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Netflix 2024: What You Need To Know Now!

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Factual Trends 2024. What I Learned about Buyers, Buckets and Budgets

What are the key trends for Factual producers and buyers as we work our way towards 2Q24 and MIPTV?

I’ve been checking in with industry insiders and analysts for their key Takeaways, and here my highlights from these conversations.

Top Finding:

  • The Documentary business boomed in the ‘Eighties thru the late ‘Teens as dozens of ever more specialized niche cable / satellite channels required hundreds of hours of factual programs to fill their schedules.
  • The arrival of Netflix and the Streaming model brought an end to the boom times.
  • Streamers don’t require the same volume of new programs as channels to attract and retain their subscribers, and thus the total spend on unscripted programs has declined.
  • Nevertheless, Factual television remains a multi-billion-dollar industry.  The opportunities are there, but are harder to find and nail down!

Investment Cycle

  • The studios and legacy networks invested heavily in launching streaming platforms.
  • But Netflix’s business model proved to be much more challenging to replicate than expected, particularly given Netflix’s dominance of subscribers and viewers.
  • Investors soured on the streaming model.
  • Losses and deficits were heavy for studio-backed streamers as well as niche services.
  • Many platforms cut back their program spending in 2H 2023, and they continued to scale back in 2024.
  • The depth of the streamers’ financial struggles is captured by Paramount’s failure to find a buyer, leading to a likely breakup of its studio, Paramount+ streamer and legacy network operations.

The Great Contraction

  • Even the premium Factual producers are experiencing this industry-wide reduction in scale.
  • Non-documentary buyers including broadcast networks moved into Factual, expanding the number of buyers, but at lower price points.

RDF Television Closure

  • Giant producer Banijay’s UK chief Patrick Holland captured the market shift in grim terms when he recently announced the closure of Factual mainstay and hit-maker RDF Television.
  • Holland bemoaned the recent lack of green lights from UK broadcasters for factual programming.
  • “It’s one of the big stories which is happening under the radar of this economic crisis,” he said. “The kind of mid-range factual content that used to fill terrestrial channels has sort of disappeared from the commissioning market.”
  • A veteran producer commented: “The closure represents a poignant moment, indicative of a broader shift in broadcaster strategies, moving away from the traditional domains of general factual and lifestyle programming towards a digital-first approach.”

The Comeback that Didn’t Happen

  • Many industry insiders predicted that the market would pick up during the 2023 Writers’ strike.
  • This did not happen due to:
    • Loss of ad spend across the global television industry
    • Performance metrics are driving harder decision-making by Netflix and the streamers: Instead of “How good is this program for the brand?” program decision-makers ask: “How many watched? And for how long?”
    • Legacy channels continue to decline. The remaining buyers are spending less on programs.

Luminate Data

  • Research firm Luminate’s year-end film and TV report for US reveals that 1,784 TV programs premiered last year across all genres and platforms.
  • The number of premieres surged in 2021 and was fairly stable in 2022, before dropping off sharply in 2023.
  • What Luminate designates as “alternative” programming (unscripted shows, documentaries and the like) fell by about 20% but still encompassed the majority of all premieres with 1,038.

Price / Volume / Quality Factors

  • Price points have rapidly declined in the last year, as much as 20-50% less.
  • Premium quality is less important today.
  • The shift is from so called Premium non-fiction with $1M+ budgets to the mid-range around $500K / hour.
  • Platforms seek to lower their producers’ post-production costs, including fewer edit weeks, and lower spending on CGI and original music.
  • Successful producers have learned to work around these shrinking budgets and timelines.

Source: Luminate

KEY BUCKETS

Several buyers, distributors and agents shared with me their analysis of the most sought after program categories:

  • True Crime / True Con
    • True Crime continues to be the largest documentary bucket.
  • Ripped from the Headlines stories
  • Pop Culture
    • Sports
    • Moments in History that we all know about
    • Celebrities
    • Bio-docs are in demand, even if they are about relatively minor celebs.

Also earning the buyers’ attention:

  • Content that is heavily rooted in IP
  • Proven formats: reboots and already existing concepts
  • Social experiments/dating/performance content

True Crime Data

  • True Crime continues to grow.
  • According to Luminate (see chart above), 80 premieres were categorized as True Crime across 2023, an increase of +48% over 2022.

Nature Cutbacks

  • Wildlife programming is well past its peak, indicated by the recently announced staff reductions at the BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol, and Netflix’s closure of its Wild Space Production services unit.
  • Natural History is a pillar of public broadcasting schedules worldwide, and the pubcasters are in a less steep decline than cab/sat networks and commercial broadcasters.
  • My Takeaway is that public broadcasters are earning more industry respect by keeping the lights on in many wildlife production offices that once enjoyed, or aspired to, generous blue chip commissions from streamers.

Originals vs Licensed Programs

  • Originals are of less importance for streamers, witness Netflix’s expanding volume of licensed titles.
  • Streamers’ decisions are becoming more data-driven. They will prefer a licensed program over an original if it attracts more and longer views, and delivers a more favorable ROI.

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