Edinburgh ’20: Netflix execs talk unscripted entertainment push, rights

After breaking through the reality ceiling with runaway unscripted hits such as Floor is Lava, Too Hot to Handle and Love is Blind, Netflix is shifting its focus to master the shiny floor ...
August 27, 2020

After breaking through the reality ceiling with runaway unscripted hits such as Floor is Lava,
Too Hot to Handle and Love is Blind, Netflix is shifting its focus to master the shiny floor talent and four-quadrant family entertainment spaces.

Speaking during a panel session at the virtual Edinburgh TV Festival, Netflix’s Nathaniel Grouille and Sean Hancock lifted the lid on the digital streaming giant’s plans to build on its recent reality triumphs by generating more long-lasting global hits from the UK and international markets.

“We would love to find those giant resonant formats,” added Grouille, Netflix’s U.S.-based director of unscripted originals. “We like the ‘what if’. What if people had to live on an island, what would happen? Which is Survivor. What if people were all living in a house and you could watch? That’s Big Brother.

“We’re looking for those big ‘what if’ questions in all areas.”

The streamer has revisited its push to dig out original and long-lasting competition series, premium shiny floor talent formats and big quiz/game shows. The Los Gatos-based media provider has previously found small successes via game shows such as Awake: The Million Dollar Game , as well as competition series The Final Table and Ultimate Beast Master, but it has yet to truly establish itself in either space.

“It’s shows that have something to say,” said Grouille about key elements for programming. “It really does need to feel urgent and like it’s really got to be on air. We haven’t found those shows yet, and we haven’t looked super hard either. This is definitely a move forward plan for us.”

In recent years, Netflix has been criticized for the short lifespans of its programming, canceling outwardly successful series after two to three seasons. It’s not for a lack of trying, said Grouille, adding that a lot of hard work goes into getting a format up and running.

“We would love for [formats] to run for 20, 25 years, but we’re in a nice position that we don’t have limited shelf space,” he explained. “The intention is definitely to build for the future and to broaden out from the franchises — what can you spin-off, what can you create, what sort of ecosystem can you make?”

For Netflix, formats that tend to work well come with a simple hook – a project that could be explained to a caveman and they’d more or less understand the premise, explained Hancock, director of unscripted originals and acquisitions.

“One thing we could probably do a bit more of is that four-quadrant family entertainment, which we probably haven’t done enough [of] yet,” he stated. “That’s an area that we want to crack because that’s where you get the really big, culturally zeitgeist hits.”

In unscripted, Netflix has been heavily playing with varying ways to deploy a program once it makes its way onto the platform.

While a stack and release strategy allowed for subscribers to binge Chef’s Table immediately upon release, a staggered release – as with Kinetic Content’s Love is Blind, which launched multiple episodes per week – meant that the company was able to build up anticipation for the series among viewers, Hancock stated.

Netflix’s subscribers, Hancock said, expect a bit more than just one episode per week. With a weekly roll out of two to three episodes, it allows producers to contemplate how to “structure your series so that you’ve got big dramatic hooks and people are going to remember.

“You’ve got to give them a really good reason to come back, and it’s what [staggered releasing] enables us to do,” he continued. “It’s not right for everything, but it’s definitely something we’re looking at.”

For producers who have been cautious in engaging with Netflix due to the service’s policy of taking global rights for commissions, Grouille recommends thinking of the tech company as a MIP market, of sorts, where there are various financial incentives for a producer to bring a series to Netflix’s platform.

“Our preference is for global rights just because in success what we’re going to do is make versions and versions around the world,” the executive explained. “In terms of operating quickly and at scale, that’s definitely the preference.”

In terms of legacy IP, however, Netflix is open to the possibility of not owning all worldwide rights.

“If it’s literally one or two territories that are unavailable, then we can have a conversation,” said Grouille.

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is the Associate Editor at Realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.