Global TV executives descend on Jerusalem

Officials from Netflix, Amazon, CBS and more discuss what they look for in international content - and from Israeli creators

Keshet CEO Avi Nir speaks to Netflix VP Cindy Holland (photo credit: ODED KARNI)
Keshet CEO Avi Nir speaks to Netflix VP Cindy Holland
(photo credit: ODED KARNI)
Television executives from around the world arrived in Jerusalem on Monday for the kickoff of the annual Keshet INTV conference.
Top-level decision-makers from Netflix, CNN, CBS, Amazon Studios and more took part in interviews and panel discussions during the first day of the sixth annual conference at the YMCA in the capital.
The day began with a discussion between Keshet CEO Avi Nir and Cindy Holland, vice president of original content at Netflix. Holland has been with the company for 17 years, since the days it was still a DVD delivery service.
“We’re trying to program for audiences with such wide, inclusive and eclectic tastes,” said Holland, noting how much Netflix has branched out into international content, including Israeli shows. “It’s definitely a big growth area,” she said of foreign programming. “It’s the future of our company; 80% of our new acquisitions are coming from outside the United States.”
Holland said that from Netflix’s beginnings, when it was still mailing DVDs, “foreign titles were always of great interest to our members.” And today, Netflix seeks out the best in content from around the globe.
“The more specific and authentic the content is, the more it’s likely to be universal in some way,” said Holland. “If it resonates really well in its home market, then it has the opportunity to travel.”
Georgia Brown, the head of European Originals for Amazon Studios, echoed those comments in a discussion later in the day.
“We’re naturally very drawn to international stories,” said Brown. “I don’t think you can design a show for a global audience – you have to know who your audience is, but that doesn’t mean it can’t appeal internationally.”
Brown said she’d love to commission content in Israel, “so I can keep coming back and eat your amazing food.” More seriously, she noted that she has a “longstanding love affair with Israel. I think the creative talent here is absolutely remarkable, and I think it’s so special because there’s a real lack of boundaries here,” Brown said. “Everyone here thinks really big.”
In an afternoon session, David Stapf, the president of CBS Television Studios, noted that the network’s first foreign-language co-production is an in-production Israeli show called District Y.
“It was a really compelling, interesting story that seemed larger than just an Israeli-Arab story,” said Stapf. “We’re fascinated by it, and we decided to go in and partner up and do it together here... we’re excited about doing that anywhere and everywhere. A good story is a good story.”
Other speakers and panelists throughout the day included executives from public broadcasters in the UK, Australia and Germany and media industry officials from Canada, Germany, England and Israel.
Academy Award-nominated director Julie Cohen also appeared on a panel Monday to discuss her recent documentary, RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Cohen said her very first encounter with Ginsburg came when she interviewed her for a different documentary, Sturgeon Queens, about the iconic Lower East Side Jewish smoked fish shop Russ and Daughters. She said that – at the justice’s request – she brought a “wide array of lox and pickled herring” into the Supreme Court, and won over the legendary legal mind.
The panel’s moderator, Mike Fleming of Deadline, said he would use his time in Jerusalem “to go to the Old City and say a prayer that Justice Ginsburg stays around for a long, long time.”