Netflix invests in creators

Shonda Rhimes leaves ABC for the web

Just days after Disney announced a split from Netflix, the streaming giant pulled off a huge steal from the Mouse House’s television arm, ABC. Netflix signed TV mogul Shonda Rhimes to a production deal.

Rhimes is leaving behind the 15-year old, $10m dollar a year deal between her company Shondaland and ABC. The partnership produced such hits as Gray’s Anatomy and Scandal. While her juggernaut “TGIT” lineup will remain at ABC, she’s taking her prowess and millions of fans to the streaming sphere.

This news follows an especially aggressive artist-acquisition period by Netflix. A week ago, Netflix made waves when they snagged David Letterman for a new talk-show segment. Similarly, they recently hired the Coen brothers for the anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

In the past year, they also debuted War Machine from indie darling David Michôd and are set to release Bright, an original fantasy starring Will Smith from Suicide Squad director David Ayers.

Michôd might not be much more well known than the average Netflix director, but David Letterman, Will Smith, and the Coen brothers and huge names in the entertainment industry. It’s a little shocking to see them work with Netflix — but only a little. Whatever stigma there may have been with streaming is long gone.

Netflix’s strategy to invest in well-known filmmakers/artists is not entirely new. They famously launched their original content efforts with auteur David Fincher. Fincher helmed the House of Cards pilot and helped executive produce the show. They also spent millions to produce The Get Down with Australian maestro Baz Lurhman.

Currently, Netflix has a larger part distributing content from well-known artists rather than financing their efforts. This year alone, they released the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore) as well as Cannes selects Okja (Boong Joon-ho) and The Meyerowitz Stories (Noah Baumbach).

As Disney and other content creators start yanking their films and shows from Netflix, Netflix must find a replacement in the form of “Netflix originals.”

Ted Sarandos and co. are already on the way to 50% original content with only a few years to go. But what’s equally important to making content they own forever is making content that their subscribers want to watch. That means providing shows from people that audiences know and trust. It means having David Letterman, Will Smith, and Shonda-goddamn-Rhimes on their team.

Getting Rhimes is a stunning rebuke to Disney. It also gives Netflix the same kind of buzz that FX gets from an association with Donald Glover or HBO does with Larry David.

The streaming landscape will be a fascinating minefield in the coming years. Studios are launching their own platforms and now it looks like artists themselves are the new weapons in the fight. Hulu spent millions to get the rights to Seinfeld re-runs. Don’t be surprised when they spend millions more to bring Seinfeld himself over.

As always, we’ll see!