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Netflix Flexes Muscles in Nonfiction and Docs Emmy Race

Netflix wants to extend its award-winning streak to documentaries.

“The original programming space was a big shift for us,” says Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of original documentary and comedy.
The success of “House of Cards,” the positive audience and critical response, gave the content subscription and streaming service confidence to branch into new categories.

“From day one, we’ve supported nonfiction and documentaries, and we’ve been able to see unilaterally how great storytelling resonates,” Nishimura says.
The service has always carried docs, but now, with the acquisition and release of “The Square,” “Mitt” and “The Short Game,” Netflix has shown its deep commitment to the nonfiction game.

Unlike traditional broadcasters, Netflix does not restrict filmmakers to running times, require commercial breaks or rely on event programming.

“Filmmaker friendly” is a mantra oft repeated by execs in the company — an attitude that carries more resonance for documentarians, who are often stymied when it comes to distribution.

Although Netflix’s selective acquisition process is “highly curatorial,” Nishimura says, titles are launched globally. That instantaneous release to Netflix’s 48 million subscribers excites doc makers. “They want to get their story heard, and they care so deeply about subject matter, Netflix provides access at a time when people are interested in the subject,” says the exec.

Case in point: helmer Greg Whiteley’s “Mitt,” which was submitted for primetime Emmy consideration, was acquired before its January Sundance Festival world premiere. Ten days later it was available to subscribers, taking full advantage of its Sundance launch and buzz.

“Mitt” is branded as a Netflix documentary on the user interface on all screens and also appears as a recommendation to users who have shown an interest in similar themes in fiction and nonfiction, further expanding the docu’s potential audience.

Netflix went the distance for helmer Jehane Noujaim’s “The Square.” After picking it up at Sundance 2013 the company waited as the filmmaker returned to Cairo to document more events and then premiered a new cut at Toronto.

After a day-and-date Academy Award qualifying run, and a highly visible campaign, the docu was nominated for an Oscar.

The company intends to continue to be “solid partners with our filmmakers,” says Nishimura. “We’re humbled to help make a difference in the field.”

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