What 'Cobra Kai' Moving to Netflix Means for YouTube's Hit 'Karate Kid' Series

A third season is headed to Netflix next year.

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Ralph Macchio in 'Cobra Kai' | Netflix
Ralph Macchio in 'Cobra Kai' | Netflix

When Cobra Kai first premiered to YouTube in 2018, no one expected the throwback martial arts drama to have an impact. But, surprisingly, it did. Just three years after YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium) launched, providing a slate of original scripted programming to compete with big-time streamers like Netflix and Hulu, the platform hit it big with its nostalgic return to the world of The Karate Kid

Now, the first two seasons of Cobra Kai are hopping over to Netflix on August 28, and the streamer is producing a third season to hit the platform sometime in 2021. Which begs the question: If things were so successful for Cobra Kai as a YouTube series, why is it making the jump to Netflix? It's all because YouTube's strategy has shifted, now distancing itself from producing scripted originals and doubling down on the platform's creators.

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Cobra Kai scored an impressive 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes when it first premiered, which is an accomplishment unto itself, let alone for a video platform widely known for its massive library of user-generated content. It had been over three decades since audiences first fell in love with martial arts underdog Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and his sensei Mr. Miyagi (played by the late Pat Morita) as they battled the bullies on the block for respect and honor. We're speaking, of course, about Cobra Kai, the karate dojo led by the egomaniacal and abusive John Kreese (Martin Kove) and his star student, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). The story of heroic redemption led to a successful movie franchise and cemented The Karate Kid as a classic staple of 1980s entertainment.

But after 34 years, where had Daniel and Johnny landed? 

As we saw in the first season of the YouTube original series, Larusso became a high-profile car salesman, milking his childhood celebrity for everything it was worth. Johnny, on the other hand, was a deadbeat dad mired in the failures of his past, and the addictions of his present, doing whatever he could to scrape himself off of his rock bottom. The result was a script-flip of the movie's character dynamic, suddenly placing Johnny in the underdog hero spotlight as Daniel stepped into the villain role. It was an intriguing move that resulted in an unexpectedly fun, dramatic, and thoroughly engaging show.

The move to return to these characters and this story came at a time when networks began relying on the tried-and-true IP of the past. Shows like the Roseanne reboot -- which quickly turned into The Conners once Rosanne Barr was booted from the show -- CBS's McGyver and Magnum PI, Netflix's Lost in Space, Fuller House and One Day at a Time, the CW's new takes on Charmed and Roswell, and Freeform's Party of Five have shown there is still a profitable lot to be gleaned from these small-screen classics.

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The streamer dropped its other originals (the meta-comedy Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television, the Doug Lyman-produced sci-fi hit Impulse, and the edgy coming-of-age comedy Wayne, to name a few) -- with shows like Step Up: High Water and On Becoming a God in Central Florida already moving off of the platform for new homes at Starz and Showtime -- as the Google-owned service announced they'd be phasing out YouTube Red, calling it YouTube Premium, and moving to an ad-supported business model.

YouTube's strategy change doesn't come as a surprise. Even as they worked to bring a variety of original programming to the platform, viewers were hesitant to pay for yet another streaming service as the cluttered content space continues to become more crowded. The pivot to a more unscripted focus also doubles down on what originally made YouTube successful to begin with: It's always been a place where social media creators and influencers have hit it big with reality-focused vlogs and shows.

Netflix's esteemed slate and global reach were a huge factor in the decision made by Sony TV -- the company that owns the series -- to place the project in their hands. Not only does this open up the floodgates and allow a whole new sect of the population to view Cobra Kai -- an issue of access the YouTube series faced as it was behind a paywall when it premiered -- but the show's nostalgic tone will surely draw big numbers from grown-ups while the high school drama component to the series will appeal to the younger audiences. No matter how you look at it, the move is a win-win on all accounts. 

As Deadline reports, the first two seasons of the hit will remain on YouTube when it becomes available to stream on Netflix on Friday, August 28. Production on the upcoming Season 3 is already complete. And while networks all over continue clamoring for new content as Hollywood struggles to bounce back from the COVID-19 industry shutdown, Netflix is in a better position than most as we head into the fall TV season.

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Martin Kove | Steve Dietl/Netflix

With the acquisition of the show, which will officially become a Netflix Original once Season 3 drops next year, the streamer's purchase of the series opens up the possibility for other Karate Kid-inspired projects to be developed. Given the success Cobra Kai has experienced with the show's first two seasons, we have to say that the concept of a Karate Kid cinematic universe is super intriguing. 

Off the top of our heads, we can already think of two stories ripe for the picking. Viewers already saw John Kreese make his triumphant return to the Cobra Kai, but what exactly happened to the shamed sensei between the events of Karate Kid: Part III and now? And while we're spitballing here, let's not at all forget about Mr. Miyagi's backstory. According to The Karate Kid: Part II, Miyagi was an Army veteran who barely sidestepped America's World War II internment camps. Honestly, out of all the possibilities for a spinoff project we can think of, how awesome would it be to dig into that iconic character's origin story? Time to get to work, Netflix. 

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Aaron Pruner is a contributor to Thrillist. He's on Twitter @aaronflux.