Netflixing The News

You are what you read. At least, that’s the way it’s always been in the news business. We show our political stripes by the newspaper that hits our porches each morning, by the online news source we share on social media, and the cable news station we tune in to at night. Most of these brands are hoary, their points of view embedded deeply in our culture.

Now Netflix, the one true global content brand, is reportedly weighing whether to get into the news business with a news magazine-style show to rival 60 Minutes or 20/20. I’m not too surprised about this, for several reasons. First, 81 percent of adults between ages 18 and 35 have Netflix accounts, and this generation has turned away in droves from traditional news sources.

It’s not that Millennials aren’t interested in what’s going on – they have access through online gaming and other Web-based activities to more diverse points of view than any generation before them. But they want a deeper understanding of world issues, and they want it in a format that speaks to them.

Netflix rose to global dominance, and 118 million subscribers, because the data it gathers on its customers informs its programming decisions. Meaning, Content Chief Ted Sarandos is smart enough to not second guess his customers. And if they hunger for a new way to understand world events, they’ll get it from Netflix.

Second, Netflix has a brand that people seem to trust to provide quality content with a global bent. Recently, Brexit opponent Lord Andrew Adonis seemed to be pleading with Netflix via Twitter to give us a new take on news. “If Netflix set up a sharp, balanced news service, what would be left besides local radio, a desert island & a few good foreign correspondents?” Adonis tweeted.

Like live sports, news does not seem, at first blush, like a great fit for Netflix. The company invests billions — more than $8 billion this year alone — in evergreen content that appeals to subscribers all over the world. But Sarandos’ most influential mentor is, and always has been, HBO. The premium cable channel has a long, strong tradition of engaging viewers with controversial, high-quality current events programming.

HBO found a golden ticket to the Millennial audience with shows like “VICE News Tonight” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” two very different takes on the news that have become cultural touchstones among Millennials in a very short time. If Netflix takes on the news, it will be with a format very similar to these two shows.

The reasons these shows work on cable – and now on streaming channels – is that they provide a deep analysis of world events in formats that strip away the talking points and rhetoric that has subsumed cable news.

HBO knew exactly what it was doing when it partnered with VICE News to produce a half-hour daily news wrap-up, along with longer documentary-style pieces on “under-reported stories” that are edited like first-hand accounts by its attractive, opinionated, under-40 journalists. The YouTube edition of VICE has almost 9 million subscribers and has racked up more than 1.5 billion views in total. The HBO version of this franchise is more polished but still gives viewers a satisfaction that they are seeing something they need to see.

The opening for Netflix and other streaming channels in the news arena stems from a pervasive feeling among Americans that we’re not getting the whole story. As VICE News Tonight puts it: “The world is changing. So should the way you see it.”

For 20 years, that’s been Netflix’s mantra.

I joined Newsroom PR partially because of its strategy of promoting its newsmaking clients by enhancing the public’s understanding and insight into major issues of the day. For the same reasons, I look forward to watching Netflix go to bat to keep our daily news stream relevant to new, generations of viewers.

By Gina Keating

PR strategist at Newsroom PR