UK partners “lifeblood” of British operation, claims Netflix drama boss

Netflix’s UK drama boss Anne Mensah has said coproductions with UK partners remain the “lifeblood” of what it does, but the CEO of rival broadcaster ITV has called for regulatory reform to even out the “very unfair” relationship it has with streamers.

Mensah, who was appointed VP of content at Netflix in the UK last year, told a House of Lords Communications committee yesterday that she “truly believes” the streamer is committed to UK productions, and coproductions, over the long term.

Some UK production execs had suggested that Netflix would soon look to curtail its copro activities, which have seen it partner with the BBC on shows such as Dracula, Bodyguard and Troy: Fall of a City. It is also coproducing The End of the F***ing World with fellow UK PSB Channel 4.

But the former Sky exec said copros “remain the lifeblood of what we do” and said her appointment “and the appointment of my team in London is an indication of Netflix’s commitment and the company’s long-term commitment to production in the UK.”

Mensah added that Netflix wanted a combination of straight commissions, licensing deals and copros in the UK and said the service was a “complementary player” in the market.

Speaking in front of the House of Lords committee, which is exploring the impact of VOD on public service broadcasters, Netflix’s director of public policy Ben King also outlined the streamer’s growth in the UK. It now employs 130 people in the country and has around 50 productions underway, King said, joining fellow UK-produced series such as The Crown and Black Mirror.

King also addressed the potential introduction of a streamer levy in the UK, adding that he was unsure if “a compelling case for the introduction of a levy is actually being made.” He said it was “a solution in search of a problem” and argued that he was not sure that a levy would “stimulate investment” in different content or provide better choices for viewers.

However ITV CEO Carolyn McCall, speaking to the same House of Lords committee later in the afternoon, said that there were “endemic tensions between the platforms and broadcasters” and called on major reform to the 2003 Communications Act, which regulates how media companies operate.

“Let’s be honest – this code was set in 2003 when the dominance was public service broadcaster (PSB’s), so it was all about competition between PSB’s. But as you’ve heard, there is now hyper-competition, there is over-competition, the code does not reflect what is happening today. The PSB’s are not in a dominant position, they are in a more vulnerable position than they have ever been before.”

“There is a very unfair and uneven relationship between us and the platforms,” she continued, adding that the way people view content meant “radical change” is required to “preserve the ecology.” She cited the declining use of the electronic program guide (EPG), which has traditionally given prominence to broadcasters, as an example of how technology such as voice-activated devices could affect visibility, creating a “danger that PSB content could become invisible.”

McCall said “linear headwinds” were buffeting the UK commercial broadcaster but said its yet-to-launch streaming service Britbox, a partnership with the BBC, would help it compete with the “deep pockets of global players” such as Netflix and Amazon.

She added that the service would order shows from UK producers to “constantly encourage subscriptions” while director of TV Kevin Lygo said programming would be “all British, shot in the UK, with 95% British talent behind the screen and on the screen and made by British production companies including ITV Studios.”

He said the Britbox commissions would be additional expenditure on programming and added: “That’s a genuine investment in proper productions in the UK – others are talking about investing a lot of money, but we haven’t seen it yet.”

Tags: ITV, Netflix

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