Three weeks, three EU anti-Netflix initiatives – all doomed

The supposed success of Hulu’s live TV offering has fallen on deaf ears over in Europe, as a bunch of broadcasters have botched together the ground workings for a futile resistance against Netflix. UK public broadcasters the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV have reportedly held discussions for a joint SVoD service, following in the footsteps of France Televisions, Germany’s ZDF and Italy’s RAI last week, which, in turn, came after a similar broadcaster alliance announcement in the Nordics.

So why has a European revolt suddenly sparked into life? Part of Netflix’s unstoppable growth has been down to Reed Hastings and his team getting into original content hard and fast years ago, investing substantially to the point Netflix today is not just a threat to traditional TV service providers, but studios too. Even a collaborative effort between some of the largest broadcasters in Europe will struggle to match the investments being made by Netflix in original programming, yet here we are again, in a déjà vu situation from two years ago when the BBC and ITV debated taking on the US heavyweight – plans which were duly relinquished.

Just like in March 2016, the British broadcast cooperative are seeking a helping hand from NBC Universal, according to The Guardian, although any official partnership will probably have to wait until the pursuit of Fox by NBCU’s parent Comcast is settled. If a deal is completed, a tie up between NBC Universal and Sky’s already established Now TV, its live and VoD streaming service, might offer a more compelling business proposal.

Elsewhere in Europe, France Televisions, ZDF and RAI have formed a more solid and blatant revolt against Netflix, aptly named the Alliance. There will be hefty content investments and the initial plan seems to be for a continent-wide service, expanding beyond the three broadcasters’ native territories of France, Italy and Germany – by striking partnerships with RTVE in Spain, RTS in Switzerland, plus RTBF and VRT in Belgium. This brings the Alliance’s total clout to 7 European broadcasters as it stands, which the three founding members are hungry to build on having reached out to others – to create some sort of mass broadcaster uprising. The European Commission may have something to say about broadcasters in 7 countries ganging up on Netflix.

At the Series Mania festival in Lille last week, the Alliance presented an original Leonardo da Vinci production. The documentary will launch as an eight-part series, costing an estimated €2.5 million to €3.5 million an hour to make. Assuming each episode is an hour long, the total production costs will come in at between €20 million to €28 million. In this cannot be monetized it would be a colossal waste of money.

Also in the works is a spy series called Mirage, to be filmed in Dubai and costing a reported €2 million per episode, as well as a sixties era Rome TV show.

France Televisions producer Takis Candilis described the Alliance as “a European audiovisual group whose objective is to be able to finance and offer viewers large-scale fiction projects.” While details on an Alliance SVoD service are minimal, the initial aim is clearly to license original content elsewhere – hoping to provide other broadcaster-run SVoD services across Europe, with a spate of high-budget productions to fend off the relentless Netflix effect.

Meanwhile, five public broadcasters in the Nordics launched the Nordic 12 project to similar effect a few weeks ago, named as such because the initiative has pledged to produce 12 original high-quality TV dramas every year. The key difference is that these productions will be available on linear and digital TV channels from DR (Denmark), NRK (Norway), SVT (Sweden), RUV (Iceland) and YLE (Finland), as well as their respective streaming services. So the aim is not to launch a Netflix rival, but to collaborate on original content to stem cord cutting and therefore protect license fee payments.

There are contrasting dynamics between the Nordics and the rest of Europe, in that home-made dramas are cherished, and major streaming services are unlikely to invest as substantially as the broadcasters in drama productions. So, unlike the similar initiatives happening in the UK and mainland Europe – the Nordic 12 might not be just another case of too little, too late. But Netflix is also well established there and will remain a threat.

DR’s general director, Marie Rørbye Rønn, said: “Drama is the obvious way to reach the Nordic users with content that is about our shared culture and identity, that can bind the Nordic countries across languages and generations. When we, as public service providers, stand together in the Nordics, we simply stand stronger and offer a better offering to the viewers.”

It’s interesting that similar broadcaster initiatives have been blocked by regulators in the past, such as Project Kangaroo in the UK back in 2007, when the Competition Commission probably never foresaw services like Netflix accruing such subscriber dominance and yielding unmatchable sums of cash to throw at original programming. Surely any regulatory issues concerning broadcaster collaborations today will be waved away.