Netflix’s ongoing quest for original programming now includes British royalty.
Six months after their voluntary departure from royal duties at the House of Windsor in pursuit of financial independence, Prince Harry and wife Meghan have inked a multiyear production deal with Netflix.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be paid an undisclosed amount in the production of documentaries, feature films and docu-series and scripted TV shows. Meghan Markle last worked in Hollywood in 2018 on the series “Suits,” which is not available on Netflix.
“We are incredibly proud they have chosen Netflix as their creative home and are excited about telling stories with them that can help build resilience and increase understanding for audiences everywhere,” Ted Sarandos, co-CEO and chief content officer, said in a statement.
Netflix has an existing production deal with former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, which in March produced documentary “Crip Camp” about the origins of the disability rights movement. The film is considered a 2021 Oscar favorite for best nonfiction film. A recent Netflix film about the Paralympic Games — Rising Phoenix — features Harry, who helped create the Invictus Games for wounded veterans.
Netflix’s landing of Meghan and Harry followed reported meetings with Apple, Disney and NBCUniversal, among others. Media reports suggest the power couple, who have relocated to California, was looking for a deal around $100 million.
“The value of this signing to Netflix is unquantifiable,” Jonathan Shalit, chairman of InterTalent Rights Group in London, told The New York Times. “Never before has a real-life royal of this magnitude gone commercial and to Hollywood.”
In recognition of Earth Month, Disney+ will stream the Disneynature film Elephant, narrated by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, beginning April 3 alongside previously announced Dolphin Reef, with narration by actress Natalie Portman.
Following its theatrical release last year, the Disneynature film Penguins will also make its Disney+ debut April 3.
The Earth Month collection on Disney+ will also contain additional Disneynature titles premiering on the service April 3, including In the Footsteps of Elephant, A Life on the Edge and Diving with Dolphins, which give viewers behind-the-scenes access into the unique filmmaking process of all three films.
The films will join a collection of animal and nature titles highlighted throughout the month including National Geographic’s America’s National Parks, Wild Yellowstone, The Flood, JANE, Before the Floods, Planet of the Birds, Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures, Kingdom of the White Wolf, Tree Climbing Lions, Hostile Planet and Wild Russia.
Elephant follows African elephant Shani and her spirited son Jomo as their herd make an epic journey hundreds of miles across the vast Kalahari Desert. Led by their great matriarch, Gaia, the family faces brutal heat, dwindling resources and persistent predators, as they follow in their ancestor’s footsteps on a quest to reach a lush, green paradise.
In recognition of Elephant, Disneynature and the Disney Conservation Fund are supporting Elephants Without Borders, an organization working in Botswana to ensure people and elephants thrive, according to the Disney release. Elephants Without Borders is working on strategies to protect Botswana’s elephant haven, helping to reduce human-wildlife conflict through education, economic development, and solutions that either redirect elephant migration away from people, or provide communities with tools that help to protect themselves and their properties when elephants are nearby.
Dolphin Reef introduces Echo, a young Pacific bottlenose dolphin who can’t quite decide if it’s time to grow up and take on new responsibilities. Dolphin society is tricky, and the coral reef that Echo and his family call home depends on all of its inhabitants to keep it healthy.
Two documentaries about British royals, Harry & Meghan: A Very Modern Romance and Princess Diana: A Life After Death, are coming to DVD Nov. 26 from MVD Entertainment Group.
Harry & Meghan: A Very Modern Romance is a one-hour special that explores the social background that makes the adventurous marriage between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry seem thoroughly in keeping with the modern British royal family. It explores the lives of actress Markle, a woman’s rights campaigner, and Prince Harry, who has broken out of the royal straight jacket without losing his royal dignity. Eighty-two years after a romance with a divorced commoner from America led to the abdication of a King, this royal marriage sets and confirms a revolutionized set of British values.
Princess Diana: A Life After Death, a new documentary timed to coincide with the anniversary of Princess Diana’s untimely passing, is not just an anniversary program, but also is a summary of Princess Diana’s historical, political and social legacy. Princess Diana’s death set the British nation thinking deeply about its monarchy and its royal family. In the unstable summer of 1997 a strange atmosphere existed throughout Britain. The country’s young Prime Minister Tony Blair had just won an election with a big majority and the tabloid press were pursuing Princess Diana after her separation from Prince Charles. Events were already leading to a full-scale crisis for the British monarchy. The terrible sudden and completely unexpected death of Diana changed Britain. The program looks at the history of Princess Diana’s life after her death through the lives of her sons and family after her death and through the collective memory. The selfless aspects of Princess Diana’s wide interests continue to act as a form of both emotional ballast and inspiration to the British nation and the world at large. Contributors include Sir Anthony Seldon, Alastair Campbell, Jeffrey Archer, Emily Nash, Katie Nicholl, Catherine Mayer, Richard Kay and Sarah, Viscountess Bangor.
Cinedigm Entertainment Group, considered the largest independent distributor of movies and other content to the home sector, has renewed its distribution deal with the Crown Media Family Networks, parent company of the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now.
Crown Media Family Networks, owned by Hallmark Cards Inc., targets families with original and acquired movies, TV series and lifestyle programs.
Cinedigm has been the exclusive home entertainment distributor for Crown Media since 2012. The Hallmark catalog currently consists of 82 Hallmark Hall of Fame films, 193 Hallmark films, and 13 TV series, including “When Calls the Heart.”
“Cinedigm is committed to continue to grow the business as we enter another multi-year term extension,” said Yolanda Macias, Cinedigm’s EVP of content acquisitions, digital sales and studio relations.
Word of the renewal comes as Cinedigm reports significant growth for Hallmark over the last two years on both the physical and the digital fronts.
Digital movie sales (electronic sellthrough, or EST) rose 20% in 2017 over 2016, says Bill Perrault, SVP of marketing and brand management, while DVD and Blu-ray Disc revenues were up 22% – this, at a time when industry disc sales were down 14%.
Net revenue, Perrault says, was up 46%.
At Walmart, the biggest of the more than 60,000 physical and digital retailers that carry Cinedigm product, sales of Hallmark product in the first six months of this year spiked 324% in gross revenue dollars compared to the first half 2017, Perrault said. Unit sales are up 315%.
Increased revenue is attributed to new release success from the Royal Wedding Collection, a collection of three films, two of which star Meghan Markle, and Campfire Kiss, starring Danica McKellar, along with seasonal placement of The Country Love Triple Feature for Mother’s Day.
Digital wholesale revenue is up 15% for the first six months of 2018 from the same period last year, largely due to the EST success of “When Calls the Heart” and “Chesapeake Shores,” two Canadian-American drama TV series show on the Hallmark Channel.
“When Calls the Heart” was inspired by Janette Oke’s book of the same name and developed by Michael Landon Jr. The series began airing on the Hallmark Channel in January 2014. The cast includes Erin Krakow, Daniel Lissing, Lori Loughlin, Martin Cummins, Jack Wagner and Pascale Hutton.
“Chesapeake Shores” is based on the novel series of the same name by Sherryl Woods. The series had a two-hour premiere on the Hallmark Channel in August 2016 and stars Meghan Ory, Jesse Metcalfe, Treat Williams, Brendan Penny, Andrew Francis and Diane Ladd.
Digital sales also have been strong for new releases such as Unleashing Mr. Darcy and Love On The Sidelines as well as catalog titles such as Crown For Christmas.
Perrault notes that Hallmark is also shaping up to have a strong back half of the year, with 25 releases scheduled in the fourth quarter alone for disc and digital.
Nineteen of them are Christmas titles.
This year Cinedigm will distribute two Hallmark Original Movies on DVD, exclusively at Walmart, and widely on EST three days after Crown’s 2018 Countdown to Christmas Television Premiere on the Hallmark Channel, which starts Oct. 27.
The first is Christmas At Graceland, starring Country Music Award winner Kellie Pickler. The second film is It’s Christmas, Eve, starring Grammy Award-winner LeAnn Rimes.
Much like Hallmark Channel programming, Christmas has always been the strongest time of the year for Hallmark disc and digital sales. But over the last two years, Perrault points out, “we’ve seen it grow into a strong every-day business.”
Continuing the year-round strategy, Cinedigm and Hallmark will finish the year releasing Royal New Year’s Eve on disc and digital on Dec. 4.
The program premiered on the Hallmark Channel on Dec. 30, 2017, to 5 million unduplicated viewers, boosting Hallmark Channel to the No. 2 cable network in prime time on Saturdays, according to Nielsen Galaxy and NPower.
“Hallmark fans and America can’t stop talking about the Royals and this is a perfect drafting fit,” said Kim Staruk, executive director of marketing. Staruk is Cinedigm’s point person on the Hallmark relationship. She works with Hallmark on identifying and managing its release schedule and overseeing creative and marketing. In 2018, she notes, more than 65 Hallmark titles have already been released or are scheduled.
“In order to expand Hallmark’s retail presence outside of Christmas we’ve identified titles with cast that the Hallmark fan recognizes and loves but also your average consumer knows,” Staruk says. “Then, we freshen up the existing key art to give the film a new look and elevate the title on shelf. The goal is to still appeal to the Hallmark consumer but draw in a new customer who may have not seen the film in the original airing on Hallmark.”
Staruk surmises that the success of Hallmark movies at retail and on digital “could be attributed to the fact that they allow consumers to escape from the negative news they see on television every day with a storyline that is always family friendly and uplifting. This recent desire for positive films has allowed Hallmark to see growth on physical year over year in an industry that is declining while growing digitally as well.”
Overall, Perrault adds, “Crown Media’s success in entertainment is a reflection of the demand for its uplifting content across all platforms. All three of its television channels continue to deliver record breaking ratings. This year saw the launch of Hallmark Movies Now, an SVOD service similar to Netflix, offering an extended library of movies and series that you cannot find on their linear channels. At the same time, Crown also launched Hallmark Publishing, bringing the Hallmark style of storytelling to eBook and paperback nationwide, with a dozen books already in publication.
“Contributing to Crown Media’s continued success while offering their own SVOD platform is their collaborative approach to windowing, balancing physical and EST priorities with SVOD objectives.”
The May 19 royal wedding of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle generated more than 29 million TV viewers in the United States, according to Nielsen — topping the 22.8 million people who watched Prince William marry Kate Middleton in 2011.
Online viewership spiked as well, with a 343% increase in online video streaming in the U.S., and 119% increase in the United Kingdom, according to Limelight Networks, a content delivery network (CDN) provider.
The biggest online viewership spikes occurred during the first appearance of the bride (or Duchess of Sussex), Harry and Meghan’s first kiss, and beginning of the formal procession.
“The Royal Wedding demonstrates the growing pressures high-profile events can put on a broadcaster’s broadband network,” Jon Smith, managing director of EMEA at Limelight Networks, said in a statement.
Smith said high-profile events streamed online require CDNs capable of navigating the “crowded public Internet” for fast and reliable delivery of video content.
“Without the right CDN, additional requests from viewers just cannot be met, resulting in the loss of customers and the loss of revenue,” he added, in a self-serving comment.