Netflix Global Head Bela Bajaria on the Streamer’s Recent Woes: ‘We’re the Underdog Now’

Netflix Head of Global TV Bela Bajaria says she now feels like the underdog — and “that’s OK. That’s cool, it’s a good place to be the underdog.” The streamer has been in the line of fire following the company’s major drop in valuation, leading to plenty of speculation about the future of Netflix and its content spend.

“This year, we’re expected to spend $17 billion on content, that hasn’t changed in that way,” Bajaria told an audience at the Banff World Media Festival. Speaking at the conference, Bajaria admitted that “it has been noisy for sure.”

Bajaria hesitated to say that Netflix would reduce that level of content spend, but she did say that “there’s been slower growth than we anticipated. We’re going to continue to grow content [but] because growth is slow, we sort of slowed also in parallel the growth of the content, but not reducing [the spend].”

Bajaria also contended that the recent news won’t mean major changes to Netflix — despite speculation to the contrary.

“For me, looking at it, the business works,” she said. “When we make a great show like ‘Stranger Things,’ people watch it, they talk about it. The idea of watching TV, streaming on the internet is here to stay. We are not doing some radical shift in our business. We’re not merging, we’re not having a big transitional phase.

“For me it’s about what’s the mission we have, to make great TV series and movies. We don’t have another distraction, we just have to do that and do it well. And I’m not going to take no for an answer. [It’s about] getting back to the basics. For creative execs, making content, are you out there meeting with writers, producers and directors? Are we taking chances?”

As for whether Netflix will narrow its programming focus, Bajaria said, “People have a wide variety of tastes. We don’t want to do just one thing, we want to do a whole bunch of things. Our top ten, theres a wide range of taste out there. Looking at our content spend, we make series and movies. The focus still has to be that. Local and specific and great.”

As for major overall deals, Bajaria didn’t address the status of Ryan Murphy at the company, but she did say that Netflix is still committed to a handful of mega overalls like Shonda Rhimes’ and Murphy’s pacts.

“Theres just not that many like Shonda and Ryan at that scale,” she said. “We’re so happy to have those deals. We love what Shonda has been doing,” she said, touting “Bridgerton” in particular. As for Murphy, she noted his upcoming series, including “The Watcher” and “Monster.”

Bajaria was on stage at the Banff World Media Festival as part of its “Summit Series” to discuss the state of the business as well as her tenure at Netflix.

Bajaria recounted how she first met with Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos to join the company. As the head of Universal TV, she had already produced shows for the streamer including “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Master of None.” What she thought was a general meeting with Sarandos turned into a job offer to help Netflix launch an unscripted division, as well as licensing and studio co-productions. “At that point I knew I wanted to learn something different,” she said. Bajaria warned that she didn’t have experience in unscripted and licensing, but according to Bajaria, Sarandos said, “‘I don’t care we just hire smart people and you’ll figure it out.’ I didn’t know how to do those things and I did want to learn streaming from the inside. I said ‘yes’ and then I was like, ‘oh I don’t know anything about unscripted. And I did what I do well. I hire really great people.’”

Bajaria was elevated to head of global in 2020 as Cindy Holland exited the company. Netflix now has offices in 26 countries, and Bajaria touted the need for Netflix “to really be on the ground and working and living in the creative community. Being there really is the way to have the best local stories told.” That includes in Canada, where Netflix has expanded its presence via a Toronto office. “The plan is to be here a long time and really have great partnerships in Canada.”

During the panel, Bajaria announced that Netflix had greenlit “Squid Game: The Challenge,” a reality competition series based on the global sensation “Squid Game” and featuring 456 real players competing for a $4.56 million cash prize. She also revealed that the streamer had renewed “The Lincoln Lawyer” for Season 2 and has added new co-showrunner/EP Dailyn Rodriguez.

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