The biggest star behind a spate of new streaming television shows is no celebrity or top-flight director, but rather innovative music deals.
“Beat Bugs,” a cartoon series on Netflix that makes heavy use of Beatles songs, along with two planned shows early in their development — “Time Out of Mind,” a Bob Dylan-themed drama for Amazon, and another Netflix cartoon that draws on the Motown songbook — all came about because of licensing deals that let the producers of the shows make unusually extensive use of valuable song catalogs.
“Beat Bugs,” which will have its premiere in August, follows five young creatures on adventures set to classic Beatles songs like “All You Need Is Love” and “Magical Mystery Tour” — to be sung by Eddie Vedder, Sia and other pop stars — that are woven into the plot. For example, in one episode, a character is trapped under glass while the song “Help!” plays.
The other shows are to involve even deeper kinds of musical integration. “Time Out of Mind,” planned as an hourlong drama, will include characters and settings drawn from the lyrics of Mr. Dylan’s songs, and each episode of the Motown show — whose theme song is the Jackson 5’s “ABC” — will revolve around a different song from that catalog.
“Time Out of Mind” and the as-yet-untitled Motown show have not been formally announced, but entertainment executives involved in their production, who were not authorized to discuss contractual details publicly, said that in both cases deals were close to being completed. Representatives of Amazon and Netflix declined to comment on those productions.
The news of “Time Out of Mind,” which is being developed with Lionsgate Entertainment, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
When producers approach music publishers or record labels for licensing rights, they usually seek permission for only a handful of songs. But the deals around these shows break new ground, music executives say, by securing rights to a large pool of songs that the producers can draw on.
For “Beat Bugs,” that means the catalog of more than 250 songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and for “Time Out of Mind,” it involves Mr. Dylan’s full catalog of more than 600 songs, including not only the right to record the material with new singers but — in an arrangement that people close to Mr. Dylan called unprecedented — to make use of song lyrics for characters, situations and themes in each episode’s plot.
“It’s highly unusual, and you could only do it with a catalog that has a distinct feel and a distinct meaning,” said Martin Bandier, the chief executive of Sony/ATV, the giant music publisher that controls the Beatles and Motown catalogs.
The central force behind each of the new shows is Josh Wakely, a 31-year-old Australian writer and director who has secured extensive licensing arrangements with the songs’ music publishers.
Mr. Wakely, whose production company is called Grace: A Storytelling Company, approached Sony/ATV through its Australian office for “Beat Bugs,” and has said that it took him three years to complete the licensing deal. He was then introduced to representatives of Mr. Dylan, who controls his own songwriting rights but uses Sony/ATV as an affiliate in Australia.
The deals reflect the ever-growing willingness of music publishers — who control songwriting rights, as opposed to recordings — to find new sources of income as music sales dry up, as well as the expanding popularity of streaming television.
After the success of Netflix in recent years, Amazon Studios has made an aggressive push into television. In addition to shows like “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle,” each of which has won a Golden Globe for best comedy, the streaming service will also release a highly anticipated Woody Allen comedy later this year.
The streaming services’ big push into TV — along with more cable channels producing original content — has sent industry executives into a frenzied competition to gobble up talent, and take bigger risks on new projects. Last year, there were 412 scripted television shows, the most ever.
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