Netflix threatens to pull investment in Georgia if anti-abortion bill passes

Netflix is the one of the first few global media companies to make a stand against the anti-abortion bill in Georgia, a state popular with film-makers due to favourable tax incentives. Netflix said it will “rethink” its entire investment in Georgia if it comes to pass, according to chief content officer Ted Sarandos on entertainment media outlet Variety.

Citing the large number of women working on Netflix’s productions in the state who will be impacted, Sarandos said the company will work with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others to fight for women’s rights in court.  Meanwhile, according to a press release by ACLU, actor and host Busy Philipps also fronted an advertisement where Philipps says, “You know me. You know someone like me. I had an abortion. It was my decision. Today, it’s my right. But states are trying to take that right away by taking on Roe v. Wade, and Trump is making it possible.” The project saw an outpouring of support on Twitter according to ACLU, with some 90,000 users sharing their story with #YouKnowMe.

Since the bill was signed on 7 May, females in the media industry have been protesting in various ways. According to Time and Washington Post, director of The Handmaid’s Tale Reed Morano and the writers behind Bridesmaids have pulled their plans to film in Georgia. Meanwhile, “Titanic” star Frances Fisher picketed on the steps of Atlanta City Hall, along with local women in the film industry.

In a conversation with Marketing,  PRecious Communications managing director Lars Voedisch said the move by Netflix is also not surprising as it is in tune with the expectations of its audience, which comprises mostly of millennials and younger. He added that one potential reason why other studios or networks kept hush about the issue is because their audience is more traditional, and television is still bigger than streaming in the United States.

He added that while brands had in the past chosen not to engage with controversial issues that did not directly impact their businesses, that trend has been changing. He added,

In 2019, we are witnessing a growing number of brands no longer being apolitical. Brands can no longer afford to take the path of least resistance.

Similar to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick controversy, Voedisch said Netflix fosters brand loyalty with those who shares its sentiments and converts new customers as advocates through the move, though a section of its client base may be alienated. Moving forward, he expects organisations to take a stand on hot-button issues and relate to their customer’s core personal values and beliefs more often. This is especially so with potentially controversial issues such as data privacy and social stratification in the horizon.

Also agreeing with the move is Mutant Communications managing editor Byravee Iyer, who said Netflix has “justifiable reason” to align itself against the near-total abortion ban as Georgia has deep ties to Hollywood with expansive production facilities. The decision will ultimately put Netflix on the “right side of history” and any fans lost likely to be a minor blip for the company.

“In the short term, this will translate into increased brand mentions and engagement on social media, and in the long-term it will create a kind of loyalty that marketing dreams are made of,” she added.

Comparing to past controversial moves by brands, Iyer said there are a few things that separate Nike’s Kaepernick’s ad from Gilette’s highly-criticised “toxic masculinity” campaign launched earlier this year. It is important for brands to be clear about their role and right when taking on a social or political cause, and then “work tirelessly and consistently to be the standard bearers”, she explained. Otherwise, they will be called out by smart consumers for simply paying lip service.

Last year, television and film reportedly contributed about US$9.5 billion to Georgia’s economy, from some 455 of such projects completed in the state.