Given that entertainment and politics are inextricably connected these days, most people had a feeling of inevitability rather than surprise once Netflix announced that it had agreed on a deal with Michelle and Barack Obama. The deal will see the former first lady and president produce content for the streaming company. It is quite the smart pairing for the former first family, who will be making their first entry into movie production. The nature of the agreement represents an environment that is most likely going to give the Obamas enough space and time to figure out what they are doing before going live. Moreover, while the former first family seems to be just another high-profile pickup for Netflix, the contract also proves the company’s limits in its pursuit for more content.
The Deal Explained
After completing their presidential terms, Michelle and Barack Obama have consented on a few lucrative projects. The first one was announced in 2017: a joint deal for the two to publish their memoirs with an estimated value of $65 million. While biographies from former presidents are not new, the former president and first lady have gone a step further an agreed a deal with Netflix to produce some of their documentaries, series, and movies in a bid to continue the social and philanthropic work that they championed while still in office.
What are the Obamas Producing
About one year after signing the deal, the Obamas gave a flavor of what we should expect from them. In an announcement, Netflix said that releases from the Obamas would feature a healthy mix of fiction and non-fiction productions for close to all audiences including unscripted, scripted, and documentary series.
The shows and films include:
- Bloom: A drama series set in post-World War
- American Factory: The film takes a look into post-industrial Ohio.
- Overlooked: A scripted anthology series based on an obituary column on the New York Times.
- Fifth Risk: This documentary is based on a book by Michael Lewis: The Fifth Risk
- Crimp Camp: A documentary about a camp for the disabled in the 1970s.
The deal, which was announced early 2018, was in line with the couple launching their production company — Higher Ground — to both acquire and distribute content as well as produce their own.
How much is the Deal?
Neither the Obamas nor Netflix are yet to say how much the deal is worth, or how big the deal is. What seems clear is that Netflix seems to have a lot of money to splash around. In 2017 alone, the company’s content expenditure was estimated at about $6.3 billion. This figure will rise to more than eight billion US dollars in 2019. In 2017, the company snapped up Shonda Rhimes; it stole the hitmaker from ABC Studios. In February this year, the company signed up Ryan Murphy. The super-producer was offered a five-year, three hundred million US dollars contract. It would be surprising if the Obamas also enjoyed a similarly lucrative deal. They might seem like a good catch, but having a huge following is not similar to knowing how to produce top-notch content. However, whatever figure Netflix has decided to pay the former first family, it seems like the former president does know how to take advantage of his strengths. The exact dollar figure that the Obamas stand to earn has been kept secret thus far, making it very hard to put a specific character to it. Moreover, Netflix does not publicize viewership numbers. This makes the company an ideal place for first-time content producers.
By working with a broadcast TV network, or even with cable channels like HBO, the former first couple would have been subjected to harsh glares of the Nielsen rating mechanics. It does not seem like fun for a TV network executive to think of cancelling content produced by a former first family. Even so, continuing to air programs made by the Obamas that consistently fails to attract enough viewership might raise intricate questions about whether the television network is striving to stay in business out of political motivations. The worst turn of events that could happen to the Obamas as they hope to become media personalities is taking a deal like Megyn Kelly’s: an expensive and high-profile announcement that will undercut the power of the personality who was meant to be a massive catch. However, the Obamas enjoy protection from such outcomes in light of their agreement with Netflix. The streaming network is allowed to post any figure for as long as it paints the former first family’s project as a success. While other media companies can question the authenticity of such figures, it will not be possible to render a meaningful case to the contrary.
What Does Netflix Get?
One intriguing question is what the streaming company gets to earn out of this agreement. The pronouncement has stimulated rumblings about a possible boycott from conservatives. Even though this is often the case, it is imperative to wait and see if these threats will materialize in considerable numbers. If the threats do materialize, it could be because the company’s pursuit of content has made the service less essential.
Getting the Obamas makes for a flowery headline, but the choice to pursue the two is in all respect a logical extension of the company’s strategy to produce content suitable for absolutely everyone. In a line-up that features original programs including a whole raft of Adam Sandler films and a cop flick that pairs up an orc and Will Smith, a series of Obama movies does not look strange: it seems more of a service that throws everything at the wall and waits to see what sticks.
Netflix hopes to create content that appeals to everyone. The company is still moving away from movies and shows that it has licensed from other streaming services. However, it seems like it has been producing a lot of content with only a few of them being exceptionally compelling or distinguished. Let us wait and see what good the Obamas do to the network,