NEW! Netflix 2022: Selling Your Documentary To Netflix!

Your Netflix Game Plan:
How To Get Your Documentary On Netflix

Your Netflix Game Plan: How To Get Your Documentary On Netflix

Guest Post by: Peter Hamilton, Documentary Business Strategist

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A very common question from filmmakers is “How do I get my documentary on Netflix?"

The excitement and interest in Netflix is understandable.

Netflix now has more than 200 million subscribers worldwide.

In 2021 the #1 streamer is expected to spend more than $20 billion on programs, including as much as $750 million on documentaries and unscripted series.

That’s eye-popping! Why shouldn’t a slice come your way?

Let’s take a look at your options:


Step 1. Study Netflix

First step in your Netflix game plan is to study the documentary categories and formats on Netflix’s customer interface to understand their preferences, and which programs their subscribers rate highly. 

  • Go deeper and investigate their catalog, and not just the heavily-promoted recent Netflix originals.

  • Study the 'long tail' of documentaries that fill out their offer in an effort to satisfy Netflix's diverse and global subscriber base.

  • Search for monthly announcements of new releases in pop culture newsletters like Vulture

  • Read the major news media as well as Variety, Realscreen and other trade media for coverage of the documentaries that Netflix is heavily promoting.

Your continuous study will help you understand Netflix’s program buying landscape.

You’ll sense if your topic and treatment is one that is likely to interest them now… or if your talent is likely to pop on their radar. Or perhaps your proposal anticipates a new direction for Netflix? 

If nothing resembles your concept in their catalog, then maybe Netflix is not the most likely buyer!

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Step 2. Evaluate your project against three (3) proven success factors

1. Does your project feature a powerful central character? The kind of person who would grab your attention wherever you met them? 

2. Are there big stakes in your story? Will the characters and situations captured in your documentary really matter to Netflix subscribers?

3. Do you have unique access to your character and key locations?

Step 3. Develop your pitch materials

Netflix recently put out a call for pitches from Canadian producers. The submission package was comprised of:

  • Trailer: 3 minutes or less
  • Project description: Less than 300 words
  • Format: Feature, special or series
  • Budget: Estimated cost plus funding sources
  • Credentials: Key credits of project participants

Do not produce a pilot episode! Why? Netflix might like your idea or talent, but spot a bigger payoff if they develop the project in another direction. (Its hard to believe that TIGER KING was initially pitched as a conservation documentary.)

When Netflix responds to your pitch, they’ll ask for more video, a more detailed treatment, and a topline budget and schedule. 

Make sure that your production cost is properly benchmarked against the industry standards for a project of your scope. 

Step 4. Pitch Your Project To Netflix 

Once you’ve gone through the first three steps, it’s now time to pitch your project.

Keep in mind, Netflix does not accept unsolicited submissions, so you'll likely need to go through a third party such as a sales agent, attorney or distributor to get your pitch in front of a Netflix buyer.

You'll need to create a powerful and compelling pitch deck that sells your project. In almost all cases, the deck includes a link to your gripping pitch reel. This is the document your third party rep will use to pitch a Netflix buyer. The right agent will help you hone and develop your pitch.

My course Selling Your Documentary To Netflix takes you step by step through how you can develop your project so that it's ready to pitch an agent or sales rep.

Although the process may sound daunting, remember that the role of a Netflix buyer is to commission programs. 

Why not yours? 

About The Author

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 produces numerous industry reports/guides, including a brand new resource-packed course: Netflix 2022: Selling Your Documentary To Netflix! 

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.

Peter Hamilton at MIPDoc 2019

The author, Peter Hamilton (left), on stage at MIPDoc

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New! Financial & Business Guides:

NETFLIX 2022: Selling Your Documentary To Netflix! Do you have a great documentary idea or an amazing series you know Netflix would love? This resource-packed course gives you everything you need to know to win a Netflix deal.

SWEET SPOTS 2021: What Television Networks Pay For Documentaries, Originals and Reality Series (includes NETFLIX) - What is your documentary worth? Get Financial Benchmarks For 32 U.S. Factual Networks. (This guide includes Netflix, HBO, National Geographic and others). 

DOCUMENTARY PRODUCTION ROADMAP: 46 Case Studies - Get a roadmap of success for your own documentary by learning how other top filmmakers navigated the complex world of production, film financing and distributionGet inside strategies & data from 46 award-winning documentaries and unscripted projects.

NEW! 2022 Netflix: Selling Your Documentary To Netflix

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