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Big problem with Meghan Netflix deal

Since the COVID pandemic swept across the world , the global economy has cratered while only a select handful of industries have prospered.This year, Netflix has added more than 15 million new subscribers globally, thoroughly cementing its position as the streaming service par excellence thanks to its seemingly bottomless pockets and willingness to plough billions…

Since the COVID pandemic swept across the world , the global economy has cratered while only a select handful of industries have prospered.

This year, Netflix has added more than 15 million new subscribers globally, thoroughly cementing its position as the streaming service par excellence thanks to its seemingly bottomless pockets and willingness to plough billions into original content.

Is it any wonder then that, as we were confronted by our own mortality and learned to live with constant, creeping fear, that we all decided to curl up on the couch in our trackies and binge watch Friends?

This week, the California-based company added two new marquee names to its roster of high-profile content creators: Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The New York Times broke the news with an earnest quote from the couple themselves saying: “Our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope. As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us.”

The story also revealed that they already have “an innovative nature docu-series and an animated series that celebrates inspiring women” in development.

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It has been just under six months since Meghan and Harry touched down in California in movie supremo Tyler Perry’s $170 million jet. And already the Windsor exiles have, superficially at least, cracked Hollywood, snagging the deal that has drawn wild speculation about the exact, whopping figure attached.

No matter whether the number did or did not match the $130 million that it has been speculated that Barack and Michelle Obama nabbed from Netflix, the underlying message of the Sussex announcement was crystal clear: They’ve made it, baby!

When the couple strode out of Westminster Abbey on March 9 this year after the annual Commonwealth Day service, their last official outing as working members of the royal family, the future was both thrilling and uncertain.

They had boldly declared they wanted financial independence, a noble but perhaps naive pledge for a couple that had been receiving more than $4 million annually from Prince Charles to keep them in avocados and private jet flights.

Now, with Netflix on board, that wide-eyed optimism seemed to have paid off. Between the company’s deep pockets and the fact Harry and Meghan signed with A-list speakers’ bureau Harry Walker Agency (who coincidentally also represent the Obamas) the royal duo’s fortunes seemed set.

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But that is far from the whole picture. Beyond the press release verbiage, the picture is far less rosy.

To begin with, insiders have raised doubts about quite how lucrative the Sussexes’ Netflix ‘marriage’ might be with one “top Hollywood talent agent” telling the New York Post that he would be “shocked if the deal was worth more than $A2.7 million per year.”

No matter what sums are being thrown around with glee abandon, the former HRHs will not see a dime of that cash for a while yet.

The deal that they have signed, according to reports, amounts to the streaming giant getting first-look exclusivity over whatever Harry and Meghan produce, with no guarantee the company will pick up the worthy projects it sounds like they’ll be peddling.

The wannabe Hollywood honchos might also face the prospect of having to raise the cash themselves to get their new shows made.

So, just what has the $200 billion-plus trailblazer actually bought (or promised to consider buying) then?

“What Netflix is keen on in any deal with an outsider is access,” a former employee has told the (UK) Telegraph. “The company can send over a truck filled with cash to sign the right people, so Netflix has no problem getting directors, scriptwriters, producers and actors. What they’ll want is the couple’s contacts book.

“They might also find a good project that’s already under way and have the couple add their brand. If they’d signed this deal a few years ago, I wouldn’t put it past Netflix to have them introduce The Crown.”

It is the very spectre of such gauche forays that could have palace courtiers back in Blighty getting particularly hot under their bespoke Savile Row collars.

Speaking to the Mirror, a palace insider has said that under the terms of the Harry and Meghan’s exit, the duo “agreed any commercial deals would be subject to discussion” and that “it goes without saying any deals they are making will be scrutinised by the royal household”.

Whether Ma’am approves remains to be seen. The collision of more peripheral Windsors and the small screen has historically been a particularly fraught one, from the Hindenburg-level disaster that was 1987’s It’s A Royal Knockout; to Prince Edward’s production company folding in 2009 with only $70 in the bank, and after being forced to apologise for breaking royal protocol and trying to film Prince William at university; to Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York being charged in Turkey in 2012 after secretly filming inside an orphanage in the country.

Complicating the situation further is that there is every chance Netflix isn’t just buying the chance to occasionally lump Harry or Meghan in front of a camera so that they can, po-faced, introduce a “very serious” doco here and there.

They are surely going to want them to drum up huge publicity and get the couple to tout the company to the press, which could stand in particularly awkward opposition to their strident attempts to dramatically rewrite their rules of engagement with the media. After all, it is one thing to stand firm and maintain a strict line about which outlets they will and won’t “engage” with and another entirely when one’s paymaster wants them to appear on The View and spruik the new season of Tiger King.

There are other dark clouds on the horizon for Harry and Meghan here too. He is a veteran and Prince of the realm; she was on a cable TV show and had a moderately successful blog. They might be two of the most famous people in the world but the Sussexes have absolutely no track record or experience behind the camera.

Likewise, they might be hailed, and rightfully so, as passionate and committed voices on a number of important issues like gender equality and supporting veterans but they are simply not global leaders anywhere near on par with the Obamas.

During his eight years in the Oval Office, Barack won the Nobel Peace Prize, signed into effect anti-hate crime legislation, rehabilitated the economy after the 2008 crash, passed Obamacare, killed Osama bin Laden, brokered relations with Cuba and a historic antinuclear deal with Iran and helped get the historic Paris climate accord across the line. Meanwhile, Michelle put childhood obesity on the national agenda and, since leaving the White House, has become an authoritative global voice around women and empowerment.

By contrast, Harry has served two tours of Afghanistan, launched an incredibly successful veterans’ sporting event and Meghan had to deal with a fusty palace machine while guest-editing Vogue, launching a charity clothing collection and once had to deal with her sister-in-law not giving her a lift shopping. Impressive, sure, but far, far from anywhere near the calibre of the Obamas’ credibility.

The issue here is that there is a vast, vast chasm between the two couples when it comes to their gravitas as leaders. Because, strip away their titles and the fact they have the Queen on speed dial, and who are Harry and Meghan?

They are photogenic, famous, charismatic, and filled to the brim with do-good vim and vigour but, sans the novelty value of royal pedigree and the attendant celebrity, you have two enthusiastic adults edging on 40 with middling CVs and a whopping mortgage to pay.

With TV production having been waylaid by COVID-19, there is no indication when we might get our first look at Sussex TV, nor has a date yet been publicly announced for the Apple mental health series Harry has been working on for more than a year with Oprah Winfrey.

The pressure is now on Harry and Meghan to deliver – and big time. Earlier this year, the Obama-produced American Factory won an Academy Award, setting the bar astronomically high.

Still, I will say this about Harry and Meghan: They have never, ever been shy about taking on challenges or launching themselves into the unknown, with only each other, Archie and (I’m guessing) the collected works of Brene Brown by their side.

In the months and years to come, they are absolutely going to need that slightly naive willingness to tackle the unfamiliar with wide-eyed optimism to make their Hollywood gambit a success.

If there is one trait that has defined the Sussexes’ royal years it was an ability to time and again confound expectations. And you know what? While they face a seriously tough road to hoe, I wouldn’t bet against them yet. Could we see them in the Oscars race in 2022?

Stranger things, like Diana’s son quitting royal life, have happened.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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