by Joe Vallero
We here at LWAF are big fans of Netflix. Our entire podcast is based on their vast library of movies and we often talk about our love of their original content. If Netflix has done anything it has revolutionized the entertainment industry. They have been a disrupter from the very beginning. Netflix began as a DVD mailing service and they all but killed the brick and mortar DVD Rental store business model. Then as internet speeds became fast enough and the spread of high speed internet had gotten wise enough Netflix transitioned to an online streaming service, again revolutionizing how people get the content they love. As Netflix moved to producing their own content they evolved and forced the industry to evolve with them. They invented or at least popularized the “binge watch” phenomenon making television an on-demand, watch at your own pace, form of entertainment. And now they are continuing to expand and adapt as they move into film production and acquisition. Through all of this the core tenants of the company is to deliver the products that the audience wants and giving creators and artists the resources and freedom to achieve their vision.
Now I I believe that Netflix has the opportunity to not only continue to innovate and evolve but also do good in the world. I believe it is time for Netflix to create a news division. I don’t know the technological issues with creating a nightly or even weekly news program on the streaming service but I would imagine that those hurdles can be overcome. The reason I think this could be an important innovation is that Netflix has the opportunity to provide true unbiased and unfiltered investigative journalism. One of the biggest problems with cable and network news is they are beholden to stock holders, audience numbers, demographics and the craven master of the bottom line. While of course Netflix cares about a bottom line they have also shown they create content for niche audiences. They have children’s programming, documentary series, dramas, superhero shows and a vast collection of stand up comedy specials. Those various genres of shows are not created with the idea of maximizing the viewership for each category but instead keeping a dedicated select audience subscribed to the service.
I think the same approach could be taken to form a news division. This would serve the people that are hungry for news that is done only for the sake of information and help kill the bloviating talking head format. They could collect the best news editors and reporters in the business and let them go after the stories they want to go after. They can report beyond the talking points of the day and dig deeper into stories. 13th, the Ava Duvernay documentary, is a good example of this. I’m not saying that 13th is news or even necessarily “journalism” but what that film showed was that Netflix empowered a filmmaker to tell a story that she wanted to tell and they got a powerful, informative and conversation-defining piece of art. Now imagine that power, that freedom and that platform in the hands of journalists that want to inform the public and want to tell important stories. With the governor off the newsroom the result could be as disruptive in the news industry as Netflix has already been in the entertainment industry.
How American’s get their news has continually evolved since the advent of television. For many years there was the “network” news model. The big three networks had news divisions that operated as revenue neutral entities for the prestige of awards and the importance of breaking culturally significant stories. Over time they transformed to profit centers eroding the quality and depth of their coverage. Then CNN revolutionized news in 1980 creating a 24 hour news network. Ted Turner was laughed at and told that there wasn’t an appetite for a non-stop news network and that it wouldn’t work. But rather quickly it became clear that the CNN approach of having reporters and producers on the ground where news was happening drew viewers and launched the cable news medium. In the next 15 years many competitors entered the marketplace and they began to speak to more and more narrowly focused audiences. With the advent of financial news networks to politically aligned networks. In 1996 the cable news world was redefined again as Fox News took the punditry side of the medium to the next level. Their goal was top bring the passion of talk radio to cable news. They succeeded. They succeeded to a much greater degree than anyone thought they would. They forced all the other cable news outlets to compete with their model and in doing so drove objectivity out of the marketplace. Having an opinion and a point of view was more important than accurate reporting. It is time for news to evolve again.
HBO has started this with the creation of Vice News. The creation of ViceLand has further expanded on this idea but I think Netflix has the cache and viewership to impact the world of news to a much greater extent. I think they have the opportunity to create something that would be exactly what they have been from the beginning, disruptive and redefining. The can produce nightly or weekly news hours breaking down the stories that are important as well as long form documentaries that can expand on a single subject and tackle it from all the important angles. I know I would tune in for well told informative stories I hope Netflix sees the value in it.