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Netflix’s Contract With The Obamas Likely Won’t Pay Financially, But It Might Politically

While it seems unlikely that a great number of people would cancel their Netflix accounts, it seems far less likely that anyone who didn’t vote for Obama would sign up to see his content.


Beginning in 2019, streaming video giant Netflix will roll out original content that not only stars former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama, but is created by them as well. Netflix has signed a multi-year deal with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions, which, according to the announcement on Monday, will produce a “diverse mix of content, including the potential for scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features.”

The former president has indicated that he and his wife do not intend to use this substantial platform to flame President Trump and conservatives, but instead, as he says in the announcement, “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.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama appeared on the Netflix original series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” as the show’s first guest. A bearded and subdued Letterman spent an hour asking the former president carefully rehearsed, boring questions that anyone who paid attention to Obama’s time in office would have been able to answer. At best Obama told a few previously unknown anecdotes, and at worst smugly reaffirmed his values while implying those who don’t agree are imbeciles.

In the announcement from Netflix, the ex-president shares his hope that the content Higher Grounds Productions produces will “promote common values,” which prompts one to wonder which values he hopes to promote, and among whom they are common. He has made very clear that he doesn’t share values with his successor in the White House, so one must assume the content he is developing will further the causes he became known for while in office.

The financial terms of the deal were not released, although it is rumored to be in the high eight figures. It might seem Netflix hopes adding the Obamas will increase their subscribership, which stands at 125 million across the globe. The streaming video service has recently made similar deals with high-profile content creators to increase original content, making a subscription to Netflix necessary to view.

Some conservatives have called for boycotting Netflix, hoping to avoid propaganda filtering into their “Recommended for You” category. It would be easy enough to avoid an Obama documentary, but when the Obamas create a range of content, the best way to assure you aren’t watching one of their productions would be to withdraw your membership.

Netflix’s content selection has always leaned left, and the company assumes Mr. and Mrs. Obama are universally beloved and highly entertaining. Yet unless the Obamas are secretly genius script writers or cunning producers who intend to “promote greater empathy” through a binge-worthy crime procedural, it is hard to see how their content will draw a lot of new subscriptions.

Globally, it is hard to imagine that non-subscribers will suddenly sign up to see a former president in dad jeans whine about universal health care. Within the United States, Netflix seems to be mistaken about how many conservatives there are. While it seems unlikely that a great number of people would cancel their Netflix accounts, it seems far less likely that anyone who didn’t vote for Obama would sign up to see his content.

Obama is the first former president to attempt anything of this nature. It was long rumored that he would move online as an attempt to re-energize his base post-presidency, but the Netflix deal is a far greater attempt at global influence than simply writing a memoir. Barack Obama believes everything he accomplished in office is being dismantled by President Trump, and is using his self-perceived global adoration to find a different way to influence America.

While it remains to be seen whether this partnership will be fruitful, unless the Obamas are planning to reimagine “Breaking Bad,” it’s hard to see the win.