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21 May, 2018 16:53

‘Shaping culture’: Obamas team up with Netflix to create content

‘Shaping culture’: Obamas team up with Netflix to create content

Barack and Michelle Obama have joined forces with Netflix, entering into a multi-year contract to produce films and series with one of the world’s biggest entertainment-on-demand services.

The Obamas will use their own company, Higher Ground Productions, to produce “scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features” on issues that the former president pushed during his eight years in office, according to a Netflix press release.

The deal will give the Obamas a platform to reach the 125 million households with Netflix in 190 million countries worldwide.

“One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” said Barack Obama. “We hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”

The Obamas had been in talks with Netflix for some time, and the New York Times reported in March that one potential show idea would see the former president moderate debates on topics that dominated his presidency: healthcare, voting rights, immigration, foreign policy, and climate change.

The freshly-inked deal drew fire from conservative commentators on Twitter, who saw the partnership as further evidence of a liberal bias at Netflix.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Obama has often critiqued his successor from the sidelines. Last year he spoke out against the new president’s travel ban, his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, his attempts to dismantle Obamacare, and his rollback of DACA protection for illegal immigrants. Now though, Barack Obama has downplayed concern that he will use his new platform to rail against his Trump, reported the Times.

According to the Times’ sources, to do so would make Obama a convenient political target for the Trump administration.

“Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world’s most respected and highly-recognized public figures and are uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better,” said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos.

That Sarandos spoke highly of the Obamas is no surprise, however. Sarandos is married to Nicole Avant, an activist and ambassador to the Bahamas under the Obama administration. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings too was a friend of Obama’s and attended state dinners with the former president.

Although Obama-produced content on Netflix will not be directly competing with conservative cable outlets like Fox News, Obama has publicly vented about Fox’s influence before, as well as the influence of conservative news outlets and social media on voters.

“If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet than you are if you are listening to NPR,” he said in January on comedian David Letterman’s Netflix show. Obama did not mention the Netflix deal - still in the works at the time - to Letterman.

“Part of your ability to lead the country doesn’t have to do with legislation, it doesn’t have to do with regulations, it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness,” he told Letterman. With on-demand streaming services like Netflix increasingly edging out cable TV, particularly among young viewers, Obama now has the opportunity to do just that.

While all the connections were in place, the Obama/Netflix deal is not the first time a former politician has dipped his toes into the world of broadcasting. After losing the 2000 election to George W. Bush, Al Gore set up a cable network called Current TV in 2004. The network enjoyed moderate success until it was purchased by Al Jazeera in 2013 and subsequently shut down.

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