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Why Netflix U.K. Is Leaning Into Impact Campaigns For Originals

Netflix is going the impact campaign route as it expands its profile in the U.K. and looks to assure local players of its commitment to the domestic ecosystem.

Why spend marketing dollars on impact? Partially because impact drives are a sure-fire way to raise profile. But for Netflix, this level of campaigning is particularly important in a market where both public and commercial broadcasters perceive it as an existential threat.

Outgoing BBC director general Tony Hall has been one of the industry’s most outspoken critics of cash-flush SVODs, and his successor will likely need to do the same. But to their detriment, what some senior industry figures still fail to understand is how Netflix is able to leverage its content in clever ways, particularly around impact.

Just as the streamer rolled out a global social media campaign around its first natural history foray, Silverback Films’ “Our Planet” with David Attenborough, made in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Netflix is taking up a different educator role with Eleven Films’ hit YA drama “Sex Education.”

At an intimate event at London’s Covent Garden Hotel on Monday, Netflix screened a 40-minute featurette of “Sex Education” creator Laurie Nunn, cast members Aimee Lou Wood (Aimee) and Patricia Allison (Ola), and Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates discussing an agonizing sexual assault scene from episode three and the wider societal issues around harassment and assault in public spaces.

The majority of the 50-member audience were not industry executives or media, but rather representatives from local non-profit groups supporting sexual health and various disabilities who had been specially invited to take part in a discussion.

The reel was followed by a panel with Nunn, actor Emma Mackey (Maeve) and intimacy coordinator Kat Hardman discussing the realities of writing for and executing what was, at one point, referenced as “the wokest show ever.” However, rather than trumpet the merits of Netflix, what ensued was an engaged, hard-hitting conversation about sexual assault, disability and intimacy on screen.

Nunn highlighted that the impetus for #MeToo-related storylines has “always existed” but that “no one was interested in telling them,” suggesting that the streamer, which also debuted “Unbelievable” last year, has created a platform for such conversations.

The question is whether public broadcaster BBC or even Channel 4, whose campaigning special “100 Vaginas” also sparked a national dialogue last year, would have allocated the resources for a laser-focused impact campaign of this level – for a single show.

In recent months, Netflix has conveyed signs that it is eager to play its part and give back to the U.K. ecosystem, from which it has forged some of its most popular originals to date, such as “The Crown,” “Black Mirror” (first originated at Channel 4) and now “Sex Education.”

As revealed by Variety, the streamer is close to signing Alison Small, CEO of The Production Guild of Great Britain, as head of its training initiatives out of the U.K. – a major coup for the streamer. The business also recently partnered with screen industry body ScreenSkills on an apprenticeship program, allowing production talent to work on local shows such as “Bridgerton” and “The Witcher.”

Such initiatives come just months after Benjamin King, director of public policy for the U.K. and Ireland at Netflix, committed the streamer to joining the effort to build up the TV and film workforce and increase diversity in the U.K.

“Across the entire sector, there is a growing focus on diversity, inclusion and investment in training,” he said. “These agendas are complementary and are priorities, not least because the scale of our plans in the UK are so dependent on addressing and meeting these challenges.”

Meanwhile, Anne Mensah, the former Sky drama boss who is now heading UK drama originals for the streamer out of London, told a House of Lords Communications Committee last summer that co-productions with domestic broadcasters are the “lifeblood” of the platform, and that she “truly believes” in Netflix’s commitment to the U.K. Mensah, who joined one year ago, has yet to reveal her slate of shows, but Variety understands that it’s not far off.

What’s clear is that as Netflix continues to evolve its presence in the U.K. and launch global-facing originals from the country, it will look to create a wider conversation for select originals, and it is that narrative that will help secure the buy-in it needs to be a success with the local industry.

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