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Netflix Canada Won’t ‘Upend’ Local Budgets, Has Greenlighting Power and Still Wants to Partner With Canadian Broadcasters

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Credit: Netflix

Netflix Canada is open for business, and they don’t need to wait around for their American colleagues to move forward on green lights.

That message was loud and clear on the final day of the Banff World Media Festival, where the streaming service has  been at the heart of several tense conversations around the country’s rumbling drive to regulate digital platforms.

While the three Netflix executives on stage Wednesday didn’t directly address the ongoing regulation machinations in the background, what’s abundantly clear is that they’re getting ahead of regulation and pre-emptively moving forward on Canadian originals — before their hand is forced.

The panel featured the team’s newest recruit, Winnipeg native Tara Woodbury, manager for Canadian series; Danielle Woodrow, director of Canadian series; and Peter Friedlander, head of scripted series for the U.S. and Canada, who was moderating the session.

The latter executive, while discussing “myths and misconceptions” about the streamer in Canada, reiterated to the room — after a bold prompt from Woodbury — that Woodbury and Woodrow have greenlighting power for the service in Canada, and don’t need the ‘okay’ from the U.S. to move forward on good shows.

“The greenlight power sits with Danielle and Tara,” said Friedlander. “I am part of the conversations and support and the energy around supporting the decisions you’ve been working on. Let’s be clear about that.”

Other notable takeaways from the session was the team’s stance on budgets. Woodrow said she’s in negotiations on some projects now that are bringing up the question of budgets and what’s expected from the platform.

“We continue to say and believe that the last thing we want to do is come to Canada and upend the market,” said Woodrow, who noted that local budgets are her signposts. “We really do look global…We want to make sure we have budgets to support the creative vision.”

Woodbury added that the streaming service is still keen to partner with Canadian broadcasters on the co-licensing front if any “think it’s an exciting opportunity to collaborate.” Netflix and CBC have partnered on the show “Fakes,” which will be out this fall. (Elsewhere in the conference, however, CBC executive Barbara Williams revealed her reservations about these partnerships, telling a panel on Tuesday that she worries that global audiences think CBC show “Workin’ Moms,” which is on Netflix globally, is a Netflix original rather than a CBC show.)

“We’re definitely open to that conversation [on co-licensing],” said Woodbury. “It’s ‘creative first’ and if we’re all aligned on creative, then we can look at what the deal looks like.”

On the co-production side, Netflix is rooted in telling stories primarily set in Canada. “If it’s primarily set in Canada and it’s a co-pro, we need to understand what the global appeal is. We are open to those but they can be trickier,” said the executive.

Netflix appointed Woodbury as the company’s first content executive in Canada in November 2021. Working from the company’s Toronto offices, the well-respected “Transplant” executive producer is charged with commissioning and developing English- and French-language scripted content for the streamer, and forming relationships with creative talent from across the country.

“Canada’s not homogenous,” said Woodbury, when asked what she’s looking for.

“Everyone here has a different life and family experience. It’s not for us to say your Canadian story is more Canadian than the person next to you. We have two official languages. The Indigenous creative community is on fire right now, it’s incredible. There are a lot of different definitions of what makes a Canadian story. What’s key is we work with local storytellers and you share your stories with us.”

That being said, Woodbury did have a very clear message on what she needs from the creative community in Canada.

“It’s adult, live-action scripted series — French and English — drama and comedy,” said Woodbury. “Our job is to tell stories that are primarily set in Canada, from Canadian creators and from Canadian producers. Broadly, we’re looking for shows that are bold, genre-defining conversation starters.”

The executive referenced “Squid Game” and “Lupin” and “what that did for those local offices.”

On the comedy side, Woodbury wants “fun and forward comedy,” such as the traditional workplace ensemble, or shows about family and friendship, “all the way to the most aspirational, like ‘Emily in Paris.'”

On the drama side, there are three priorities: heartwarming and romantic shows; mysteries and thrillers; and genre shows.

Woodbury wants romances with “a strong central relationship that pulls you through.” For family and friendship-driven shows, she referenced everything from “Virgin River” to “Being Mary Jane.” Meanwhile, mysteries and thrillers can be limited or long-running, at around 6-8 episodes, and with a fun energy in the vein of “Knives Out.”

Finally, genre shows need to have a “big ‘what if?’ question” and can be about the “near future or first contact.” Woodbury wants shows that are “grounded in great character work, like German series ‘Dark’ all the way to Canada’s own ‘Orphan Black.'”

The executives were speaking a day after Netflix global TV head Bela Bajaria took the stage for a keynote.

The executive said the streamer now feels like the underdog in the landscape. And “that’s okay,” said Bajaria. “That’s cool, it’s a good place to be the underdog.” The streamer has been in the line of fire following the company’s major drop in valuation, leading to plenty of speculation about the future of Netflix and its content spend.

“This year, we’re expected to spend $17 billion on content, that hasn’t changed in that way,” Bajaria told an audience at the Banff World Media Festival. Speaking at the conference, Bajaria admitted that “it has been noisy for sure.”