Netflix doesn’t want to destroy the BBC but instead work with public service broadcasters to boost Britain’s TV industry, which would be weaker if either side were removed from the equation, the streaming service’s executives said at a parliamentary hearing.
Anne Mensah, vice-president of original series at Netflix, and Benjamin King, the company’s director of public policy for the UK and Ireland, both gave evidence to MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport committee on Tuesday.
But neither would be drawn on how they thought the BBC should be funded in the future, telling the committee that they thought it wasn’t their place to comment.
“I absolutely believe in the long-term sustainability of the BBC,” said Mensah, who used to work for BBC Scotland.
“Creatively I think you can’t extract one part of the creative industries in the UK from another. As much as we work with talent that have flown through the [public service broadcasters], we also work with talent that flows through theatre and that is why us being based here, so that we are a proper thoughtful part of the industry, is so important.
“It works both ways: we have nurtured some brand new writers in Netflix. Someone like Laurie Nunn, who is behind Sex Education, hadn’t created her own series before she was on Netflix.”
When asked to comment on how the license fee should adapt to a shift in viewing habits, however, Mensah had little to add. “What we’re trying to do is constantly support, but I think their long-term strategy lies in their hands,” she told the committee chair, Conservative MP Julian King, before admitting, when pushed for an answer, that she was “worried about saying the wrong thing”.
One proposal, put forward by Labour’s Kevin Brennan for solving the issue was to force TV manufacturers to include an iPlayer button on their remote controls, alongside the branded buttons that Netflix and its competitors pay to place.
Brennan, who also argued that the BBC would have been unable to make a drama as hard hitting as The Crown without suffering a backlash from MPs and the media, said that “public service broadcasting shouldn’t be locked away in a cupboard, and hidden from potential viewers”.
He added: “It might be possible this committee could recommend that public service broadcasters ought to have the right to have their own button.”
King said Netflix was “relatively agnostic” about that proposal, arguing that it “is better a question for the hardware manufacturers, platforms, and other gatekeepers and aggregators of content”.
King did admit that the company views public service broadcasters as “competition”, but said that was only because their definition is so broad as to include almost anything a viewer might be doing instead of watching Netflix.
“We think about gaming as competition, we think about all the different things that people can spend that time doing online and in front of the screen. So yes, as a part of that, the broadcasters are undoubtedly competition.
“But the relationship is also a collaborative one. And we are we are huge customers of theirs as well. So, through the [public service broadcaster] content that we’ve licensed in recent years, we have provided it you know, a substantial source of revenue to the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV.”
Neither executive endorsed one proposal, made in jest by their chief executive, Reed Hastings, earlier this year, that the license fee be maintained – but that Britain also make it mandatory to subscribe to his company.