Winging it with the future of TV – well, all of us out here are winging it, but the data brokers have a whole ‘nuther perspective:
Inside the Binge Factory
by Josef Adalian
“What do you think about gas in the tank for the long term?” asks Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice-president of original content. It’s a Tuesday morning in May, and Holland and a handful of her direct reports are meeting in the 14th-floor San Junipero conference room of the company’s Hollywood headquarters. They’ve come to discuss renewal decisions for two existing shows, the Drew Barrymore–Timothy Olyphant zombie comedy, Santa Clarita Diet, and the recently launched remake of Lost in Space.
As Holland goes around the room, she stares at a laptop screen filled with the memos her team has prepared. She notes the mixed reviews for Lost in Space. “Do we care?” Not that much, it turns out. The show is renewed for a second season.
As they discuss story lines and other creative matters, there’s talk about “completion,” i.e., how quickly subscribers are moving through episodes to the end of the season. Holland quizzes the room about how the shows are doing internationally and if they’re under- or overperforming in certain territories. Someone mentions that Barrymore and Olyphant traveled to the Philippines to promote season two of Santa Clarita: “It’s the first time we took a show there,” she says, adding that the promotional support seemed to pay off: “We’re really, really excited about the fact that it’s traveled globally.” There’s enough gas in the tank, they decide, for a season three.
The conversation moves on to new projects, including Away, an unannounced drama from creator Andrew Hinderaker (Penny Dreadful) and executive producers Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) that revolves around an international group of astronauts on the first-ever mission to Mars. “Do you have a clear sense of who is that core fan base?” Holland asks. “I feel it’s a pretty global show in terms of the cast and the diversity of players,” says one executive. “But I also think because there’s that epic love story at the center, it’s going to attract a female audience.” “You probably also get the sci-fi audience as well, right?” Holland says. “I don’t think we’re going to get a hard-core sci-fi action audience,” the executive replies. “That’s not what this is.”
Also on the agenda is a not-yet-announced limited series. There’s a brief debate over which of Netflix’s many content “verticals” it will fall under. “It’s kind of a hybrid between series and film in terms of the biopic nature,” one executive says. “Right now, it’s projected somewhere between period romance and the black-film vertical,” says another. Adds someone else, “It doesn’t fit squarely in either, so we think there’s a nice in-between.”
The meeting ends in less than an hour, and the futures of four of the roughly 1,000 original titles Netflix plans to make (or acquire and distribute) this year are a bit more certain.
Netflix’s overthrow of television’s old business model began just seven years ago. That’s when the Silicon Valley company best known for mailing DVDs in little red envelopes outbid AMC and HBO for the rights to a drama from director David Fincher, a remake of the British mini-series House of Cards. It was a big deal at the time, both because of the money Netflix was spending ($100 million for two seasons) and because it was the first hint of the streaming platform’s ambitions to evolve beyond a digital warehouse for other conglomerates’ intellectual property….