Guest Post by: Peter Hamilton, Documentary Business Strategist
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 reportedly spent 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:
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.
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!
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?
Netflix recently put out a call for pitches from Canadian producers. The submission package was comprised of:
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.
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?
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.
The author, Peter Hamilton (left), on stage at MIPDoc
Netflix 2023: Selling To NETFLIX & The Streamers! 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 or Streamer deal. Includes 800+ searchable Netflix database, pitch deck sample, live Q&As and much more!
Distribution 101: Selling Your Documentary For Maximum Profit & Impact - From broadcast TV, streamers, educational licensing, PBS, niche markets and much more!; learn how to navigate the entire distribution landscape, find sales and successfully release your film.
Documentary Success Stories: 50 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 distribution. Get inside strategies & data from 50+ award-winning documentaries and unscripted projects.