Netflix Reaffirms Interest in Expanding Into News Programming

Sarandos targets Vice, citing upcoming documentaries, Chelsea Handler talk show

Netflix's Ted Sarandos Says There's No Such Thing As Too Much TV
Eric Charbonneau/Netflix

Now that they’ve disrupted one TV genre after another with dramas and comedies like “House of Cards” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Netflix has set its sights on another staple of the medium: news programming.

In a video-conference session following its third-quarter earnings call, CEO Reed Hastings and chief content officer Ted Sarandos made clear they were headed in that direction. After Sarandos answered affirmatively a question regarding Netflix’s interest in programming news content, Hastings followed up with a question of his own for Sarandos.

“What is the likelihood we compete directly with Vice in the next two years?” Hastings said to Sarandos.

“Probably high,” Sarandos answered.

A Netflix rep clarified after the call that neither Sarandos nor Hastings intended to suggest the streaming service was attempting to get into the “reporting and live news business.”

The streaming service has already edged up to news in terms of another genre where the company has been very aggressive in the past few years: documentaries.

“On the news side, we are definitely being more adventurous about the genres we are going into,” said Sarandos.

Netflix has cut deals for several documentaries, including “Our Planet,” an eight-part nature documentary exploring remote wilderness areas across the globe from the creators of the “Planet Earth” series slated for 2019.

As for sports, however, Sarandos, again averred that Netflix has no interest in bidding for live sports rights. “Sports on demand is not as exciting as sports live,” he said.

Sarandos also compared his interest in news programming to another genre that Netflix is set to disrupt next year: talk shows. A deal with Chelsea Handler will bring the former E! talk show host to the streaming service, though little is known about the exact format.

“We are interested in being able to improve the viewing experience of whatever kind of content people are watching,” said Sarandos.

Vice, in addition to its digital distribution, has had a deal with HBO for a weekly documentary series and is gearing up to launch a daily news program for the premium cable network. On Wednesday, the company said it hired Bloomberg Businessweek veteran Josh Tyrangiel to lead production of the daily half-hour news show expected to debut early next year.

No specific projects that Netflix is considering in the genre are known, nor just what kind of formats Netflix is eyeing for news programming.