Netflix is focused on offering its subscribers great content and welcomes competition despite its recent user growth challenges, Anne Mensah, vp, original series at Netflix in London since early 2019, said at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Thursday.
“This is a company that is founded on resilience and innovation,” she said when asked about recent subscriber declines and rising competition from various sector players. “The whole industry is facing headwinds. … This is a tricky time for all of us.” She then mentioned high inflation and the cost of living crisis in Britain, concluding: “The people that we need to serve, we need to make sure that they absolutely 100 percent value what we are doing.”
She argued that “that is what we do” every day and also welcomed “competition” as “the best thing” and “amazing.” Mensah even praised the likes of the BBC, Disney+ and Paramount+ for their programming output.
She was asked about the trickle-down effect of Netflix’s subscriber declines in the first half of 2022 but said she doesn’t like that word, because it suggests problems. “Netflix doesn’t do ‘from above’,” she also said when asked if higher-ups are mandating cuts and major changes. “It is well documented that we have had changes within the company, but this is all about focusing on making sure that we are making the best content… . Netflix is a terribly transparent company, … and we are focused on working together on making great shows, and we are here for the long run.”
She also highlighted that her team is currently working with such great British talent as Guy Ritchie, on a series based on the film The Gentlemen, and trusts these creatives, joking that she won’t tell Ritchie what to do.
The executive also mentioned such U.K. programming as the recently commissioned series Baby Reindeer, based on the successful Edinburgh Fringe play written by Richard Gadd.
Questioned if Netflix was looking for more reboots after the success of Queer Eye, Mensah said her team is always open to hearing all ideas. Asked about her interest in creatives without a certain level of experiences, Mensah simply said: “If you haven’t done a show at the level that you are pitching us at before, then Netflix is not the right place for it. We don’t want to set you up for failure.”
Her comments came as the global streaming giant has been looking to put a challenging first half of 2022 behind it, with two back-to-back quarters of subscriber declines. For the current third quarter, management has said it expects to return to growth to the tune of 1 million subscribers despite rising inflation and fears of a recession in various parts of the world, which poses the risks of more price-sensitive consumers dropping streaming subscriptions.
Netflix has also signaled that its annual content spending would stay around the $17 billion level and that the company would release its advertising-supported, cheaper subscription tier “around the early part of 2023.” It is also looking at how to crack down on password sharing, with Wall Street analysts keeping a close eye on those developments at a time when streaming profitability and average revenue per user become more important than pure subscriber growth.
Mensah was joined in her appearance by colleagues Ben Kelly, director, unscripted series, U.K.; Johnny Taylor, director, documentary films, Europe, Middle East and Africa; and Nelesh Dhand, manager, original documentary series. With the company’s unscripted team in Britain looking to expand originals and pursuing a localization strategy that now sees European content account for 30 percent of programming on the streamer in the U.K., they answered questions on what Netflix wants and needs from producers.
Mensah is a former director of drama at Sky U.K. and former head of independent drama at the BBC. She has commissioned such dramas as Patrick Melrose, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, for Sky/Showtime and Sky/HBO series Chernobyl.
At last year’s Edinburgh fest, Mensah and her team said their diversity strategy was focused on showing rather than telling. “The thing that people aren’t really cracking necessarily, but that we are really leaning into, is actually making sure we have diversity in our creators,” she said. “I have been commissioning long enough to know that the systemic problems in the industry surround us all.” Mensah back then concluded: “Hopefully, the change will be onscreen in the next year, two years.”