Levitz said.
That strategy, which Wattpad says can help traditional media in an age of disruption, is also helping to fuel the changes as the self-publishing platform sells content to alternative media companies, like Netflix.
YouTube is also working to tap into undiscovered talent and showcase it on its website, adding more pressure on traditional studios.
The video-sharing site recently launched its Premium service, formerly known as YouTube Red, in 17 countries. Premium gives watchers access to its music-streaming service and original shows content for a monthly fee.
While some of their original productions rely on professional actors, others take YouTube personalities with an established audience and a good idea to create premium subscriber content, said Adam Smith, vice-president of product for YouTube Music and Premium.
Joey Graceffa, for example, hosts “Escape The Night” — a mystery series in its third season and available to watch with a YouTube Premium subscription. He’s built up more than 11 million followers across two channels.
YouTube earns revenue from the ads played before the creator’s videos and subscription fees, said Smith. YouTubers earn a share from both sources as well.
“It’s something we do intend to continue to invest into.”