The Netflix Original documentary, explained: global investment patterns in documentary films and series

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Subscription video-on-demand services have been increasingly moving away from licencing content to producing their own content. The ‘original’ label is applied to different types of productions for which streaming platforms own exclusive rights, usually worldwide and for specific periods. This has also been part of Netflix’s global strategy to attract new and existing subscribers. Research into the Netflix Original has become particularly relevant, due to its impact on audiovisual markets and the label’s opacity. This article focuses on Netflix investments in original documentaries, due to the genre’s growing popularity and the platform’s notable interest in documentary films and series. The analysis focuses on the company’s strategies and investment patterns in specific regions, languages and genres over time by mapping all documentary titles produced between 2012–2021 labelled as ‘Netflix Original’, resulting in a database of 479 titles. We found that investments in original documentaries have been growing over the years, and the large majority of these are commissions or exclusive titles. The transnational production and distribution of Netflix Original documentaries reflect wider changes in cultural trade brought on by the streaming model. However, the company’s investment strategy is also influenced by established market dynamics and financing practices in documentary production.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-171
Number of pages21
JournalStudies in Documentary Film
Issue number2
Early online date8 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Copyright 2022 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Documentary
  • Netflix Original
  • streaming platforms
  • content diversity
  • media industry studies
  • transnational flows


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