When DVD-by-mail company Netflix reinvented itself as a video-on-demand service, broadcast studios quickly embraced it. They used the streaming platform as an alternative to the off-network syndication market for the growing-in-popularity serialized drama series and quirky single-camera comedies that were of little value to basic cable networks and local stations because they don’t repeat well. The broadcast studios were soon joined by basic cable series producers, who found a lucrative after-market for serialized dramas like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy that wouldn’t have gotten a second window.
But as Netflix started growing exponentially and entered original programming, it began to be perceived as a threat. Studios’ love affair with the streaming giant—as a quick and easy revenue stream supplement, boosting the bottom line to offset the softening DVD and off-network syndication market—was over.
Looking for new ways to do business with traditional studios and to forge closer relationships with them, Netflix recruited the former head of such a studio, ex-Universal TV president Bela Bajaria, in the fall of 2016. Over the past year as VP Content at Netflix, Bajaria spearheaded the introduction of a new co-licensing model.
“What I enjoy about my role at Netflix is the freedom to take swings on unconventional models,” Bajaria says. “This new co-licensing model helps us get the best TV series from every genre, from the best creators, to our global members.”
The series co-licensed by Netflix as part of the model so far include the CW/Warner Bros. TV’s Riverdale and Black Lightning, both produced by Greg Berlanti; the CW/CBS TV Studios’ Dynasty; NBC’s Good Girls; CBS All Access/CBS Studios’ Star Trek: Discovery; as well as Universal Cable Prods.’ Shooter, Damnation, The Sinner, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. on USA; and Nightflyers, based on George R.R. Martin’s novella, on Syfy. Additionally, AMC/Sony TV’s Better Call Saul airs internationally on Netflix a day after the episodes’ US premiere. Deals for several other series are currently being negotiated.
Under the co-licensing model, Netflix is collaborating with big US studios on series that air on other linear or digital networks in the US Netflix takes first-run global distribution in as many territories as available—ideally, everywhere outside of Canada and the United States. Netflix comes in as a partner on projects that are going to series at a finished script or pilot stage and as early as script development. Netflix boarding a project as international distributor for a hefty fee that covers a significant part—or even the entire series budget—could help it get a green light in a template that is somewhat similar to international pre-sales for indie films.
The model also applies to international series, including BBC2/Carnival Films’ The Last Kingdom.
The type of outside series Netflix goes after includes shows based on globally recognizable IP, like Star Trek, Dynasty, the Archie Comics-themed Riverdale, hip-hop icons Tupac and Biggie, and Game of Thrones author Martin. And then there are shows like NBC’s well reviewed Good Girls, created by Jenna Bans, about three “good girl” suburban moms who rob a grocery store. In addition to pre-sold titles, Netflix is buying into the vision and voice of the creator.
“We partner with major studios—usually early in the traditional process—to help creators enhance their productions and bring their stories to life,” Bajaria says. “And in that process, we get to work with talented writers, a quality studio and a great network, to support the vision of the show. And personally, I get to do one of my favorite things, which is to help a writer bring his or her story to a truly worldwide audience.”