Nickelodeon announces the launch of ‘Avatar Studios’ to expand The Last Airbender’s universe

As fans have eagerly been looking forward, Nickelodeon has announced the launch of Avatar Studios, which will expand the universe of one of its most celebrated animated series Avatar: the Last Airbender with a new film and more.

The series Avatar: The Last Airbender created a unique fantasy world which has been growing since it first aired in 2005. Now, the franchise is getting its own division called Avatar Studios to accommodate more original animated content.

On 24 February 2021, Nickelodeon announced that the world of Avatar and The Legend of Korra is finally getting the content expansion that people who grew up watching the programs have been yearning for with the establishment of Avatar Studios.

During its Paramount+ investor day presentation, ViacomCBS unit launched Avatar Studios, saying that the new division will create series and movie projects based on the beloved animated show and its follow-up, The Legend of Korra. Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko will serve as co-chief creative officers of the new venture, reporting to Nickelodeon Animation president Ramsey Naito, developing new animated shows and movies.

Avatar Studios’ work will debut on Paramount+, on Nickelodeon’s own linear and digital platforms, on third-party platforms and in theaters. Though a full-length animated Avatar film from the studio is planned to start production this year, however, no further details were revealed. 

Show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino said, “It’s hard to believe it’s been 19 years since we created Avatar: The Last Airbender. But even after all that time, there are still many stories and time periods in Aang’s world that we are eager to bring to life. We are fortunate to have an ever-growing community of passionate fans that enjoys exploring the Avatarverse as much as we do. And with this new Avatar Studios venture we have an unparalleled opportunity to develop our franchise and its storytelling on a vast scale, in myriad exciting ways and mediums. We are exceedingly grateful to Brian Robbins and Ramsey Naito for their enthusiasm and respect for the Avatar property and us as its stewards. From the start, they’ve supported our ambitious plans and created a positive, proactive environment for us. We’re excited to be back at Nickelodeon where Avatar began, doing what we do best in the biggest way possible. We can’t wait to build the great teams and productions to make all of this fantasy a reality.”

The original animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, ran for three seasons and was followed by Avatar: The Legend of Korra, a four-season-long sequel series set a generation later. Lauded for their epic action, extensive worldbuilding and engaging cast of characters, the shows are set in a fantastic world in which individuals of different cultures may wield one of the four elements, with one Avatar being the master of all four.

ViacomCBS Kids & Family president Brian Robbind said, “Avatar: The Last Airbender and Korra have grown at least ten-fold in popularity since their original hit runs on Nickelodeon, and Ramsey Naito and I are incredibly excited to have Mike and Bryan’s genius talent on board to helm a studio devoted to expanding their characters and world into new content and formats for fans everywhere. Creator-driven stories and characters have long been the hallmarks of Nickelodeon, and Avatar Studios is a way to give Mike and Bryan the resources and runway to open up their imaginations even more and dive deeper into the action and mythology of Avatar as we simultaneously expand upon that world and the world of content available on Paramount+ and Nickelodeon.”

Avatar: The Last Airbender aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon from February 2005 to July 2008. During its run, the series picked up multiple Annie Awards, Genesis Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Peabody Award. The highly acclaimed show follows the adventures of Aang and his friends Katara, Sokka and Toph, who must save the world by defeating the warring Fire Nation. The property has also been translated into a successful comic book series. The Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel spent 70 weeks at the top of the New York Times Graphic Novel Bestseller list.

The sequel series, Legend of Korra, aired for four seasons from April 2012 to December 2014, and has been translated into more than 25 languages. Its first season drew nearly 3.8 million viewers per episode, the highest for an animated series in 2012. The show has been set in a more modern version of the world of “Avatar” 70 years later, follows the journey of a 17-year-old female Avatar trying to live up to her predecessor and using her mastery of all four elements to confront political and spiritual unrest.

The live-action version of the original hit Avatar: The Last Airbender was first ordered at Netflix in September 2018. By August 2020, creators DiMartino and Konietzko had departed the project after two years of development work. As per DiMartino, things with the streaming platform didn’t work out after the partners had signed on to make the series because Netflix was committed to working with them on their vision for the show.

DiMartino, in an open letter announcing the status of his and Konietzko’s involvement with the project said, “I try to be like an Air Nomad and adapt. I do my best to go with the flow, no matter what obstacle is put in my way. But even an Air Nomad knows when it’s time to cut their losses and move on.”

Having exclusive Avatar and Korra content is pretty key for Nickelodeon and ViacomCBS’ new streaming service, Paramount Plus. While the company’s business strategy is to license out a number of its shows and films on a non-exclusive basis, by the time Avatar and The Legend of Korra returned to Netflix, subscribers may have associated the show specifically with the streaming platform. The show became the most watched title on Netflix around 22 May, when it returned to Netflix. The series was also previously available on Amazon Prime Video.

Since Avatar: The Last Airbender came to Netflix in the summer of 2020, the series’ already immense popularity shot to astronomical levels. Excitement built for the live-action remake being produced for Netflix, but fans were met with disappointment. Since then, the fate of the live-action project and the future of the Avatar world was in question.

The new Netflix remake is still in development at this time, but it may be a tougher sell to many Avatar fans after the announcement of Avatar Studios. The live-action movie by M. Night Shyamalan left a bad taste in the mouths of many that still remains, and the absence of Konietzko and DiMartino has cast doubt over the whole project. The good news is that lots of new Avatar: The Last Airbender content will be coming from the original creators in the future.