U.K. Drama Executive Warns That Netflix ‘Co-Production Tap’ Is About to Be Switched Off

U.K. Drama Executives Warns That Netflix
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One of the U.K’s leading drama executives said Monday that the flow of co-production money from Netflix and perhaps Amazon is about to slow or even run dry as the SVOD giants fully fund and take all rights to their original content.

Jane Featherstone, delivering the annual BAFTA Television lecture in London, said that as the streaming services continue to grow, their appetite to work with broadcasters in specific territories will diminish. Featherstone, who previously ran Kudos, is head of a new scripted production company, Sister Pictures, which has commissions from the BBC, ITV, and Netflix. She cautioned the great and good of the U.K. drama world that the big SVOD players are likely to stop co-producing in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Co-production has been a buzz word for the last five years,” Featherstone said, noting that both the BBC and ITV had projects part-funded by the streamers. “That honeymoon period, consider it over. Up until this point, this co-funding meant relatively subtle changes to the type of drama being commissioned – perhaps they’re a little bigger and more global-facing. Henceforth that subtlety will replaced by less nuanced programs.”

Featherstone’s extensive drama credits include “Spooks,” “Humans,” “River” and “Broadchurch,” and as well as running Endemol Shine producer Kudos she has been co-chairman of Shine U.K. Shine founder Lis Murdoch was among those in the BAFTA audience this evening.

Featherstone put Netflix and Amazon in the “FAANG” group of tech companies getting into content: Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google. She told Variety after her BAFTA address that her observations were based on talking to the SVOD players and were common knowledge in British TV drama circles.

“We know, because they have told us, the SVODs are going to start ramping up commissioning of only fully owned original programs, meaning they won’t need to co-produce any more,” Featherstone told the packed BAFTA session. “Why keep investing in shows when they don’t own the territory most likely to make that show a hit? It doesn’t make sense for them. The co-production tap is going to be turned off, or at least reduced to a trickle. It’s already happening with [Netflix series] ‘The Crown’… and I reckon we have a year or 18 months before the big FANG players stop producing entirely, except maybe for specific talent-driven content.”

To Variety she added: “There’s no business case for them to keep co-producing unless the BBC, ITV, or Channel 4 have a property or piece of talent that they really, really want on their platform.”

Sister Pictures was launched in early 2016 and has won several big drama orders, including “Duty/Shame” (aka “Giri/Haji”) for the BBC and Netflix. Featherstone, who said she was excited by the change taking place in the business and called Netflix a brilliant creative partner, also talked passionately about making mainstream drama for linear channels that connect with huge audiences and drive the water-cooler conversation.

Her company has “Clean Break” for ITV, a six-part drama about a cleaner (Sheridan Smith) who works in London’s financial district and who gets involved in insider trading. For BBC One, Sister Pictures has “The Split,” an Abi Morgan family drama about a divorce lawyer.