Netflix spent much of Wednesday talking about its financial results, including the fact that its profit and U.S. subscriber numbers came in well below analysts’ expectations, which sent its stock price tumbling. But Netflix management also made a few cryptic comments in a video conference following the company’s earnings call suggesting that the company may get into the news business.
According to a report in Variety, chief content officer Ted Sarandos responded to a question about the company’s interest in news programming by saying it was exploring that possibility. Then CEO Reed Hastings asked: “What is the likelihood we compete directly with Vice in the next two years?” Sarandos replied: “Probably high.”
That response started a heated discussion on Twitter (TWTR) about what a Netflix (NFLX) news product might look like. Would it be a news-magazine show with reported pieces, or a nightly news program of some kind, similar to The Daily Show? And what would be the purpose of doing this, when news programming makes little money? Netflix’s comments even sparked a response from Vice co-founder Shane Smith:
Following the Variety report, however, Netflix communications staff tried to tamp down speculation on the company’s plans. They said the comments from Hastings and Sarandos were only intended to suggest that the streaming-video provider wants to do more Vice-style documentaries, as well as news-related shows such as the one it is planning with comedian Chelsea Handler for next year.
Jonathan Friedland, chief communications officer for Netflix, tried to clarify this in several tweets on Wednesday night, saying the company isn’t considering getting into the news business per se, and wants to “leave that to the professionals.”
Despite the protests, not everyone was convinced that Netflix isn’t looking at doing more in the news arena—that is, more than just documentaries and the Handler show, which sounds like it will likely be a comedy show with some news content. According to this theory, the company is nervous about divulging too much about its future plans, and that’s why it tried to walk back the comments by Hastings and Sarandos.
Would a news show or news programming of some kind make sense for Netflix? It’s an interesting question. There’s an assumption on the part of many that the company’s millennial user base isn’t interested in news, and yet studies show that the demand for news-related content is higher than it has ever been.
As Variety editor Andrew Wallenstein argued during the Twitter discussion, a news program of some kind might not make money for Netflix directly, but it could be part of a broader attempt by the company to brand itself as a full-stack media company.
In other words, if Netflix wants to be the future of cable TV to some extent, it might make sense for the company to broaden the types of programming it does away from just pure entertainment. It’s clearly trying to do that to some extent by expanding the number of news documentaries. Could it build a stable of news-related programming that would fill out its portfolio of content? It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility, despite the protests from Netflix PR.