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Netflix stumbles and rejoices in Hollywood: “The days of the blank check are over”

Ever since Netflix started handing out mega deals to ryan murphy, barack obama, and Prince Harry, the place seemed like a two-tier system for many creating the content, especially since few of these extravagant offerings got much rating. (A new anime series in development for the platform by Meghan Markle was dropped following the earnings report.) The only big bet that has paid off so far is Shonda Rhimes, whose Shondaland stable produced buzzing hits with Bridgerton and Invent Anna. But as an insider points out, most of Netflix’s biggest shows, like stranger things and squid game, didn’t emerge from those kinds of lavish offerings: “These are things that just caught people’s attention and became hits on their own.”

By Liam Daniel/Netflix.

Despite the streamer’s spendthrift reputation, showrunners find themselves operating under increasingly tight constraints. “They’re much more interested in maximizing the audience they can get on a budget,” says Netflix’s executive producer. “That seems to be how they really envision their development and production: how many different corners can we reach for the least amount of money? The era of the blank check is over.

“I think there are already clear signs that they are downsizing,” says Dade Hayes, co-author of the new book Binge Times: Inside Hollywood’s Furious Billion-Dollar Battle to Take Down Netflix. “What’s going to be interesting to watch is when a hot property comes along that everyone is bidding on. They’re going to have to be much more disciplined than they’ve ever been as a company.

Even those who work on popular Netflix series have felt the pinch, long before the fallout in recent weeks. “Budgets have definitely gotten tighter,” confirms a veteran showrunner I’ll call Showrunner Y. “You think, okay, now we’ll have the money to really do it the way we want. But it’s actually getting tighter!” It’s so antithetical to how it should work.

While the company is known for paying its own in-house staff very well – sometimes offering double or even triple what the market will bear – insiders say it can be very difficult with editorial staff. A common complaint is that he often merges two separate assistant jobs into one for a bargain price. “A lot of showrunners have tried to say, we need one person per position,” an insider explains. “But Netflix insisted on these awful combinations that basically burn through assistants and treat them like they’re a renewable resource: when one runs out, you just replace it with the next one.” Netflix had no comment.

The streamer has also standardized the use of so-called mini rooms. Unlike the traditional writers’ room – in which TV writers are usually paid to stay throughout the production of a series – the much cheaper mini-room is a freelance gig that pays a small number of writers to generate scripts for several weeks and then send them on their way. Mini-room writers end up being gig workers, hoping to put together enough work to earn a living and secure their union health insurance. “But the other problem is that no one learns how to do anything,” says Showrunner X. they could eventually step in and become showrunners. . But with mini-chambers this does not happen. “I don’t know where this next generation of showrunners will really come from.”

The traditional television model helped writers survive lean times with built-in syndication fees and residuals (i.e., payments talent received each time a show aired). Netflix disrupted this model when it disrupted everything else. After the streamer acknowledged they were considering an ad-supported subscription option, Rutherford Falls showrunner Sierra Teller Ornelas tweeted“So when Netflix starts offering a level with ads, it’s [sic] that regular TV? Does this mean better residuals? Won’t new writers NOT have to work in 6 mini-rooms a year to do what I did ten years ago on a show? »

It’s because frustrations with Netflix have built up that its success has sparked undisguised joy in some sectors of the industry. The company created the streaming TV universe, but it’s no longer the undisputed center of it, thanks to HBO Max, Disney+, Paramount+, Hulu, Apple TV+, and Peacock.

Netflix must now reassess how it attracts talent and retains subscribers, and how it can respond to its reputation for operating in an unrealistic financial bubble. CFO Spencer Neuman said in an earnings interview last month that Netflix would pull back on “spend growth in both content and non-content spend.” A source close to Netflix clarified that it will in fact continue to increase its spending on content, but do so more slowly. The streamer’s content budget is estimated to be between $17 billion and $18 billion this year, which remains among the highest in the industry. He always invests in high-profile projects, including political thrillers The Diplomat, featuring Keri Russell; sci-fi epic the three body problem, created by David Benioff, DB Weiss, and Alexander Woo; and David E. Kelley and Regina Kinglimited series, A complete man.

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