Netflix signs Sir David Attenborough as it stakes claim to BBC’s wildlife territory

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Netflix signs Sir David Attenborough as it stakes claim to BBC’s wildlife territory

A blockbuster natural history series, voiced by Sir David Attenborough, sounds quintessentially BBC. But this landmark wildlife programme is being made by Netflix.

The US streaming giant has poached Sir David, alongside the director of BBC series Planet Earth and Blue Planet, in a bid to beat the BBC at its own game.

Our Planet is billed as a “groundbreaking” eight-part series, filmed in 50 countries over four years, documenting wildlife from the Arctic wilderness to the jungles of South America. It “will showcase the planet’s most precious species and fragile habitats, revealing amazing sights on Earth in ways they’ve never been seen”.

The programme will alert viewers to the dangers facing the planet, hoping for a similar effect to last year’s Blue Planet II which highlighted pollution in the oceans.

The BBC holds up its natural history documentaries as an example of what only the BBC can do. But Netflix wants to encroach on that territory, just as it did with drama by producing critically-acclaimed The Crown and House of Cards.

While Sir David is a free agent and has previously made programmes for Sky, he has a 40-year association with the BBC and is regarded as one of the corporation’s biggest star names.

Launching Our Planet, Lisa Nishimura, vice president of Netflix Original Documentaries, said: “We are delighted that Sir David Attenborough will voice the series and that Netflix, as a global platform, is able to bring this vital and magical series to an audience of over 190 countries worldwide next year.”

Our Planet is a collaboration with Silverback Films, the production company run by Alastair Fothergill. A former head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit and the director of Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, Fothergill described the new series as “our most ambitious endeavour to date”.

The announcement comes in the same week that BBC One will broadcast its latest series voiced by Sir David, Dynasties, beginning this Sunday.

Speaking at the launch, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC director-general, said: “There is one essential presence at the heart of this series, and that’s David Attenborough.”

Charlotte Moore, director of content at the corporation, recently held up Blue Planet II as an example of programming that sets the BBC apart from its commercial rivals.

The series was the biggest British television programme of 2017, with an audience of 14 million, and has been sold to 230 countries.

Characterising Netflix and Amazon as media companies with an “insatiable greed for data-gathering”, commissioning shows by algorithm, Moore said Blue Planet II was such a success because it came from “a brilliant, trusted storyteller”.

“The success of the series owes so much to David Attenborough – one of the most trusted, authoritative and admired voices on TV. The level of trust that audiences have in David is extraordinary. He’s a reminder that – in a world of so much choice, so many competing voices and sources of information – it is not enough simply to have an important story to tell. It’s who’s doing the telling,” she said.

Sir David, giving the World Wildlife Fund’s Planet Address last night, said he was proud of the show.

“Our Planet will take viewers on a spectacular journey of discovery, showcasing the beauty and fragility of our natural world,” he said.

“Today we have become the greatest threat to the health of our home but there’s still time for us to address the challenges we’ve created, if we act now. We need the world to pay attention. Our Planet brings together some of the world’s best film-makers and conservationists and I’m delighted to help bring this important story to millions of people worldwide.”

Our Planet will premiere on Netflix on April 5 2019.

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