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Cobra Kai leaves YouTube for Netflix

A perfect storm came together for the martial arts series to be sold at top dollar to the streaming giant.

Celebrities Visit Build - April 24, 2019
Ralph Macchio and William Zabka discuss ‘Cobra Kai’ at Build Studio on April 24, 2019 in New York City.
Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

2020 has brought a lot of hurt to many, but for the people behind the martial arts dramedy Cobra Kai it brought an unexpected opportunity.

Cobra Kai, a reboot of The Karate Kid set thirty-some years after the original, stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, reprising their roles from the 1984 film. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, best known as the creators of the Harold & Kumar movies, teamed with writer Josh Heald to bring The Karate Kid back to life. Enormous fans of the 80’s classic, they flipped the script, making Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence the protagonist.

Cobra Kai was well received by audiences and critics alike, and became YouTube’s biggest scripted success.

Two seasons later and four months into the Hollywood production COVID shutdown, new material is hard to find. New material with a built in audience is even rarer. But such was the case with YouTube’s flagship show, which had season three completed and ready to air.

However, YouTube made the decision to double down on unscripted material and essentially abandon scripted fare, including Cobra Kai. YouTube informed Sony TV, which produces Cobra Kai, that it would release season three, but nothing beyond that.

Learning season four was in jeopardy, Sony TV received permission from YouTube to shop the show, and so off Cobra Kai went into the deserted marketplace. With much demand and almost no supply, competition to acquire the show was fierce. It boiled down to Netflix and Hulu, with Netflix’s deeper pockets—and a promise of more Karate Kid spin-offs—winning the day.

Initially, the show’s creators went with YouTube over the other streaming options because of the total creative freedom YouTube offered. Allowed to make exactly the show they wanted to, the creators came up with a huge success. The subsequent evolution of YouTube and Netflix, along with the pandemic, resulted in an unlikely payday for the team behind the show.

YouTube will continue to offer Cobra Kai seasons one and two. Check out the first episode below.