Edition 22 March 2018, written by Sagar
With its massive successes in the past few years, Netflix has become the leading online television network, with over 117 million subscribers spread through 190 countries. These viewers are responsible for 125 million hours of TV and movies watched per day, a humongous figure! Productions are no longer American-only, and international content in gaining popularity. Netflix vice president for international originals, Erik Barmack, travels around the globe to oversee movies and shows produced in various countries. He was in the Netherlands during February of this year, for a Dutch-Flemish series called ‘Undercover’. But all is not well for Netflix in the Netherlands.
The director of Council for Culture (Raad voor Cultuur), Jeroen Bartelse, has said that Netflix must have at least 15% of its content for Dutch subscribers. Else the Council will levy 2-5% of revenues. This so-called ‘circular financing system’ will ensure that money from the pockets of Dutch citizens, will not only go into the hands of foreign distributors, but encourage in-house talent. Netflix is joined by two other American giants, YouTube and Facebook, in facing the dissatisfaction of the Council. In a noble effort to preserve Dutch audio-visual culture, the council has taken this course so that a minimum number of Dutch productions will be running at any time in cinemas and Netflix. This move could also be inspired by a similar situation in France, Brazil and Argentina, where a hefty video-charging fee has been applied. Netflix benefit hugely from national shows, however are reluctant to invest in them, which is understandably troubling and calls for possible legislative measures as well. However, it is not that Netflix have not invested in European shows. Since 2012, they have spent $ 2 billion in content from Europe (for context, their total budget for video content in 2017 was $ 6 billion). This is very healthy, but [erhaps this ratio needs to go higher in the near future.
In a recent interview, Barmack stressed that Netflix simply want to tell the best stories. He highlighted that small countries like the Netherlands, similar to Scandinavian nations, boast of a rich TV culture. Penoza for instance is a fantastic show, he said. The demand for non- American TV is on the rise, and many European originals haven been supported by Netflix. Added to co-productions and licenses, Netflix were involved in almost 100 European productions last year, and intend to do (at least) the same this year. Director and script-writer, Frank Katelaar, puts it in a simple and subtle way, “If Netflix earn money here, it is not unreasonable to spend it here”. Nevertheless, he goes on to speak against the ‘quota’ system wherein Netflix are obliged to support a certain percentage of Dutch productions, calling this a bit ‘pushy’. Also, such an approach could lead to a loss in quality, which must be avoided. Member of Parliament, Sneller, echoes in agreement with Katelaar, saying the ‘quota’ system is a bunt instrument which is difficult to implement in practice.
Netflix enjoys a tremendous market in Europe and it would surely benefit them to respect the demands of the Dutch Council of Culture. A conscious effort to increase number of Dutch productions could go a long way is solidifying a fruitful collaboration. On a different note, today’s youth are completely immersed in technological advances, incessantly watching videos or series or playing video games. Thus, Netflix has a tacit responsibility towards them by including content from various countries and ensuring good representation of numerous cultures. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Good luck Netflix!