A former Miss India Universe is deciding what the world watches on Netflix: a London-born exec who turned down Bollywood fame to work off-camera is behind the streaming giant’s biggest hits from Queer Eye to Squid Game.
The 52-year-old Bela Bajaria was promoted to Netflix’s content chief officer from her role as the head of global TV and now reportedly earns an eight-figure salary.
Ms Bajaria will be responsible to keep Netflix at the top of the streaming giants in her new job, which she told the New Yorker is ‘a big creative endeavor’ and added: ‘It’s about recognizing that people like having more’.
During the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021, subscriber numbers grew for Netflix.
The 52-year-old Bela Bajaria (pictured) was promoted to Netflix’s content chief officer from her role as the head of global TV and now reportedly earns an eight-figure salary
Ms Bajaria will be responsible to keep Netflix at the top of the streaming giants in her new job, which she told the New Yorker is ‘a big creative endeavor’ and added: ‘It’s about recognizing that people like having more’ (pictured left at the The Witcher premiere in Los Angeles in 2019)
Despite the numbers falling in the first half of last year, the second half came with a booming seven million new subscribers for Netflix, which they described as ‘far exceeding expectations’, according to The Telegraph.
What shows is Bela Bajaria responsible for during her seven-year career at Netflix?
As head of licensing and co-production, non-English TV programming as well as head of global content, Ms Bajaria was involved in many successful Netflix content.
Here are some of her greatest streaming hits:
- Queer Eye
- Squid Game
- Nailed It!
- Tidying Up With Marie Kondo
- Never Have I Ever
- Money Heist
- The Witcher
- Sacred Games
- Blood & Water
- Locke & Key
During this period, the streaming giant celebrated great successes with hits like the comedy horror show Wednesday, as the third most popular series ever, Harry & Meghan as the second most popular documentary series ever and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery as the third most popular film.
Despite strong competitors among the streaming services like Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Paramount Plus and Disney+, Netflix kept its leading position with 231million subscribers.
For her new job, Ms Bajaria will move into a new office in the Los Angeles headquarters called the Icon Building, which is 14-storeys high and resembles a Jenga game.
The building stands in the heart of old Hollywood, right next to the iconic old Warner Bros studios and a short walk away from the Paramount studios.
According to industry sources, Ms Bajaria’s salary is north of $16million.
Ms Bajaria’s Indian parents Ramesh and Rekha met and got married in Kenya but moved to the UK, where they had their daughter in 1970 in London.
When she was five years old, her parents and younger brother moved to Los Angeles, while she stayed behind in London with her grandparents.
Aged eight, she joined her parents in Los Angeles and later attended Christian university Pepperdine in Malibu.
While studying at University, Ms Bajaria entered the Miss India California pageant, which led to her successes as Miss India USA and Miss India Universe in 1991.
On the back of her pageant wins, she was offered an acting contract for a Bollywood studio which she turned down to look for work off camera at film and TV studios instead.
She got a job at CBS as an assistant in their movies-and-miniseries department, reading scripts and spending a lot of time in their basement videotape library studying old films.
For her new job, Ms Bajaria will move into a new office in the Los Angeles headquarters called the Icon Building, which is 14-storeys high and resembles a Jenga game. According to industry sources, Ms Bajaria’s salary is north of $16million
She was leading Netflix into reality TV with programmes like Queer Eye (pictured) in 2018 and later Tidying Up With Marie Kondo in 2019
She brought hits like the show Squid Game (pictured) to Netflix
She was responsible for her friend Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever (pictured)
In 1999, after working her way up at CBS, she commissioned a miniseries about Joan of Arc with Leelee Sobieski, which received 13 Emmy nominations.
Three years later, she was promoted to run the department she first joined as an assistant.
After a few years at Universal television, which she Ms Bajaria started at in 2011, she joined the new market for streaming services with a role at Netflix in 2016.
She was leading Netflix into reality TV with programmes like Queer Eye in 2018 and later Tidying Up With Marie Kondo in 2019.
As the head of licensing and co-production, she increased subscription numbers by licensing old shows from other companies like The Office.
In the same year as her success with Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, Ms Bajaria became responsible for non-English programmes, which grew in popularity on the streaming platform.
In 2022, out of a total of 1,846 hours of original content, less than half of that – 800 hours – was being produced in the US and Canada.
The rest, 1,046 hours, was produced in Netflix offices, or ‘eco-systems’ as they call them, around the world for mostly local audiences in a plethora of languages.
In her role as head of global TV content, which she was appointed to in 2020 after the old head Cindy Holland was fired, Ms Bajaria was overseeing all TV programming both in the US and abroad.
As part of her job she travelled around the world to the different Netflix offices, spending two or three days at a time at one of their 26 outposts, for example in Seoul, Mumbai or Mexico City.
She brought hits like the show Squid Game or the French series Lupin to Netflix.
Among Ms Bajaria’s biggest hits is The Witcher with Henry Cavill
One of Ms Bajaria’s hits is the German show Barbarians
In her role as head of global TV content, which she was appointed to in 2020 after the old head Cindy Holland was fired, Ms Bajaria was overseeing all TV programming both in the US and abroad. She was responsible for the French hit series Lupin
According to industry insiders, Ms Bajaria has risen through the ranks not just for knowing what is good or not, but also for knowing what will appeal to subscribers and shareholders.
When she is not working on new streaming hits, Ms Bajaria spends time at home in LA’s Studio City with her husband, writer-producer Doug Prochilo, and their teenage son as well as their two college-aged daughters.
She often goes on three- to four-mile hikes on nearby mountain trails, and also has an ownership interest in the Chicago Red Stars, who are playing in the US National Women’s Soccer League.
One former colleague said for Ms Bajaria’s profile in the New Yorker: ‘The thing is, she’s not an inellectual. She’s smart. There’s a difference. She’s bold, and that’s what it takes.’
Ms Bajaria herself described to the New Yorker her ideal Netflix show as being both ‘premium and commercial at the same time,’ which her vice president Jinny Howe refers to as ‘gourmet cheeseburgers’.
Her success in her new role as chief content officer depends on how many of those shows that will be a hit with subscribers she is able to deliver.
The rise of Netflix
Reed Hastings, a tech entrepeneur, reportedly had the idea for Netflix after he was charged $40 in late fees in 1995 by his local video renting service Blockbuster for a late return of the movie Apollo 13.
Two years later, in 1997, Mr Hastings and his co-founder Marc Randolph, formely a marketing executive, presented their idea of a businesss that would allow users to rent out DVDs over the internet and getting them shipped to your home.
A long battle with Blockbuster ensued, which ended when the technology to stream content directly to your computer – and eventually TV – was developed and DVDs were no longer needed.
In 2007, Netflix launched the platform, streaming content they licensed from film and TV companies.
A big part of Netflix’s success early on was making whole series available at the same time, enabling ‘binge-watching’, where users don’t have to wait for a week or longer to watch the next episode of a show.
In 2013, Netflix started producing their own content, paying $100million for two seasons of House of Cards, a political drama starring Kevin Spacey, followed by prison drama Orange Is The New Black and royal retelling The Crown.
Nearly ten years after its launch, Netflix had risen to become one of the most powerful forces in broadcasting as well as the world’s largest film and entertainment streaming service, with 151million subscribers in 190 countries in 2016.