Netflix, the BBC, and the battle for talent
“The BBC director general, Tony Hall, has mocked the size of Netflix’s viewing figures, claiming only seven million Britons watched The Crown despite the enormous media buzz around the big-budget show.
"The BBC boss said high-profile dramas such as Luther and Bodyguard reached larger audiences with a smaller budget on the public broadcaster than expensive Netflix shows.”
“I mentioned the Bodyguard finale reaching 17 million viewers,” he told a media conference in London. “That was in one month. Our data suggests The Crown reached seven million users in 17 months.”
Even if the BBC’s research is accurate, I’m sure Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is little more than lightly amused by Hall’s comments.
Viewing figures don’t matter a massive amount to Netflix, and perhaps one reason why they don’t publish them is that to compare them to broadcast television is hugely misleading.
Broadcast TV generally needs big numbers to attract advertisers. The BBC needs big numbers to help justify the licence fee British people pay to fund its service.
What Netflix ultimately cares about is receiving as many subscription payments as possible per month. And people subscribe to Netflix for all sorts of reasons. Maybe it’s one particular drama or comedy, maybe it’s the original animation, maybe it’s the shows from around the world, maybe it’s the classic TV (from companies like… the BBC).
What big-budget shows like The Crown do, beyond giving subscribers something to watch, is frame Netflix as a quality brand – one that attracts big names, big shows, and gets showered with glowing reviews and awards. Netflix really wants to win Oscars for the same reason.
These big-name shows only need to do well enough to justify their cost. That might be through their viewing figures, but it similarly might be in their ability to attract a certain kind of audience to pay up, but perhaps more importantly, they help attract one of the most limited resources faced by Netflix and all of its rivals – talent.
There are only a limited number of the best actors, writers, and directors out there. And while money is one motivating factor for signing up with a company like Netflix, knowing they’ll be seen in the right places is another, and being allowed to just get on with creating the best show or movie they can is another.
If the Netflix brand, and its treatment of talent is seen positively enough, talent will flock there, and subscriptions will grow.
So when the BBC trash-talks Netflix, part of what is going on is a battle for the best talent because in the end, that’s what’s going to keep you coming back for more. Numbers aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be.