From Roald Dahl to Studio Space, Netflix’s reverse British invasion is a mixed blessing


It is no coincidence that Netflixthe most significant acquisitions in recent years have both been of UK-based properties: from Roald dahl Story Company, which owns the late author’s beloved stories such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, to the acquisition of comic book publisher from “Kickass” creator Mark Millar Millarworld in 2017.

Because, as the Emmys demonstrated earlier this month when “The Crown” won no less than seven awards, the “special relationship” between Netflix and the UK has never been stronger. Most of the streamer’s most popular shows are UK-based, from “Bridgerton” to “Sex Education” to “The Witcher,” and the streamer has committed a UK production budget of over $ 1 billion. dollars in 2021 alone (spending on a mix of originals, co-productions and licenses).

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Next month, the BFI London Film Festival will open with the Netflix feature “The Harder The Fall”, starring Idris Elba, followed by a gala screening of Netflix Original “The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst.

The Los Gatos, California-based company even hired bona fide British royals, striking a multi-year deal with Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle.

As if to prove the depth of Netflix’s commitment to the UK, the acquisition of Roald Dahl was preceded, two days earlier, by news that the streamer had signed a long-term deal at Longcross Studios in Surrey. This is in addition to their long-term lease at nearby Shepperton Studios, which was signed in 2019 and has hosted productions such as “Midnight Sky” and the musical “Matilda,” based on Dahl’s eponymous novel.

In addition to investing in intellectual and material property, Netflix is ​​also investing in UK talent through a number of training programs, including their own £ 1.2million ‘Grow Creative UK’ program, which includes opportunities with production company “Bridgerton” Shondaland, a joint scriptwriting grant with Sky and a documentary training program with the Grierson Trust.

“The creative community really welcomes this and welcomes the investment as well as the sense of permanence,” says Lorraine Heggessey, former controller of BBC One and chair of the Grierson Trust. “You know, once people start getting into brick and mortar, it makes you feel: okay, they really want a base in the UK”

“Anyone who comes to the UK and invests their money in British creativity and skill facilities is a good thing,” says John Mcvay, Managing Director of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television. “And we are now what appears to be the most favored country in the world for production coming to work here.”

Netflix's “Grow Creative UK” program includes opportunities with “Bridgerton” producer Shondaland.

Netflix’s “Grow Creative UK” program includes opportunities with “Bridgerton” producer Shondaland.

Not everyone, of course, is excited about the idea of ​​an American juggernaut flexing its muscles – and wallet – on this side of the Atlantic.

A veteran television producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained that Netflix has “some of the worst payment terms of any broadcaster.” In 2019, the Financial Times reported that Netflix “signs longer lasting rights deals than traditional broadcasters” and pays for shows over multiple years.

In the UK, intellectual property rights have traditionally been vested in producers rather than broadcasters, which can be particularly lucrative when a series – like “The Great British Bake-Off” or “Strictly Come Dancing” – takes off and can be sold all over the world.

Heggessey points out that Netflix tends to pay higher fees to make sure it got ownership in as many territories as possible. “It’s really a question of whether you take a bird in your hand or a bird in the bush,” she says. “I think most production companies have a mixed ecology [of selling to streaming platforms and traditional broadcasters]. “

Importantly, the emergence of American streamers in the UK has also resulted in a shortage of crews and production space, causing headaches for UK broadcasters. (Britain is Netflix’s third-largest production hub after the United States and Canada.) The Times recently reported that the future of the BBC drama “Call the Midwife” was in jeopardy due to the new lease of Netflix in Longcross, where the show was last filmed. seven years. “Call the Midwife” producers, Neal Street Productions, have been asked to vacate the premises following the end of Season 11 production at the end of the year.

“Inevitably, what happens when you spend a lot of money in an economy, it poses problems in terms of equipment, in terms of skills, it increases costs in the labor market,” says McVay, who points out that ‘such a scenario is preferable to the alternative. “It brings pinch points, it causes problems. Some shows are delayed due to lack of availability of actors, crew or facilities. But we can all work together as an industry to try to get started. “

There is also the thorny question of whether Netflix, by simply being an American company producing local content overseas, will come to be seen as a “cultural imperialist” in the same way as The Walt Disney Company. has often been accused.

David Elstein, executive producer of Portobello Films and former managing director of Channel 5, rejects the idea, however.

“The idea that Netflix is ​​somehow Americanizing or globalizing British production strikes me as paranoid,” he says. “’Bridgerton’ was a cheerful confection that injected an entire slice of non-white molding. Something ‘Downton [Abbey]’notably failed to do so.

And Heggessey points out that Hollywood has long appropriated British characters, citing the casting of American actor Gene Wilder in the 1971 production of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” “These are great stories and big companies are going to want to produce them,” she says. “It’s not like the British haven’t had time to run to Roald Dahl.”

Granted, the latest set of Roald Dahl Story Company accounts, dating from December 2020, shows the bulk of its revenue by source country – £ 20.7million ($ 28.3million) – came from the ‘rest of the world’ with the UK making up just £ 4.9million ($ 6.7million), less than a fifth.

Netflix declined to comment for this article, but a source close to the company cited the “worldclass-leading production facilities and teams ”, as well as his creative talent and central global location as the reasons for the streamer’s investment in the country.

“I think it’s a tribute to the UK production community that Netflix wants such a strong presence here,” Heggessey said. “And that’s to be welcomed, especially at a time when our public service broadcasters are in a hurry.”

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