The next time you find yourself scrolling through Netflix’s infinite content catalog, you might want to pause to thank Jen House for her part in the viewing options at your fingertips. As Director of Business & Legal Affairs for Nonfiction Series, she plays a key behind-the-scenes role in bringing the streaming platform’s unscripted and documentary programming to life. This includes everything from structuring and negotiating the business and legal terms of acquisition, above-the-line, and other talent agreements, to preparing and negotiating licensing agreements, to helping create the production budget for a series and securing the talent.
“It’s a lot of fun because I get to touch various aspects of the business from all sides – creative, production, financial and legal,” she says. “I love that I don’t have a typical day.”
Before venturing into the media and entertainment industry, House began her legal career as a litigation associate in Sidley’s Los Angeles office, where early on she primarily handled soft IP media work, such as copyright infringement and theft of ideas cases, including one involving an early reality show called “Rockstar INXS.”
“From a technical standpoint, the matters I worked on at Sidley were right in line with some of the work I do now, so having that background has been incredibly helpful over the years,” she says.
House also worked on SEC investigation matters at Sidley and had the opportunity to take on a pro bono asylum case for a woman from Cameroon who was persecuted for her political affiliation. She handled the direct and re-direct examination of the client and the closing statement, which she said is unique for most junior attorneys. “It was a totally new area of law for me. We developed a tight bond with our client during the year that we worked on her case, and I felt lucky to be able to make such a huge difference in her life and ensure her safety.”
She credits her time on the litigation team with solidifying the significance of taking accountability for your work and being a team player: “Working on litigation teams certainly made me realize the importance and benefits of a collaborative work environment. That has completely carried through for me in my career, particularly for my current job.”
House decided to leave Sidley in 2010 for an in-house counsel role supporting NBCUniversal’s Bravo and Oxygen networks. While there, she advised on unscripted reality programming and helped build out Oxygen’s legal policies and processes. She then shifted to NBC’s broadcast network as senior counsel for legal affairs, where she broadened her advisory experience to both scripted and unscripted content. House was contemplating another career move around the time that the opportunity at Netflix arose.
“Netflix was just starting their nonfiction team at the time. I was a bit hesitant at first to only focus on nonfiction programming, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do both business and legal affairs, which was a new challenge, and to help build out this burgeoning team.”
Now, two and a half years into her role, the landscape for streaming services has become more competitive, which she says has made the work increasingly challenging and complex, but also more exciting: “It has upped our game and made us think about how we can be sure we are the first stop that people come to when they want to pitch ideas.”
House says the demand for content does not appear to be slowing down any time soon. Viewers are all too eager to binge-watch the latest installments of Netflix shows both at home and on mobile devices, as well as participate in virtual reality viewing experiences with the option to decide what happens next at turning points in a storyline. “The way we interact with television is not necessarily just passive anymore, which impacts the work we do and the kinds of shows we are working on.”
In her admittedly limited spare time, House and her wife, who is also a Sidley alum, enjoy going to concerts, trying new restaurants and spending time with their two young sons, ages 4 and 1. And, importantly, they dedicate free moments to their must-watch list: “We actually just finished a Netflix limited series called “Unbelievable,” which was awesome. There’s so much good TV. It’s kind of crazy.”
Published November 2019
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