HOLLYWOOD – On Wednesday evening, in Netflix’s star-filled (literally) Tudum theater, the top execs of the world’s streaming giant met the press to discuss their 2024 television programs and films. Timed to the release of a new video preview that debuted this morning, the presentation featured exclusive first looks at series such as Gut Ritche’s “The Gentlemen” and films that will only stream on Netflix like the long-awaited “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.” And, at the center of the event was Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Bela Bajaria.
Joined by Brandon Riegg, VP of Nonfiction Series, and Francisco Ramos, VP of Latin American Content, Bajaria oversaw a presentation that lasted a little over an hour and touted how broad the company’s scope is.
In prepared remarks, Bajaria noted, “As we announced last week, 260 million households now subscribe to Netflix. If you assume about two people per account — which is conservative — the number is even bigger. More than half a billion people. No entertainment company has tried to program with this ambition — for this many tastes, cultures, and languages. Ever.”
In terms of Netflix’s current programming strategy (which used to be “a gourmet cheeseburger” everyone would love), Bajaria touted variety and quality, the mandate to create a lot of shows and movies that appeal to many different tastes and interests, and, of course, to make them great. If that sounds somewhat generic, that might be frustrating creatively but exactly why the service keeps growing. More importantly, while awards and acclaim can be nice rewards for their content creators, that’s not Bajaria’s priority.
“Our audiences are by far our toughest critics. I’m sorry, it’s not all of you, it actually is really them. Because if they don’t like a film or TV show, they just turn it off within minutes, or worse … go to Disney+,” Bajaria says. “We have to make things that audiences will love. For me, that’s the definition of quality. Can we make a TV show or film so good that people can’t wait to finish it and share it with a friend? If we do that, they’ll keep coming back”
Netflix’s head creative honcho then went on to show some clips from programs and movies only for the room. The aforementioned “The Gentleman” will ride or die on Theo James star power, but we’re happy it’s been shot in a widescreen cinematic frame. “The Diplomat” season two has Keri Russell dealing with more global crises and if you’re a fan of “Bridgerton” you’ll be thrilled to know that the “Polin” love story will be front and center this upcoming season (melodrama!). Bajaria touted “3 Body Problem” and provided a clip that featured Benedict Wong early on in a “grounded” scene from the Sci-Fi epic. “The Perfect Couple” with Nicole Kidman, Liev Schreiber, Jacy Reynor, Dakota Fanning, and Meghan Fahy looks like a smash for anyone who is a “White Lotus” fan while a clip of “Monster: The Lyle and Erik Menedez Story” honestly didn’t do much for us. Oh, and “Girls5Eva” is making the jump from Peacock to Netflix with a new third season, and, yeah, still looks like a weak Tina Fey endeavor (sorry to the currently small but passionate “Girls5Eva” fanbase).
On the movie side, the first Skydance Animation film made for Netflix, “Spellbound” centers on a princess, Ellian (Rachel Zegler), whose parents, the King and Queen of the kingdom, have been transformed into giant, but annoying monsters. She sings a song that sets up the conflict (potentially composed by Alan Menken), but it didn’t really pop in our opinion. Color us concerned that Skydance animation head John Lasseter might have lost his magic touch.
“Carry On” is basically a modern update on the 20-year-old Colin Farrell movie “Phonebooth.” This time around, an airport TSA officer (Taron Egerton) has to follow the instructions of a kidnapper (Jason Bateman), or his girlfriend (Sofia Carson) will be killed. Bateman usually has good taste in his projects, so we’re hoping there are more interesting twists than what was in the extended preview.
“Scoop” was the most intriguing preview of the day. This “Frost/Nixon”-esque drama follows a BBC television reporter (Gillian Anderson) as she sits down to interview Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) in what became one of the biggest public relations disasters for the Royal Family in decades. Anderson looks fantastic, but is it an awards movie? Is it not? We’re not even sure Netflix knows…yet.
And then there was an action scene from the beginning of Eddie Murphy’s return to the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise. It was nicely lit (it thankfully does not have that now patented washed-out Netflix look), but seemed super-cliche and was set to a score that sounded just like the original ’80s set movies (something Bajaria seemed to reference as a positive). Maybe the complete movie will charm us. As always, happy to be proven wrong.
Before Ramos took over the presentation, Bajaria, who is of Indian descent, introduced celebrated Bollywood filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s new series, “Heeramandi.” It was genuinely impressive and it’s no surprise Netflix also released this preview separately alongside its longer 2024 reel.
Ramos had the opportunity to show first looks from Latin American-produced programming it’s clear the streamer hopes cross over into other markets. First up was “Senna,” about the legendary Formula One race car driver. This series was shot over two years, but the compilation of non-racing footage was tepid at best (visual effects houses are working on the races). More intriguing was the Argentina-set Sci-Fi series “El Eternauta.” Starring Ricardo Darín (best known in the U.S. for “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Argentina 1985”), the series is inspired by an over 60-year-old graphic novel where radioactive snow covers the world and aliens might be behind it. The snow in summer scenes looked fake, but the aliens didn’t and the scenario (and Darin) make it intriguing. Ramos also previewed the beginning of the highly anticipated limited series adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s landmark novel “100 Years of Solitude.” A production that has completely built the fictional town of Macondo, Columbia where the novel takes place from scratch. The initial sneak was certainly faithful to the book and the series is worth keeping on your radar.
Reigg’s presentation hyped the success of sports docuseries such as “Quarterback,” “Drive to Survive” and “Full Swing,” which the PGA tour says increased viewership to their regular season broadcasts. He also previewed clips from upcoming programs such as “La Liga” centered on the premier Spanish football league and “Sprint,” which chronicles the American and Jamaican sprinters (among others) on their way to a showdown at the Paris 2024 Olympics. The behind-the-scenes and intimate footage of Sha’Carri Richardson following a Women’s 100-meter race was certainly entertaining. And, once again, Reigg reminded everyone in the room that Netflix’s sports strategy is about storytelling and not about broadcasting live events. Boo.
What the Netflix trio didn’t go into detail on was “Squid Game” season two, or even mention the words “Stranger Things” or “Avatar: The Last Airbender”(although the latter is part of the preview). Also, no word on the tantalizing “Eric” with Benedict Cumberbatch, “Atlas” with Jennifer Lopez, the Joe Barton series “Black Doves” with Keira Knightley, “The Night Agent” season two, or “Back in Action” with Jamie Foxx and the now out of retirement Cameron Diaz (the funniest part of the public preview). Moreover, from a prestige level, potential fall players such as “The Piano Lesson” with John David Washington and Samuel L. Jackson or “His Three Daughters,” which debuted to raves at TIFF, were left to the lengthy printed programming announcement. Understandably, Netflix has a ton of content to release over 12 months and you can only cover so much, but some strange choices. Especially for an event of predominately U.S. media members.
Afterward, Bajaria, Riegg, and Ramos took questions from the invited press which included The Playlist, trade outlets, and business publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. To say details in their responses were often slim is something of an understatement. This trio didn’t go to the James Gunn school of somehow revealing everything without really revealing anything major, that’s for sure.
When asked about what firebrands Prince Harry and Megan Markle have upcoming with their Netflix deal, Bajaria responded, “They have a couple of unscripted things they’re working on with Brandon and they actually have a bunch of development. They have a movie in development and a series that they’re working on. So all very early development, but they were a movie, a TV show, and a couple of unscripted shows.”
As to why Netflix decided to completely scrub the original movie “The Mothership,” starring Halle Berry, Bajaria noted, “It doesn’t happen very often. It’s very rare if you think about how many things we make. It is a rare thing, but it was one that there was lots of just production issues as raised issues and everybody on both sides, the talent and us all just agreed that it was better to not launch it. So it’s hard to go, are there lessons in that? It happens so rarely and I think you also have to remember there’s a hundred, 150 people that come together in Alchemy and chemistry and all. It’s a creative endeavor and everything doesn’t out how we want it to be. And on that one, there was just a lot of issues during production and stuff creatively, so everybody just felt like it was the right thing is to just not do it and to do something else together eventually.”
In regards to who might replace Scott Stuber, who left as head of NetFlix Film after seven years, she admitted the search had barely started.
“[Scott] built so much in the seven years is that passion and love for film,” Bajaria says. “Really understanding and loving that and having experience and great relationships with filmmakers and somebody who’s really excited about what we’re doing in Netflix and understands we have such a great opportunity to make amazing films and lots of different kind of films and on this global service. So I’d say so much of what Scott brought is all of those things, but for me, it’s always first and foremost, somebody who has experience.”
She continues, “These are really fun jobs and you get to work with some of the greatest filmmakers and talent and that’s the thing. And I have not met with all those people that you’re all reporting, but it’s been like five seconds.”
After Bajaria dismissed any concerns about the allegations and lawsuit against Vince McMahon (“he’s gone”), Riegg addressed why the streamer decided to make a deal for the rights to WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.”
“I mean it’s a great entertainment product and so having something that we can have on weekly, 52 weeks a year, it has a very passionate, dedicated fan base,” Reigg says. “I think many of those [are] Netflix’s members already. The beauty to me is [WWE is] going to be able to tap into a much larger audience. I think similar to a lot of our other shoulder programming, sports narrative programming, there’s an opportunity and an upside for folks that might not have otherwise sampled it or checked it out, or even been exposed to it. And that really to me is the power of what we can do. And so introducing it to a new set of fans as well as servicing the existing fans that are either already Netflix subscribers or we’ll come over, I mean either way is a win. The truth is we don’t know how much bigger it can get. I think we’re all really bullish on it, but we know that has an incredibly consistent audience for the last several decades. And so that’s really first and foremost where we’re starting at and then we’ll see where we go from there. And I think the other interesting thing about it is that it’s been very undistributed outside of the U.S. It’s just been in different places and this will, I think there’s really great opportunity to still grow it outside of the us.”
Before the event ended, Bajaria once again confirmed that, no, Netflix won’t be releasing its movies in theaters anytime soon. Almost a warning to any producers or directors
“I think you have to look at it this way, that we are the only real pure-play streamer and our members love films and they want to see films on Netflix,” she noted. “And for us that’s always going to be the most important thing. And I think a lot of other companies and businesses do theatrical and it’s a great business for them. It is just not our business. Our business is to make sure that members come to Netflix, they’re in the move of the movie and they get that movie that they want to see. And that is always going to be the focus for us is making great movies on Netflix that members see.”