TBI Weekly: Netflix finds its ‘Love Island’ amid unscripted drive

A year on since forming its UK outpost and months out from launching Paris and Berlin bases, Netflix was out in force at the Edinburgh TV Festival, having made a raft of reality commissions, including a Love Island-style format, TBI understands. 

It is believed that the SVOD giant has finally found its take on the ITV2 juggernaut, and has commissioned an eight-part series that is casting from the UK, US and other Anglophone countries.

The streaming giant has, to date, moved cautiously in the reality space, being cognisant of the formidable challenge of executing a strong reality offering outside of a national conversation and in an on-demand environment that caters to a global audience.

However, the platform may have been emboldened by its first dating original, six-part reality series Dating Around, which launched in February and follows a single going on five blind dates per episode. The show has been deemed a critical success for the platform, with some producers telling TBI that they are looking to duplicate the format’s cinematic feel in their own dating shows.

On the ground in Edinburgh, the business – which had a team of around 14 execs at the festival, including unscripted commissioners from Los Angeles – is believed to have been focusing its efforts on entertainment, due to a number of reality commissions already in the pipeline.

Netflix’s key unscripted team in Scotland included director of unscripted originals Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Grouille and director of unscripted originals and acquisitions Sean Hancock – both of whom are based out of the US – as well as head of non-fiction series for EMEA Lucy Leveugle, who is in London.

Following its acquisition of Channel 4 format The Circle, which Netflix took global rights to last autumn and is currently shooting out of the UK, TBI understands that the business is increasingly thinking globally around formats – sussing out how well a project might translate in markets such as France and Germany.

Indeed, another exec included in certain Edinburgh meetings was former ITV Studios Germany and Seapoint Productions exec Jennifer Mival, a German exec who is handling non-fiction series for EMEA. Just two months into the role, Mival is believed to have been evaluating the potential of projects for Germany, which is poised to be a crucial market for localisation, particularly in unscripted.

The group is believed to have held back-to-back meetings with a range of programme makers, from fledgling indies to established producers – a charm offensive that was described by one unscripted producer as a major “love-in” intended to demonstrate how seriously the streaming giant is taking unscripted content out of Europe.

Meanwhile, despite enduring fears that the “co-production tap” would be firmly shut for local broadcasters – as suggested by Chernobyl producer Jane Featherstone two years ago – TBI understands that Netflix is again forging ahead with co-productions in the UK market.

It is thought, for example, that Netflix and UKTV currently have a co-production in the works – a project that would mark the first such undertaking for the broadcaster.

Festival presence key for Netflix in years ahead

Netflix’s overtures to the UK production community are not altogether surprising, given the impressive digital dominance at this year’s festival, which also hosted a six-member contingent from Amazon, as well as Quibi content exec Kate Presutti.

Amazon’s director of European originals Georgia Brown outlined the company’s rapidly growing commissioning structure across the continent at her session earlier in the week, while reiterating that the streamer doesn’t want to “gobble up all rights”.

Also in attendance was former ITN Productions exec Dan Grabiner, who was appointed to oversee unscripted in the UK, as revealed by TBI in January, and Lydia Hampson, who manages scripted in the UK, alongside Aparna Purohit, head of Indian originals for the streamer.

Amazon’s eagerness to talk up its flexibility on rights comes as Quibi continues to engage international producers, moving extremely quickly on projects of interest and offering a range of alluring rights models – one of which allows producers to piece together short-form projects made for Quibi into long-form content that they can then sell on after two years.

Indeed, with this level of competition biting at the heels of established digital players such as Netflix, to speak nothing of deep-pocketed rivals Disney+ and Apple TV+, both of which are set to launch in November, the streamer can no longer afford not to have a presence at markets and festivals.

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