When The New York Times uses the very un-Timesian adjective “megawatt” in a headline to describe the magnitude of the deal between Netflix and recovering royals Harry and Meghan, it’s a safe bet they did not come cheaply for the streaming service.
Though we have about as much of a chance at finding out exactly how much Netflix paid as we do learning what the ratings are for any of their programming, it’s fair to ask a simple question: Does this power couple merit a “megawatt” payout for a multi-year deal encompassing unscripted and scripted TV, films, docs and kids’ programming?
Sure, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will look good on the mantle at the Los Gatos, Calif., headquarters next to Netflix’s other prized producer deal, the Obamas. And nothing beats being able to boast of besting the likes of Disney and NBCUniversal in the bidding war to secure their services.
But if, as one unnamed Times source suggests, the deal could have cost Netflix in the range of $100 million, let’s question the expense.
If the hope is that the global curiosity about Harry and Meghan will translate to the content to which they’re linked, consider the possibility that their popularity has already peaked. Though their dramatic exit from the royal household occurred less than a year ago, it was in a pre-pandemic age in which such frivolities grabbed far more attention than they do in these more sobering times.
But even if Netflix was betting that the staying power of Harry and Meghan in the public imagination is not to be underestimated, it’s important to note that the announcement makes clear they’re probably not going to appear in any of the content they’re producing, except perhaps in documentaries.
Their Netflix deal would be worth its price tag if those documentaries were to feature them spilling the royal tea on the mysterious circumstances of their U.K. departure or if they opened the door to their fabulous new North American existence, complete with footage of their baby. But that’s not what this is.
Though it’s not exactly clear what Harry and Meghan will be producing, they won’t be trading on interest in their soapy saga. Their statement variously describes the goal as “content that informs but also gives hope,” “inspirational family programming” and “impactful content that unlocks action.”
It’s all wonderfully high-minded but not remotely what their tabloid-driven audience wants. The content in question seems more like an exercise in their image rehabilitation, funded by Netflix.
It’s not like they’re being paid for their production expertise. They don’t have any.
What they are really being paid for is attaching their names to content, which will certainly help their work cut through the cluttered streaming world chockablock with programming options too numerous to really stand out. The value Harry and Meghan will probably most bring comes to making themselves available for interviews to publicize the content that bears their imprimatur.
Maybe this is all of negligible concern for Netflix, where $100 million isn’t all that much money. But the time will come when subscriber numbers take a dip for a quarter or two and hard questions will be asked about content investments. Rest assured this deal will be on the list of what gets second-guessed.