Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have signed a “megawatt” deal to produce documentaries, scripted series and feature films for Netflix, the biggest streaming service in the world.
The couple, who will set up their own and as-yet-unnamed production company, have already started work, with at least two projects under way – a nature docu-series and an animated series about inspirational women.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex said their “focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope”.
Having stepped back from their senior royal duties in March, the couple had confirmed plans to launch a nonprofit organisation, but this separate deal is said to show they see their future in Hollywood.
Why there’s debate
When Harry and Meghan announced they wanted to step back from their roles in January, they said they valued the opportunity to make their own money. They were previously funded via the Sovereign Grant, paid for by taxpayers, as well as by Harry’s father Prince Charles.
The plan to launch a nonprofit did not answer the question of how they would make money, but then came news that they had signed up with an agency to do speeches.
The Netflix deal appears to show even more clearly how they see their future – it’s a multi-year deal which requires them to set up another company, clearly a sign of a serious commitment.
The couple has said they want to earn their own money, protect their family, and remove public interest in their lives. The question will be whether signing a deal like this means they can do all of those things, and also continue to respect and uphold the values of the Queen – something they also promised to do.
Such a long deal also indicates they have no intention of making any changes to their set-up when the 12-month review period comes up in March 2021.
With some work already in production it may not be long before fans can see what the duke and duchess have turned their hands to.
The issues they tackle in their production work may also point to what Archewell, their nonprofit, will be concerned with when it launches in 2021.
A source said they were keen to ensure the company was diverse, both in front of and behind the camera, and they have already touched on issues like institutional racism.
And while the duchess has made it clear she is not returning to acting, the couple could well appear in front of camera as well as calling the shots behind it.
‘Prince Charles will be relieved’
“This proves it’s not what you can do, it is who you are. It’s very nice for them to be able to just step into that. I imagine Prince Charles will be relieved as they will be off his payroll now, and the British public will be relieved because they can pay back what they owe now on Frogmore Cottage, so it’s a win-win situation.” – Ingrid Seward, royal biographer, in MailOnline.
‘Think of a model not dissimilar to the Obamas’
When Meghan and Harry first announced their exit from the royal family in January, Michelle Ruiz wrote for Vanity Fair that the Sussexes had “long been on a path to transition from rank-and-file royals to global superstars, in the vein of their friends George and Amal Clooney, Barack and Michelle Obama, or Beyoncé and Jay-Z”.
According to the couple’s biographer, Omid Scobie, the Netflix deal makes the comparison to the Obamas – whose Higher Ground production company also works with Netflix – even more apt. “Think of a working model not too dissimilar to what the Obamas created after leaving the White House,” he said. “When they set up their Higher Ground production company and later signed a multi-year production deal with Netflix to produce movies and documentaries that cover issues such as race, class, democracy and civil rights.” – Vanity Fair.
‘Meghan will want to cast herself as Mother Teresa’
Tom Harrington, a broadcast industry expert at Enders Analysis, said the popularity of The Crown would have informed Netflix’s decision to strike a deal with the couple. However, he added: “The Sussexes may imagine they will dictate the shows they want to make but Netflix will have a firm hand on the tiller.”
A senior industry source said that Meghan would “believe she’s getting full creative control” but that the executive producer’s credits she was likely to receive were “thrown around like confetti”. “TV networks, Netflix included, don’t let the lunatics run the asylum,” the source said. “Meghan will no doubt want to cast herself as Mother Teresa but that’s not how it’s going to pan out.” – The Times.
‘I hope the shows are snappier than the press releases’
“The couple’s statement alone, brimming as it is with meaningless management speak, is enough to put anyone off. What is ‘impactful content that unlocks action’ when it’s at home? What can we expect from ‘powerful storytelling through a truthful and relatable lens’? Can a lens be relatable? The couple say that their programmes will ‘give hope’. Here’s what I hope: that their shows are snappier than their press releases.” – Carol Midgley, The Times.
‘Upholding royal values is the benchmark everything is measured by’
“While Harry and Meghan may no longer be working royals, everything they do is still watched and scrutinised closely, bringing challenges but also a guaranteed audience for their new business partners at Netflix. When they announced in January that they wanted a financially-independent life, Harry said they would continue to uphold the values of the Queen, and that is the benchmark that every deal they make and every job they take on, will still be measured by.” – Rhiannon Mills, Sky News.
‘The signing is all about star power’
“Given that their chief appeal would be on-screen as celebrity presenters, one imagines Netflix might even have insisted that be part of the deal. Some might wonder about the wisdom of paying a huge sum to two untested, programme-makers but this deal – as with the Obamas – is hardly about ratings. It is about sheer star power as Netflix faces growing competition from newer ventures such as Disney +, Peacock, Hulu, HBO and Amazon Prime.
“And there’s another reason why a link-up with the royal couple may make particular sense. Netflix has already had global success with its acclaimed drama series The Crown. The lavish show, which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, will release its eagerly awaited fourth season in November.” – Tom Leonard