Conference Presentation: Netflix and Independent Media Producers

I will be presenting my paper “’They can now be seen’: Netflix and the cost of transnational audiences for independent film producers” at the University of Wisconsin for the annual Big 10 Mini Conference. This paper explores Netflix’s (and partially Amazon’s) 2016 and 2017 presence at major independent film festivals. By acquiring films at these festivals, these streaming video portals provide independent producers a chance to reach global audiences while simultaneously profiting off of their work.

Here’s the full abstract:

Although a relative newcomer to the television industry, subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) portals like Netflix quickly grew from aggregators of film and television programming to transnational producers and distributors of film and television (Lotz, 2017). As these companies have moved beyond the borders of the United States, the strategies SVOD portals employ in their programming decisions have also shifted to a global mindset. Netflix now solely aims to build their library with programming—both original and licensed—that gives the portal global licensing rights.

Due to the complex nature of funding films and television shows (ranging from co-production strategies to international pre-sales), Netflix has found that funding and licensing independent media productions provides a simple way to bolster their global library with original programming. While the licensing of content globally by SVOD portals expands the potential reach of many types of media content, Netflix especially aids independent producers and media workers in reaching a transnational audience. Independent media producers have long found difficulty in distributing their content nationally, let alone internationally. Through the funding, production, and distribution of independent films and television shows, Netflix therefore bolsters the potential reach of independent producers globally. Despite providing an international audience for the first time, the commodification of independent productions takes programming rights away from producers, making SVOD portals the main entity profiting from the productions. This Marxian movement separates producers from the products of their labor through portals’ profit on their products.

While previous academic research has explored how the United Kingdom has responded to changes in the global marketplace because of digital television portals’ global distribution (Steemers, 2017), research has not yet explored how SVOD portals enable smaller independent media production companies’ ability to reach global audiences or how SVOD portals profit off the independent productions instead of the original producers. Using international press coverage and industry trade journals on the production of Netflix original programming, this paper will demonstrate important changes to distribution and production occurring in the television industry because of the global licensing commonly sought by digital television portals by addressing how the spatialization and commercialization of independent productions distributed on media simultaneously uplifts indie producers by allowing them to reach global audiences for the first time while also exploiting their labor through corporate separation from their product.

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