Amid the ongoing uproar over Netflix’s inclusion in mainstream entertainment awards like the Oscars, the BBC has joined the fray with its own very specific criticism of the streaming giant. During a media conference in London this week, the BBC director general Tony Hall boasted that the public broadcaster’s original programming draws larger audiences than Netflix’s—and on a significantly smaller budget.
“I mentioned the Bodyguard finale reaching 17,000,000 viewers.…That was in one month,” Hall said at the conference, per The Guardian, before going on to call out one Netflix original in particular: “Our data suggests The Crown reached 7,000,000 users in 17 months.” He also compared the BBC’s TV spending—£1.5 billion, or just under $2 billion, for the entire year—to Amazon’s and Netflix’s annual budgets, which analysts say are $5 billion and $13 billion, respectively.
Hall throwing shade at The Crown is somewhat suspicious: Not only does the BBC have a mutually beneficial and long-standing relationship with the royal family, but Netflix is also notoriously tight-lipped about its viewership numbers. According to The Guardian, a BBC spokesperson clarified that the “data” Hall cited came from a “nationally representative survey,” commissioned by the BBC in 2018, in which U.K. residents were asked if they’d watched at least 15 minutes of The Crown. So, however objectively entertaining and critically lauded such BBC series as Bodyguard, Luther, and Doctor Who are, it might be wise to take Hall’s claims with a grain of salt.
Still, Hall is far from the only one to call out Netflix in recent weeks. In early February, John Landgraf, the CEO of the FX network, took issue with the streamer’s claims that a whopping 40 million households had tuned in to both You and Sex Education within four weeks of their respective debuts on the platform (presumably worldwide), claims that Landgraf said were “not a remotely accurate representation of a longform program performance.” Nielsen data, he countered, placed the number of viewers closer to 8 million for You and just 3.1 million for Sex Education.
Later that month, Steven Spielberg was reported to be planning a proposal for an Oscars rule change that would block streaming services, and specifically Netflix, from competing in the illustrious awards race. Instead, their feature-length projects would only be eligible for the outstanding television movie award at the Emmys, since, for the most part, they’re not viewed in the same format as a typical film. We won’t know the results of Spielberg’s proposal until after the annual post-Oscars meeting in April, but reactions to his suggestion have so far been largely unimpressed, with many favoring streamers’ democratization of entertainment, both in content and access. The real question, it seems, is whether traditional entertainment companies will ever simply focus on their own projects and innovation rather than attempting to squash Netflix’s.