We talked to the co-founder of Netflix about European cinema, the future of the industry, and why he thinks the Monaco Streaming Festival is a sign of the times. 

The industry had come a long way since Netflix was mailing DVDs to its clients. Yet, twenty years later, Mitch Lowe is still at the forefront of innovation. “I think this is a period of Renaissance for the arts,” he says when we meet before the start of the Monaco Streaming Film Festival, of which he is the co-director. The festival is dedicated entirely to streamed content – a first for the industry.  “Because the tools to create art, media, literature are all so easily accessible.” 

A high-school dropout, after leaving Netflix Mitch Lowe continued his run as a film start-up founder, developing the likes of Redbox and MoviePass, a movie theatre subscription service. 

I find it very surprising that no one has done this before.

Tell us about Monaco’s newest film festival. Do you think it’s been a long time coming?

I actually find it very surprising that no one has done this before, that no one has understood this acceleration in the way we consume entertainment. So, yes, I do think that a festival like ours is something that is long overdue. 

Would you say you are a rival to Cannes?

Not exactly. I do think the entertainment industry is slow to adapt. What we’re doing here in Monaco is really the future. Trying to get people to Cannes is a little bit outdated. But rather than a rival, the Monaco Streaming Festival could be a complement to the Croisette. Our festival is conveniently hosted a week before Cannes, so I think it will be a great supplement and leader for the future. 

Personally, I am more interested in foreign stories. I think they are much more original.

How do you think the film industry is going to change? 

We must recognise that, as our attention spans get shorter, there are other ways to create stories than through a two-hour movie, or even a series of 30-minute episodes. Stories can be told through a sequence of TikTok clips, or YouTube clips. Snapchat is already doing 5-minute episodes. I also know that TikTok is interested in teaching their content creators how to tell stories. There is without a doubt a shift in the industry. 

What will the stories of the future look like?

I think that overtime we will still build long stories that will make you fall in love with the characters, but the stories will be told in bitesize segments – almost like the clips you watch on Facebook. This is precisely why I was excited to work with Tony and Carmen (co-founders of the festival, ed.). The Monaco Streaming Festival is a recognition that there is a whole range of streamed content which is going to dominate in the future. 

We created a culture at Netflix that inspired people to be innovative and to be comfortable with failure, which allowed people to experiment and to innovate the competition.

Now that the United Kingdom is no longer part of the EU, European streaming platforms will have to adapt to European laws, which require anywhere from 30 to 60 per cent of their content to be European. Do you think that we are witnessing a cultural shift away from English-speaking content?

Personally, I am more interested in foreign stories. I think they are much more original. American series are so predictable. European stories I just find incredibly fascinating. As for streaming platforms, I am not at Netflix any longer so I cannot speak for them. But there has been a huge trend at Netflix for diversity. There’s been a big change on the executive over the last years, which is now focusing on having more local content as part of their service. They have been supporting filmmaking in Latin America, Europe and Asia and are going to do much more. I don’t think they needed the new European rules to push them to do this. It is what they wanted to do anyway because having more locally made content is a way of serving the community better. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of the Little Prince, was, believe or not, an amazing business adviser. He said once: “If you want your team to build a ship, get them to yearn for the open sea”.

Getting in business can be very daunting. Why do you think you succeeded?

I think we created a culture at Netflix that inspired people to be innovative and to be comfortable with failure, which allowed people to experiment and to innovate the competition. And focus is key. The co-CEO would always tell us to do the one thing that we did better than anyone else. Had we done three or four different things, I do not think we would have been as successful. Take advertising. We had people offering us millions of dollars to advertise, but we always refused because we wanted to keep our focus on the client and the product. 

How do you foster that creativity?

You don’t tell people how to do something, you tell them what you want to accomplish. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of the Little Prince, was, believe or not, an amazing business adviser. He said once: “if you want your team to build a ship, get them to yearn for the open sea”. In other words, inspire your team to do what you want to do, rather than telling them how to do. Get them excited about the idea, and they will figure how to build the most amazing ship. If you can inspire your team and never micro-manage them, then they will produce amazing innovation. 

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