ABOVE PHOTO: Former President Barack aObama and First Lady Michelle Obama. (AP Photo)
By David Bauder
NEW YORK — Barack and Michelle Obama are getting into the television business with Monday’s announcement that they had signed a multi-year deal with Netflix.
The former president and first lady have formed their own production company, Higher Ground Productions, for the material. In announcing a deal that had been rumored since March, Netflix offered no specifics on what shows they would make.
Netflix said the Obamas would make “a diverse mix of content,” potentially including scripted and unscripted series, documentaries or features.
“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 wider world,” Barack Obama said in Netflix’s announcement.
The Obamas can be expected to participate in some of the programming onscreen, said a person familiar with the deal, not authorized to talk publicly about it, on condition of anonymity. The programming itself is not expected to be partisan in nature; a president who often derided the way things were covered on cable news won’t be joining in.
The type of people that Obama — like other presidents — brought forward as guests at his State of the Union addresses would likely provide fodder for the kinds of stories they want to tell.
“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others,” Michelle Obama said.
No content from the deal is expected to be available until at least 2019, said the person familiar with the deal.
The former president appeared in January on David Letterman’s Netflix talk show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” Obama is said to be friendly with Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, and discussions for other programming were already under way.
“We are incredibly proud they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities,” Sarandos said.
Netflix has 125 million subscribers worldwide. The company has always been reluctant to discuss how many people watch its programming, but it clearly dominates the growing market for streaming services. Roughly 10 percent of television viewing now is through these services, the Nielsen company said.
Forty-nine percent of streaming being viewed now comes through Netflix, and no other service comes close, Nielsen said.