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The Netflix question: what is the single most important way in which Netflix has changed the TV drama market?
It is impossible to talk about the international TV drama scene without asking executives in the business about Netflix. The US streaming service has fundamentally changed the way people watch scripted content with ripple effects impacting all areas of the industry.
We asked international TV folk what was the single biggest way in which the US-based streaming service has changed the market.
For ZDF Enterprises president and CEO Alexander Coridass, Netflix has played a part in the rise and rise of non-English-language programming in English-language markets. The biggest change Netflix has made? “Opening Anglo-Saxon markets to non-english speaking programmes,” Coridass says.
“Netflix is to date the only real global player eliminating all language or territorial borders,” says Beta Film managing director Moritz von Kruedener making an associated point. “Netflix makes local content global.”
Despite being a US company, commissioning out of the US, and largely based in Los Angeles, the streaming service’s 130 country launch earlier this year took it to a different level internationally.
The “impact was felt at a local level around the world,” says Red Arrow International’s senior VP of scripted acquisitions and coproduction, Amelie von Kienlin, although the global footprint would be better if there were accompanying numbers, adds Nick Thomas, practice lead, digital media at research firm Ovum. “It can access 130 countries instantly, which is great, but the lack of audience data it provides is a problem,” he says.
Von Kienlin adds: “The talent producing for platforms is encouraged to think more boldly and there is no danger that a show will be banished from its slot for underperforming. Going forwards, we might start to hear more from producers about how licensing global rights to Netflix may change the commercial reality.”
The international roll out also means producers can reach, with one deal, a global audience, something not even the best-distributed pay TV channel can offer.
Stephen Cornwall of The Night Manager prodco The Ink Factory says the biggest impact Netflix has had is “making large scale, high visibility, high cost and often very creatively- and commercially-bold commitments to projects and talent. The impact of this has been both good and bad for producers and talent, but it has certainly had a huge impact in terms of catalysing and elevating long form drama in all sorts of interesting and exciting ways”.
“It’s also accelerated the rush of talent from film into longer form narrative,” he adds.
Netflix’s international output is, thus far, limited compared to what it is ordering from the US, but it is increasing. Pascal Breton’s Federation makes Marseille, the streaming service’s French original, which is also on its international services. “Netflix is doubling the drama market and giving a global dimension to shows that were once only local,” he says.
The challenge for distributors in dealing with a global player is cutting a single worldwide deal, which is not how business has been traditionally done. BBC Worldwide’s executive producer for international drama, and founder of indie prodco Cosmopolitan Pictures, Ben Donald, says “global rights and windowing” are the biggest change Netflix has had on the market.
“Traditional distribution windows are no longer reliable, and they have become the first end-user who truly buys for the world,” says Dan March, managing partner at Trapped distributor Dynamic Television of the rights issues. “Our industry remains in the spin cycle of change and Netflix is the washing machine.”
The windowing issue is one for the industry to grapple with says Peter Iacono, president of international television at US studio Lionsgate Television. “The insatiable demand for content has shrunk windows, challenged producers and distributors to move to day-and-date broadcast, and has given rise to a plethora of new catch-up services.”
Ampere Analysis research director Guy Bisson notes that a global Netflix deal is an interesting proposition for content companies, in the right circumstances, and not to the exclusion of other agreements. “The potential to do global deals is attractive, but depends on what they pay, plus sellers still need to encourage multiple buyers to get and build longer term the best prices,” he says.
If windowing and new ways of producing have a clear impact for different parts of the industry, for the viewer, the biggest impact Netflix has had comes directly as a result of its all-at-once release model, ushering ‘binge viewing’ into everyday lexicon.
“Netflix introduced binge watching and catch-up viewing, enabling existing dramas to gain new viewers who may not have sampled the series in earlier seasons,” says Craig Cegielski, co-CEO, FremantleMedia North America.
Katrina Neylon, executive VP of TV sales and marketing at StudioCanal says: “The lure of a brand new, complete series that can be watched back-to-back over the course of an evening or weekend has been the single most important change in viewing habits of audiences around the world,” while for Sonar Entertainment president of global distribution (and industry veteran) David Ellender, the most obvious impact Netflix has had is also binge watching, “which changes not only how content is released but also even how story arcs are designed and written”.
“Content creators are able to develop fantastic stories without the same pressure to reach the broadest possible audience,” Ellender adds. “They can tailor their stories for a narrower audience base, which can free up creativity in surprising ways.”
When viewers watch a full season in a matter of days it also speeds up demand, although, perhaps counter-intuitively the volume of content on Netflix is decreasing.
The streaming service attributes this to it having more clout in terms of its deals with the studios, meaning it can cherry pick the best shows and not have to also take a raft of second tier product. The amount of originals coming out of the streaming service is, meanwhile, rapidly increasing.
Henrik Bastin, CEO, of Fabrik Entertainment, which makes Bosch for Netflix rival Amazon, says: “Netflix has driven the need for volume and competition to unprecedented levels, and this is fed by their burn rate: shows are released for binge watching, and this is really what adds to the need for more and more content.”
For Content TV & Digital president Greg Phillips the binge model has changed, and speeded up, the water cooler moment for drama. “Gathering a fan base, a mass of viewers from the onset creates a certain ‘frenzy’ as viewers are left wanting/needing to binge in order to stay on track with water cooler conversation the next day.”
Most of these originals are high-concept and they are almost always serialised shows – “Netflix has tipped the pendulum away from closed-ended series, and changed the way we develop and sell series across all platforms now,” says Sharon Hall, president, Endemol Shine Studios.
This also sets Netflix them apart from the procedural type of drama that still holds sway in France, Germany and to some extent on networks in the US.
“Netflix changed the market as we see more and more high-concept serialised shows in almost every market,” says Jörg Graf, RTL’s executive VP productions and international acquisitions. “I see a lot of these shows in a way as an avant-garde approach… and the avant-garde has with some delay in its influence on the mainstream market. Maybe we will all benefit from a higher quality in the mainstream and procedural market within the next years.”
There is clearly a knock-on effect in how traditional players commission and produce when a disruptive new player changes the rules.
“We are beginning to see some changes in how drama producers approach story telling now that they are a little less constrained by the weekly schedule,” says Ruth Clarke, executive VP, global content strategy and investment, ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which this week bought into drama indie Route 24.
“The pace of drama is changing, and you can see that not just across OTT but also hints of this across traditional broadcast too.”