Welcome to Decoded, a regular series that deciphers the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of different corners of the UK performance landscape. This week, Backstage breaks down Netflix, the streaming goliath that has revolutionised television. We look at why that is and how you can get involved.
Don’t Say: “My internet’s not working.”
Do Say: “Netflix is a creative powerhouse – they are changing the landscape!”
What is Netflix?
Netflix is an online streaming service and a production powerhouse. What began as a company that sent DVDs through the post is now a business worth billions that has changed the media landscape and left traditional content providers quaking in their wake. The streaming giant has 139 million paid subscribers in over 190 countries and has the ambition and cashflow to grow even larger.
So, what’s their secret? First up, Netflix streams films and TV straight into homes. It’s cheaper than the cinema and puts the viewer in control of when and what they watch. TV and film content providers have seen streaming upstarts eat into their market share, and they’re rightly worried by the increasing dominance.
In addition to distribution, Netflix also spends huge sums on production, investing in top-flight talent and making high-quality shows like The Crown, Black Mirror, House of Cards, and Stranger Things. Last year, it won 23 Emmys for its original programming, and in 2019 it won four Oscars including best director for Alfonso Cuarón and his black-and-white foreign language film Roma. In short, audiences like Netflix content and how they get to watch it – and, crucially, they’re willing to pay for it.
Why should I care?
Netflix is house-hunting for a permanent UK production base as part of a ramping-up of commitment to shoot and produce in the UK. The plans are great news for actors and the figures are vast: Netflix recently upped its content budget by 50% from £6bn to £9bn. Last year alone they made over 700 original TV shows and 80 films like Cuarón’s Oscar-winning Roma – that’s a lot of productions being made and a lot of people, like you, being hired. Netflix’s millions of global subscribers translate into a lot of cash, and that’s money that the streamer is investing in high quality, ambitious content with creativity at its heart. Alex Sapot, the streamer’s commissioner for the UK, underlines this: “We recognise the vast pool of talent here [in the UK] so we would love to be in business with those storytellers.”
Indeed, Netflix is where a lot of talent is off to these days, and it’s not just about money – although it obviously helps. Top TV production names like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy have moved to the streamer and seem genuinely excited about the chance to make content in an environment free of the constraints imposed by traditional, ad-driven TV networks. On the film side, big award-contenders like Ava DuVernay, Cuarón, the Coen brothers, and Martin Scorsese have also decided to flirt with the ‘flix. In short, Netflix has put its huge amount of money where its mouth is, investing in fresh, original voices – and if that sounds like you then that’s why you should care.
How do I get involved?
With Netflix ramping up UK spending, and with productions from The Crown to Sex Education already made here, opportunities to get involved will only grow. Netflix don’t handle their own casting directly as they tend to either finance or buy content from external production companies, so the key is to look up which casting directors are working on which shows or films, and Backstage’s Greenlit series can help keep you updated. Casting directors will often work on repeat series, so if you’d noted that Lauren Evans cast Sex Education for Netflix then you may have thought she’d be a good place to send your reel for Sex Education 2!
What else do I need to know?
Steven Spielberg is not a fan. Following the Oscar success of Roma, the man who brought us ET and Indiana Jones is now gunning to take the online streamer out of the awards conversation until a plan around mandatory theatrical releases is put in place. He wants Netflix excluded from Academy consideration in the future as he regards their output as TV movies, which should be up for Emmys, not Oscars. Despite a robust reply from the streamer, the Hollywood establishment is clearly worried about Netflix and the existential threat it poses to their business.
Netflix has obviously created such an enticing business model that others want in on the action: Amazon and Apple have their eyes on taking more of the streaming pie, and traditional media players like the BBC, Disney, and WarnerMedia are also planning streaming services. Whether they can catch up with their cash-rich, content-rich rival remains to be seen.
Check out Backstage’s UK audition listings!