Netflix Unveils Upcoming Slate At Carefully Curated Hollywood Press Event

I've written a lot about Netflix and its passive-aggressive approach to press relations over the years and it's fair to say my reporting hasn't always been popular at the streamer. 

Netflix's corporate communications people - as well as its press public relations staff - are very much focused on controlling their messaging. It's not that they necessarily dislike the press, but they also don't trust most journalists. They especially don't feel they can count on journalists to deliver their message in the unfiltered way they would prefer. And as a result, the company expends a lot of effort stage-managing its messaging.

Given all of that, it's not a surprise that when Netflix decided to unveil news about many of its upcoming projects at a Hollywood event for the industry press, they didn't do it at next week's gathering of the country's television critics (TCA). Or they didn't do it in an event that was also streamed or otherwise made available digitally to press not located in California or unable to attend the event in person.

Instead, the streamer held a carefully curated press event at its Tudum Theater in Hollywood, making sure to let the participants know they were the ones who could be trusted with this access. And if you think I am being hyperbolic, this is the way the event was presented in The Hollywood Reporter when the event's embargo lifted early this morning:

Ahead of next week’s semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour, Netflix staged its own press event Wednesday — dubbed Next on Netflix — at its Tudum Theater in Hollywood. Content chief Bela Bajaria and her top lieutenants, vp nonfiction Brandon Riegg and vp Latin America Paco Ramos, previewed a slate of new and returning TV series as well as a number of high-profile films for press.

The late-afternoon event, which was restricted to a who’s who of media, was effectively a TCA session that featured a sizzle reel (watch it, below) and a first look at a number of titles including upcoming seasons of Squid Game and Bridgerton, as well as rookies 3 Body Problem, The Gentleman and even Ryan Murphy’s upcoming second season of Monster. Following the hourlong blitz, Bajaria, Riegg and Ramos fielded questions ranging from its freshly inked deal with WWE and the recently removed Vince McMahon (“he’s gone,” Bajaria said) to what the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are prepping for the streaming giant.

Honestly, I would be embarrassed to include the phrase "a who's who of media" about any event I was covering. And the framing certainly makes it sound as if the TCA membership isn't quite exclusive enough for such an important message. But it does provides some insight into why Netflix took this approach. The company wanted its message out, and it worked hard to limit access to a few trusted industry trade outlets and reporters who wouldn't ask any uncomfortable questions.

And as a result, the coverage of the event today has been incredibly safe and predictable. Netflix's executives had a strong sense of what they would be asked and its clear from descriptions I've heard and coverage I've seen of the event that there weren't any big surprises. Or - more importantly to Netflix - no off-message news emerged from the event.

I happen to think that Netflix continues to do a lot of things right, especially when it comes to its global approach to the streaming business. But I think the company is wrong about the way that it approaches its relationship with the press. 

It's not a coincidence that I have a much better relationship with various Netflix executives than I do with the people who are supposed to be interacting with the press on a regular basis. More than once, I've reached out to Netflix PR people with a question and not received a response. But when I decide to reach out to one of the Netflix executives I have a relationship with behind-the-scenes, they get me the info I need within hours.

Netflix doesn't need to work closely with members of the industry press who aren't a member of the "who's who of media." But it would a smart thing to do.

I've written a lot about the company and during the recent Hollywood strikes I broke stories about the company well before the industry trades. I've written about some of the data the company uses when it decides which shows to cancel or renew. I spoke on background with Netflix executives throughout the strikes and was able to provide some real insight into how the streamer saw issues such as performance payments and mini-rooms. I've covered problems with conditions at some global productions and shifts in Netflix's approach to licensing exclusivity. And I am not the only independent journalist doing so on a regular basis.

But one thing I have learned about Netflix over the years is that reporting stories that divert from the company's preferred messaging isn't rewarded, but seen as some level of being an irritant. And apparently, makes you too unpredictable to be considered as one of the industry's "who's who" members of the press.

Which is - as Gordon Ramsay like to say - a shame.