But the founder of Sony-owned Left Bank Pictures said he was still “optimistic” about public service broadcasting in the UK from the likes of BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
Harries was speaking in the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications as part of their inquiry on public service broadcasting in the age of video-on-demand. He was speaking alongside Dan Cheesbrough, commercial director at Sherlock and Dracula producer Hartswood Films.
The pair were asked about the possibility of imposing trading requirements on the SVODs, the importance of owning IP and why younger audiences were eschewing traditional linear broadcasters.
Harries, who produces The Crown for Netflix as well as White Lines and Behind Her Eyes for the company and Origins for YouTube, said that despite the power balance shifting to the West Coast of the U.S., creative freedom remains in the UK.
“In this country, we punch above our weight in terms of the creative industries,” he said. “That’s well known and understood around the world and in particular Los Angeles. It’s just something we’re tremendously good at. It is changing fast, but we must be very careful not to take [away] the tentpoles that have allowed the creative industries to grow up.”
Harries was asked whether it would be possible to introduce a terms of trade system – the British government-mandated system that allows producers to keep their own IP – for digital platforms. “Can you pressurize Amazon and Netflix not to take all the rights? I think it’s worth thinking about, but it will be very hard,” he said, positing that a scheme could potentially be linked to the high-end TV tax credit, which reimburses producers making shows that cost more than £1M per episode.
Meanwhile, Hartswood Films’ Cheesbrough said, “The idea of some kind of quasi terms of trade with the SVODs is something else that people have been talking about. I think it’s a challenge. Philosophically, the idea that we would try, on a national level, to impose a regime on an international business, by which they have to do business with us is a little odd and counter intuitive.”
He did, however, point to the rights situation offered by Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi, which is asking for a seven-year licence, at which time rights revert to the producer.
Hartswood is currently in production with a remake of Dracula (left) for the BBC and Netflix. “When you’re working with Netflix and then you go back to work with the BBC, it feels like they are walking to catch up with someone who is sprinting. I don’t feel like they move fast enough and have deep concern about their ability to hire. Fifteen years ago it was one of the most prestigious places to work in our industry and that’s sadly not the case anymore. There are many reasons for that,” he added.
Cheesbrough previously ran British independent producer Eleven Film, which made Sex Education for Netflix. He revealed that the breakout teen series was originally developed for Channel 4, which passed, before Netflix swooped in.
He added that the likes of the BBC and C4 were not making shows that attracted younger viewers. “The way [British broadcasters] are failing to address young audiences is something I worry about greatly. That is something that the SVODs are an absolute master in control of. They are producing shows that young people own; young audiences might watch Bodyguard or Line of Duty, but it is not theirs. But they see Netflix as a hallmark of quality.”
The long-running inquiry has already seen Netflix give written evidence to the House of Lords committee. The company pointed to the fact that around a third of its 141 projects in Europe in 2018 were undertaken in the UK with its investment growing by 178% between 2015 and 2018. It highlighted forthcoming titles such as the return of Top Boy and Julian Fellowes’ The English Game and its hire of senior execs including former Sky drama boss Anne Mensah and STX’s David Kosse.
“Notwithstanding these successes, we are still in the early stages of formulating and articulating our strategy in the UK,” it wrote. “Localised content is increasingly a priority for our service. Over the coming months we will be making further announcements about our investments, our mission and our ambitions.”