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House of Lords questions Netflix, YouTube, Apple and Amazon on creative diversity

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Sara Kurfess

Today sees the latest in a series of inquiries at the House of Lords into the future of broadcasting, where top names from Netflix, YouTube, Apple, Amazon, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have been questioned.

In the lengthy discussions, the Communications Committee has been grilling those responsible for content and commissioning about video on demand versus traditional broadcasting, working with the British industry as well as the US, and diversity of talent on and off screen.

Vice president of content at Netflix, Anne Mensah, was quizzed on whether having age diversity in the creative commissioning team was important in attracting young audiences. Mensah said that Netflix “is one of the most diverse places I’ve ever worked… but that’s diversity across the board. I don’t want to pigeon hole young audiences, I think it’s about class, race, gender, sexuality, when you talk about diversity, and I like to think we embody all those factors.

“I hope that makes us a welcoming home for diverse talent that speaks to different audiences. Diversity brings people in.” She also addressed the focus on youth, commenting: “I think older audiences have the same wants and needs, and it’s easy to forget about them, and we mustn’t.”

YouTube’s Marco Pancini said that the fact that anyone can upload to YouTube gives all creatives a voice and an audience. “Thanks to the openness of the platform, we were able to support the creation of a new generation of media companies, the so-called YouTube creators, which are becoming an incredible source and a driver of growth for the creative industry.”

This, he says, has seen “creators becoming stars with traditional broadcasters and public service broadcasters. In a sense, the online environment allowed the creative ecosystem — I think you should be proud of the creative industry here in the UK, which is something we admire around the world — to experiment, to try different formats and to find new audiences.”

Questioned on YouTube’s commissioning plans, Richard Lewis, head of UK & Ireland content partnerships, said there is a “real creative talent” in the UK and their plans to “talent match” with YouTube creators and producers was “a fantastic opportunity for the creative ecosystem”. Pancini continued that the company plans to work with longer formats, and more interactive programming, as well as emerging industries elsewhere, such as “the booming creative industry of Nigeria”.

During a separate inquiry, Apple’s Jay Hunt was also asked about diversity on the creative side, and though with the caveat that they are “still a tiny team in the UK” explained the company’s work with Creative Access. “[The organisation] has done extraordinary work in identifying a new pipeline of young candidates from diverse backgrounds, who bring a very different flavour into the broadcasting sector. This is something that the entire sector is engaging with. Certainly as a relatively new entrant on behalf of Apple, I am bringing across from a public service background the values of making sure that we think carefully about representation and portrayal, on screen and off, and I am also ensuring that this is critically foregrounded as we build our workforce.”

On the topic of in-house training and apprenticeships, which is seen by many as a possible solution to a lack of diversity in the industry, Amazon’s Georgia Brown said it is “starting to invest in younger talent in the UK,” and has created 1000 new apprenticeships this year, with only 90 at degree level. “We really are looking for workers from diverse backgrounds, particularly diverse economic backgrounds.”

Isabel Farchy, founder of the Creative Mentor Network, wrote about why the UK creative industry is still missing the most promising young people on It’s Nice That in 2017.

The inquiries continue today with MP Margot James, minister for the digital and creative Industries, and Ofcom’s Kevin Bakhurst. Reports from the sessions can be read in full at parliament.uk.