If You Can't Join ‘Em… Stream ‘Em
Innovation & Tech Today|2020 Year-End Issue
This fall, Ricky Gervais was living his best lockdown life. Hollywood was on pause, but the actor and comedian kept in full stride. Binging fans had made his Netflix series After Life the most watched British comedy for the second year in a row while he stayed home writing a third season.
Jennifer Oladipo

Meanwhile, Gervais also took to Periscope each week, broadcasting a live, online, off-the-cuff talk show where he responds to viewer comments from his den at home as the pandemic postponed his standup tour.

Innovation & Tech Today caught up with Gervais to discuss his embrace of streaming technology as a consumer, filmmaker, and one-man-production studio.

Innovation & Tech Today: How has streaming technology impacted the way you view and create your work, both as an artist and from a business perspective?

Ricky Gervais: It’s incredible because, personally, I always wanted to have the final edit. I wanted it to be my thing, no interference, uncompromised. But to get that final edit, I had to go to a smaller channel that would let me. I had to choose fewer viewers, in a way. So, it was HBO, not NBC, or BBC2, not BBC1.

Then Netflix came along and said, “We don’t interfere; we’ve got even deeper pockets.” With 160 million subscribers, they’re already bigger than the BBC, so it’s a no-brainer.

This was all sort of inevitable. Things on YouTube were already getting more views than something on the telly. “Internet” was a dirty word in Hollywood. But now Netflix, iTunes — all of them — they pay the best wages, have the least interference, and get the biggest viewing figures. So, I don’t know what’s going to compete with that. Everyone’s going to get a piece of it, I think.

I&T Today: So, streaming stigma is over?

RG: I still think there’s a validation needed for things like this. There are YouTubers who get 50 million hits but still want to get on television, because it’s sort of a traditional validation. Their mum doesn’t watch them on YouTube.

I sell out stadiums around the world in an hour by tweeting a link. But I then walk around the city and think, “Oh, I wish I had billboards.” I don’t need them, but I would like them. Everything is technology these days, but there’s something nice and analog about those things.

I&T Today: With your Supernatural comedy special forthcoming and After Life doing so well, do you still feel that kind of nostalgia about your own work?

RG: I suppose I think differently about projects now because I know it’ll have an audience. It’s been 20 years since I wrote a script and wondered if it would get on the telly.

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