At the L.A. Screenings in May, one of the most recognizable new series titles, the CW’s Dynasty reboot, was not shown to international buyers who had flown in from around the world to survey the new product coming out of the Hollywood TV studios. That is because the series already had been earmarked for Netflix, which had taken global rights outside of U.S. and Canada. Dynasty, from CBS TV Studios, was the third CW series to go to Netflix internationally, joining Warner Bros. TV’s Riverdale and Black Lightning. This past summer, Netflix also made the first international distribution deal for a Big 4 series, picking up NBC/Universal TV’s midseason drama-comedy Good Girls.
It is part of a new model for the streaming behemoth, which has the company collaborating with big U.S. studios on series that air on other linear or digital networks in the U.S. In addition to the four broadcast dramas, also part of the initiative are CBS All Access/CBS Studios’ Star Trek: Discovery as well as several series from Universal Cable Prods., USA’s Shooter, Damnation, The Sinner and the upcoming Unsolved:The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., as well as Syfy’s Nightflyers, which was originally picked up to a pilot but is expected to get a straight-to-series order with Netflix on board.
Additionally, Netflix has such an arrangement for AMC/Sony TV’s Better Call Saul, which airs internationally on Netflix a day after the episodes’ U.S. premiere. Netflix boarded the series as a streaming partner early in its run in 2013 following the blockbuster Netflix success of Saul‘s predecessor Breaking Bad. The model also applies to international series, including the BBC2/Carnival Films’ The Last Kingdom.
The series are branded when they run on Netflix, identifying the studio/linear partners. In addition to first window internationally, for many of the U.S. shows under the model, the streaming service also has second window domestically via SVOD deals.
The effort is overseen by VP Content Bela Bajaria, who joined Netflix a year ago to oversee the licensing of TV and film content from major U.S. studios and was tasked with forging closer relationships with the big U.S. networks and studios via co-productions.
The goal for Netflix’s model is to come in as a partner with a traditional studio early in the process — usually at a finished pilot script or a filmed pilot stage and as early as script development — and get first-run global distribution everywhere outside of U.S./Canada. Because’s Netflix’s overall TV programming model is straight-to-series, I hear it is only interested in scripts that are going to series or pilots that are being picked up to series. Sometimes, I hear Netflix’s interest in coming on board as international distributor could help a project get an order in a mechanism that is somewhat similar to international pre-sales for indie films.
That is happening with Nightflyers, a supernatural thriller based on the novella by George R.R. Martin, which was ordered to pilot by Syfy in June. It had the ambition and scope to go straight-to-series, a more efficient model given how expensive a genre pilot of that scale could be. But that involves a much larger initial financial investment, something a commitment by Netflix to distribute outside North America can help cover. Such backing gives security to the studios and creative auspices behind a project in early stages to be able to go bigger.
CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery, which Netflix boarded while it was still in development, is a prime example of Netflix joining a series early. According to what was hailed as “a landmark international licensing agreement” in the July 2019 announcement, Netflix became the exclusive first-run home of the new Star Trek series (as well as the Star Trek library) in 188 countries (excluding U.S. and Canada), with each episode available globally within 24 hours of its U.S. premiere.
Similarly, Netflix also expressed interest in distributing CBS TV Studios’ Dynasty while the reboot of the iconic soap was still in development at the CW. The streaming giant took rights to the series outside of North America based on its global appeal and established auspices in Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage.
The Netflix model has relied on building relationships with studios, with one deal leading to another. In addition to the two deals with CBS TV Studios for Star Trek: Discovery and Dynasty and two at WBTV for Riverdale and Black Lightning, there are five, including the pending Nightflyers, at UCP. Bajaria has personal ties with both CBS TV Studios, where she shepherded the launch of a cable/digital division, and Good Girls producer Uni TV, which she ran as a president.
Netflix’s collaboration with UCP started with Shooter, which Netflix boarded relatively later in the process and had limited involvement in. It was followed by the Jessica Biel-starring limited thriller series The Sinner, which just landed two Golden Globe nominations, period drama Damnation, which just premiered, and the upcoming anthology crime series Unsolved, about the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G..
The two companies have developed a rapport, and I hear sometimes UCP-produced scripts in contention at one of the NBCUniversal cable networks are sent to Netflix to gauge the company’s interest before making greenlight decisions.
Like Star Trek, Dynasty and Good Girls, Netflix distributes most of the UCP series, including Shooter, The Sinner and Damnation, everywhere except in the U.S. and Canada.
Netflix calls this setup, where it has stepped up early and snags worldwide distribution outside North America, a co-production model, even though the company is not formally involved in a co-producing capacity. That language was used in a press releases for the 1930s drama Damnation, which said that “Netflix co-produces the series with Universal Cable Productions.”
The terminology was also used by Netflix boss Ted Sarandos in a panel discussion this past May, in which he participated alongside Moonves. “The Star Trek series, we are doing it together,” he said. “We are launching it outside of U.S. all over the world. And coming in as production partners, we have been great partners together on making a show that could have been smaller, bigger. It is a net gain for everybody.”
In other cases, when Netflix joins a series later, when some territories already have been spoken for or the studio has pre-existing commitments in some parts of the world, the streaming service is taking first window everywhere else and often second window in the few markets the show is not available.
That is the case with the two Warner Bros. TV shows, sophomore Riverdale, which became the first broadcast series to test the model, paving the way for others, and the upcoming Black Lightning. The same goes for UCP’s Tupac-Biggie series Unsolved.
Either way, the arrival of Netflix, along with Amazon and other SVOD platforms, in crucial regions like Europe and Latin America has expanded the number of buyers for content, something studios have welcomed. “We’re big fans of Netflix. We don’t think they’re eating the world or trying to put us out of business,” Moonves said at the same investor conference. “They’ve made the entire world much more competitive and driven up the price of premium content a great deal.”
How does Netflix pick which broadcast, cable or digital to go after? There is always the big IP factor, titles that are globally recognizable, like Star Trek, Dynasty, Archie Comics, on which Riverdale is based, hip-hop icons Tupac and Biggie.
But there are also series that don’t have a big hook, like Good Girls, created by Jenna Bans, about three “good girl” suburban moms who rob a grocery store. Because Netflix has a vast audience of 109 million, the goal is to find shows that appeal to different segments of it. Good Girls is an ensemble drama with humor featuring a female lead cast, which is not the type of show that is easy to find even in the era of Peak TV.
So in addition to global appeal, often associated with popular IPs, Netflix is buying into the vision and voice of the creator. And of course most of the series have to have that binge quality that Netflix fare is known for.
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