Finance, Freedom and Flexibility: How Streaming Platforms are Luring A-list Talent On and Off the Screen

Since 2014, TV has waged a remarkable war upon film when it comes to the procurement of A-list talent. Why confine your work to 90-120 minutes when a TV network is affording you a huge budget and 15 times the airtime to convey your vision? However, the great migration of talent to television is now being superseded by a further migration – of directors, writers, actors, crews and pretty much everyone involved in the production process – from broadcast TV to streaming platforms.

While multi-billion-dollar production budgets go some way to explaining the trend, it’s hard to point to one single factor behind the speed at which this migration is unfolding. The truth is that streaming has shaken up every aspect of the content production process, starting with a break from the traditional episodic cycle of broadcast TV. Filming 20+ episodes of a TV show takes actors, directors and the whole production staff out of action for six months at a time. With the most popular shows often spanning nine seasons or more, that’s an incredible time commitment that can preclude talent from exploring other TV, film or content opportunities.

The freedom afforded by streaming platforms allows content producers to create shows of whatever length they desire, meaning all involved have more time on their hands to work elsewhere. Whether it’s five, seven, ten, or 13 episodes, the lack of restrictions on the length of each one is an attractive proposition when time equals both money and exposure. The absence of commercial interruptions also allows producers to tell a more seamless story to more engaged audiences. The knock-on effect of this freedom has meant higher quality output. Producers can attract A-list talent and are not forced to map the story to predefined and tightly controlled criteria. Instead, the story can be told at the optimal length, without interruption, and to the original vision of the creator.

“[We decided to] have the characters behave like adults — not like the watered-down versions of adults that you see on a lot of TV shows, and behave really true to what their characters would do.”

This taps into the bigger issue of creative freedom. Our broadcast TV world still revolves around weekly script notes reviewed and approved by network executives to ensure nothing controversial sneaks through the net. Content that might either offend audiences or, more importantly, advertisers is cut or neutered. These shows leave the writers’ hands and are picked apart by management to the nth degree. When Mindy Kaling took her hit, “The Mindy Project,” to Hulu after Fox cancelled her show, she openly claimed more freedom over her own characters, “[We decided to] have the characters behave like adults — not like the watered-down versions of adults that you see on a lot of TV shows, and behave really true to what their characters would do.”

In the early days of Netflix and Amazon Prime, nothing could have been further from that reality. Writers and directors were given an unprecedented level of freedom that served to empower both on-screen and off-screen talent and crews to be far bolder in their approach. Then, of course, came the “House of Cards”-breakthrough moment, the first evidence that these streaming platforms were willing to compete financially with broadcast TV. Today, while we’re hearing that streaming services are tightening their grip on content and creativity slightly, there’s no doubt the financial backing and comparative freedom afforded by these services is a huge lure. What’s more, crew loyalty abounds within the industry. Supporting team members typically follow their ‘general’ around from one project to the next, meaning that with more Hollywood directors and auteurs now being tempted into making TV for streaming, there’s a further uplift in the overall quality of the content as these all-star production teams migrate over as well.

As we move into 2018 we’re going to see the broadcast networks forced into changing tactics if they want to continue to compete for talent.

This trend is not a temporary aberration. The landscape has fundamentally shifted and, with signs that Apple TV is now starting to make waves with its content offering, not to mention Hulu’s extraordinary 2017 Emmy’s successes, there is not likely going to be a return to network TV’s glory days when it had a vice-like grip on top talent on and off the small screen. Word of mouth and peer influence is strong within the industry; hence a good experience goes a long way, and content creators have been quick to voice their appreciation for the streaming platforms’ approach. The trend has also ended the traditional ‘network deal’, with artists, directors and actors confident in their ability to seek work from a variety of sources rather than signing for the long term with a specific network.

As we move into 2018 we’re going to see the broadcast networks forced into changing tactics if they want to continue to compete for talent. As more of the industry’s brightest stars move to streaming, the content on those services will continue to lure audiences to their ad-free environments.  This in turn could cause broadcast networks to create more genre-specific platforms, with specialization the best way of encouraging audiences that new incremental platforms are worth paying for.

In Q3 of 2017 Netflix added 5.3 million members globally – a record number for the company.

2018 will also see greater diversity of platforms getting into content production (think Facebook, for starters). These market entrants have an opportunity to succeed in TV content like never before, now that streaming has finally turned TV into a truly global medium. In Q3 of 2017 Netflix added 5.3 million members globally – a record number for the company. From David Fincher to Shonda Rhimes, streaming has unearthed a new generation of ‘global directors’ whose talents will be better served going forwards by the platforms that promise them the most freedom, the healthiest paychecks and the biggest audience.

Caressa Douglas

Senior Vice President of Content and Branded Integration at BEN (Branded Entertainment Network)
Caressa Douglas serves as the senior vice president of content and branded integration at BEN (Branded Entertainment Network), a Bill Gates Company.She is a founding member and contributor of BEN where she has a passion to seamlessly integrate brands into the fabric of Hollywood storytelling. With over two decades of relationships in the entertainment space, Caressa and team execute successful placement programs for global clients such as General Motors, Heineken, Dunkin Brands, Microsoft/Xbox, Honda, Hyundai, and Dyson.
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