Netflix is learning how in the world to play the franchise game with Carmen Sandiego

Gina Rodriguez is at the heart of it all.
Gina Rodriguez is at the heart of it all.
Image: AP/Jordan Strauss/Invision
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Lots of people under 40 have a special place in their hearts for Carmen Sandiego, the fictional globe-trotting thief at the center of a long-running computer game that helps kids learn subjects like geography, history, and math. Now Netflix is counting on Carmen Sandiego’s multi-generational appeal to help it make inroads into the franchise business.

The streaming-video giant is developing both a movie and a TV show based on Carmen Sandiego, whose media franchise already encompasses games, TV shows, comics, and books. It acquired the live-action feature film rights to the character, the company confirmed to Quartz, and has an animated series in the works that was announced last year.

Jane the Virgin actress Gina Rodriguez is slated to star in and produce the movie, and voice Sandiego in the animated series. The film will be a standalone story that’s separate from the series, Netflix said. The Netflix projects will be complemented by a 2019 book series from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which owns the rights to the property, Deadline reported.

Netflix landed its first true franchise in 2016 in the form of Stranger Things, which it leveraged into toy and other merchandising deals with brands like Funko and Target for the show’s second season. Its plans for Carmen Sandiego show that the streaming-video service—which got into the original content game in 2013—is learning how to leverage its stories across multiple media platforms, in much the same way Hollywood rivals like Disney build franchises that span film, TV, parks, toys, books, and video games.

Last year, Netflix bought its first company, a mini-Marvel of sorts: comic-book publisher Millarworld. It was founded by the legendary Mark Millar, who created comic books that were adapted for the big screen like Kick-Ass and Kingsman and came up with the stories that inspired Captain America: Civil War and Logan. It gave the company control over the iconic creator’s other intellectual property, like Reborn, MPH, and Jupiter’s Legacy. Millarworld is now helping Netflix engineer franchises that work across TV, film, and comic books, including an upcoming project called The Magic Order that sounds like Harry Potter meets The Godfather.

Multi-platform franchises lend themselves naturally to Netflix because TV and film are virtually the same thing on the streaming service. Some of Netflix’s movies run in cinemas, but theatrical distribution is by no means a prerequisite for a Netflix film. All of its titles, whether series or movies, stream first. It’s also already a hub for franchises from, and co-produced with, other studios. In the US, Netflix has both movies and TV shows from Marvel’s fictional cinematic and TV universe, for example.

Moreover, like other high-profile Netflix projects including Bright and The Meyerowitz Stories, Carmen Sandiego checks off boxes that make it a smart pick for Netflix’s global video business.

  • Hits with kids and families ✅ (More than half of Netflix subscribers watch kids and family programming monthly.)
  • Appeals to nostalgic millennials ✅
  • Has a rising star in the lead ✅
  • Has a strong female in the lead ✅
  • Has a strong Latino in the lead ✅

Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego series is due out early next year, as is the book series. No date is yet set for the movie.