Guest Post by: Peter Hamilton, Documentary Business Strategist
Publish Date: January 30, 2023
Netflix is charging ahead after hitting financial headwinds in 2022.
And documentaries are a firm fixture in its growth plans.
What’s driving the good news?
An expanding subscriber base for a start!
The streamer added 7.7 million new subscribers in the 4th Quarter of 2022, ending the year with 231 million worldwide.
Netflix also launched an advertiser-supporter option that will add a new revenue stream.
This positive financial outlook bolsters the company’s confidence in spending $17 billion on content in 2023.
And by the way, it’s a measure of Netflix’s dominance that Disney+, Discovery+, and all the other streamers combined, spend another $7 billion on programming.
And here’s another competitive indicator: Netflix’s audience dominates the other streamers. For example, Nielsen’s helpful Gauge reveals Netflix’s viewing as more than 3 times Disney+ and 7.5 times Peacock!
How can documentary producers win a slice of Netflix’s enormous program budget?
Netflix’s first documentary acquisition in 2014 was The Square. It was a Sundance award-winner about the Egyptian Revolution.
Netflix will continue to commission films like The Square that address important topical stories, particularly ones that drive conversations about social change.
They prefer to work with established, award-winning filmmakers, and therefore newcomers must have developed great projects to break in against that level of competition.
We cover in depth the key success criteria for a successful winning pitch in our Selling to Netflix and the Streamers course, emphasizing: Unique Access, Big Characters and High Stakes.
Our course features a unique database of 950+ Netflix commissions and acquisitions - it is an invaluable, searchable guide to what Netflix wants. And not!
Netflix is now aiming to broaden its programming selection to attract the audiences who will watch general entertainment programs.
In the unscripted category, that means more Reality, Competitions and Formats. The bar is incredibly high for indies to win these commissions, but a powerful character-driven concept can find support, particularly in partnership with an established production company.
Subscribers outside North America are driving Netflix’s growth.
It’s management’s top priority to find programs that appeal intensely to local audiences, and that can also travel worldwide.
Listen to Dolores Emile, the manager of Netflix’s documentary content in France:
“We are really looking for local, impactful, ambitious stories that have to resonate for our local French audience.”
“What all of our ideas have in common is they are super-locally impactful and that’s the most important thing for us. I get a lot of pitches from international production companies but it’s important to reiterate that, for France, and Spain, we’re looking for local stories.”
It’s been 10 years since Netflix up-ended the industry with the launch of original series content with the binge-worthy drama series House of Cards.
After a series of setbacks in 2021, the company stormed back last year and is now winning the global subscribers that sustain an enormous investment in programming, including documentaries.
The bar is high for indie producers. Our Selling to Netflix and the Streamers course provides the tools that will set you on the path to success.
Peter Hamilton is a media & business strategist and former CBS executive who has directed his New York-based international consulting firm for 30+ years.
His clients have included NBC, A+E Networks, National Geographic Channels, Global Canal+ and BBC; the Rockefeller Foundation; and governments, including Singapore’s IMDA. He has planned and helped launch dozens of channels, notably for Discovery International.
Peter is the founder, editor & publisher of Documentary Business, giving weekly insider analysis to 20,000+ executives and producers worldwide.
He is the executive producer of Season of the Osprey for PBS Nature and worldwide distribution.
His office, Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc has produced a series of premium industry reports/guides, including the resource-packed course: Selling Your Documentary To Netflix and The Streamers 2023.
Hamilton was educated at The Wharton School, UPenn (MBA) and UMelbourne and regularly presents at major conferences, including MIPDoc and Sunny Side of the Doc.