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Word that Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have struck a deal with Netflix came with a lot of fanfare for the couple, who have stepped back from their senior roles in the Royal Family and are living in California. “It’s a fantastic deal for Netflix and a phenomenal deal for the ex-royal couple,” British PR expert Mark Borkowski said in an interview. “If they get it right, if they surround themselves with the very best people … it could be the motherlode for them.” But there are a lot of “ifs” and uncertainty in how they might hit that motherlode. Few details accompanied the announcement of their deal with the popular streaming company, which has seen hits such as The Crown. “Producing content is very difficult,” said Borkowski, noting the years it can take to create a successful show, and how it requires surrounding yourself with the best people who can do all elements of production, from writing to the most technical of details. Harry and Meghan’s multi-year deal will focus on nature series, documentaries and children’s programming. They say they want to focus on issues that elevate diverse voices and are life-affirming. There’s no sense this content will come quickly.
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“Disney will tell you, you’re not making that overnight. There’s a long journey and you need people with the necessary scar tissue to help you,” said Borkowski. The Netflix deal is the first major signal of how Harry and Meghan intend to build their financial independence. “This Netflix deal could be the perfect vehicle for them, if it works out as they intend,” said royal biographer Penny Junor, author of Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son. “Harry and Meghan have always said they want to make the world a better place. That was one of the things that brought them together in the first place, and as working members of the Royal Family, they were ideally positioned to do that,” she said. “Then they gave it all up and the big question mark for me was always how, given their extravagant lifestyle, they could be financially independent on the proceeds of charitable work.” Junor wonders how the kind of programming they intend to produce “will get the sort of viewing figures that Netflix will presumably want for this sort of money.” “I find it hard to see how this could be a permanent income stream for Harry and Meghan.” They aren’t the first royals to look to the entertainment industry — in at least one high-profile instance, it didn’t go well. But circumstances were different for Harry’s uncle, Prince Edward, when he founded Ardent Productions in 1993. “Prince Edward faced the challenge of balancing his role as a senior member of the Royal Family with running a television production company, whereas Harry and Meghan have already stepped back,” said Toronto-based royal historian Carolyn Harris. Edward’s work as a production director for Ardent brought him into conflict with the Royal Family when he focused on royal subjects and “was seen to interfere with the privacy of members of the Royal Family,” Harris said.
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She noted reported tension between Edward and his older brother, Prince Charles, when an Ardent crew followed Charles’s son William at university, going against an agreement with the press to give William his privacy. “If Harry and Meghan were to produce content concerning the Royal Family, that might lead to conflict,” said Harris. “But if they produce programs focused on their philanthropic interests, similar to the recent Disney Elephant documentary narrated by Meghan, there is unlikely to be conflict with the Royal Family.” Borkowski predicts it could be 18 months to two years before the first significant production under Harry and Meghan’s deal sees the light of day. “They seem to be in a happy place [in] America, getting on with their lives,” he said. “They’ve got space and freedom to make the right decisions. There’s a long road ahead of them.”