Obamas to create content for Netflix


Former US first couple Barack and Michelle Obama will produce a wide range of films and series for the streaming service

NEW YORK • When the Obamas speak, the world listens.

Netflix hooked a prize catch on Monday when it announced a production deal with Barack and Michelle Obama that calls for the former United States first couple to create a wide range of content for the streaming service.

The deal, talks for which were first reported in March, will encompass a wider range of formats than many analysts had expected.

Among the content the Obamas will produce as part of the multi-year agreement are films and series, with scripted series, docuseries, documentaries and feature films all possibilities, Netflix said.

Unscripted series - Hollywood's euphemism for reality TV - are also on the table.

It is unclear whether the couple will appear in any of the movies or shows themselves.

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...

MR BARACK OBAMA on what he and his wife Michelle (both above) hope to do through their partnership with Netflix

"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 former American president Obama in a statement.

"That's why Michelle and I are so excited to partner Netflix - 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."

Ahead of the deal, the Obamas created a production company, Higher Ground Prods.

The deal was not described as exclusive, opening up a possibility that they could make shows or movies for other distributors.

Netflix released few details on the specific series and films the couple would work on. Like Mr Obama's statement, though, it suggested the productions would be in the social-good realm.

Mr Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, said: "Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world's most respected and highly recognised 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.

"We are incredibly proud that they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities."

The deal follows other icons who have taken up Hollywood production since stepping back from the public eye, hoping to use content platforms to expand their reach.

Basketball great Kobe Bryant has launched a production company to focus on a range of live-action and animated programmes.

In March, he took home an Oscar for a short he produced.

"I could easily coach 12 people. Or I could put the knowledge I learnt into a show to reach 12 million," he told reporters and advertisers last week at an ESPN event about his reasons for moving into producing.

Other former US presidents have taken to book-writing and other similar routes, but few have engaged in partnerships in this medium or of this scale.

For Netflix, the move provides an immediate calling card as the go-to outlet for prestige programming.

That tag is essential as the company continues to grow its base, particularly in Europe and elsewhere around the world, where the Obamas remain popular.

Investors liked the move, boosting Netflix's stock by more than 2 per cent on Monday to its highest price in more than a month.

Meanwhile, the deal gives a large platform to the Obama Foundation, which could leverage the approximately 125 million Netflix subscribers around the world to further its social causes.

Mrs Obama offered insight into the couple's motivations.

"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," she said in a statement.

"Netflix's unparalleled service is a natural fit for the kinds of stories we want to share and we look forward to starting this exciting new partnership."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2018, with the headline 'Obamas to create content for Netflix'. Print Edition | Subscribe