Before December 2019, The Witcher was not well known in the U.S. outside of avid fantasy book readers and video gamers. Now, it’s probably harder to find someone in your social circle who hasn’t heard of it. The Witcher, once a more niche IP, has become widely known due to a very successful first season of its new Netflix series, catapulting it to a new level of awareness and creating tremendous value across the entertainment spectrum.
The Witcher’s show adaptation was created as a Netflix Original and premiered on December 20, 2019. The show, which is based on the books, became an immediate hit on Netflix. In the show’s first week, 19 million U.S. Netflix profiles watched the show’s first episode, “The End’s Beginning,” for at least 2 minutes. This first week performance was higher than the 17.5 million for The Umbrella Academy, another popular fantasy Netflix Original series, which premiered earlier in 2019. The Witcher’s completion rate during that week was positive; 75 percent of viewers who started the first episode watched at least 90 percent of it. The TV show has been loved by audiences and currently rests at 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Thanks to the widely popular Netflix series, book sales for the IP grew significantly during December. As pre-release publicity for the Netflix series ramped up the week of November 24, physical book sales for The Witcher also began increasing. During the two weeks following The Witcher’s premier on Netflix, USA physical book revenue was 562 percent higher than the same period in 2018. This increase in revenue was driven primarily by The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher, a book that contains short stories, which take place before the main book series. A new streaming tie-in edition of The Last Wish short-story collection was released on November 12 to capture new readers for the series coming over from the streaming series. This edition was the fastest-selling series title in December 2019, demonstrating the success of the cross-category strategy.
In the world of PC and console gaming, The Witcher was already widely popular. The most recent game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, was released in May 2015. In June 2019, the game’s publisher CD Projekt Red confirmed that the game sold over 20 million units worldwide. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was ported to the Nintendo Switch console in October 2019, just before the Netflix series premiered. These combined factors caused the game to have a strong surge in sales during Q4 2019. U.S. December physical sales for the game were 554 percent higher than December 2018, and still 63 percent higher even when excluding the Nintendo Switch platform.
The Witcher has successfully capitalized on the strong market interest that Game of Thrones fostered for fantasy series. Given the positive reception of the first season, it may well grow to fill the newly created hole that appeared when Game of Thrones ended in May 2019. Much like Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, and many others, media was a catalyst to bring mainstream attention to strong source material loved by subcultures.
The takeaway from this success for IP holders is to keep a pulse on market trends across entertainment, and creatively explore existing IP so they can capitalize on growing interest in new categories that fit their IP, just as The Witcher has with its Netflix series. And for those looking to license IP for new content, it is important to prospect as creatively as possible and look for specialized trends in other areas of the entertainment, such as book IP, that could translate strong source material into large followings.