Netflix may soon be as good a destination for edgy news documentaries as it is a place to binge on Narcos. On an live video earnings call today, Netflix's head of content Ted Sarandos said the company was increasingly eyeing its documentaries as a tool for trying out new ideas and capturing younger audiences. Netflix could ultimately draw viewers away from competitors like HBO, which has been catering to younger web-native viewers with news-oriented programming like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Vice's Emmy-award-winning documentary TV series.
"We're definitely being more adventurous in terms of the genres we're going into," Sarandos said when asked about the news by Recode's Peter Kakfa, who co-hosted the Q&A session with Netflix executives. Sarandos brought up the company's foray into talk shows with the debut of comedian Chelsea Handler's new show on Netflix next year. "We are interested in being able to improve the viewing experience of whatever kind of content people are watching." Netflix CEO Reed Hastings took the opportunity to make a more declarative statement. "What's the likelihood that we compete directly with Vice in the next two years?" he asked Sarandos. "Probably high," Sarandos responded.
Netflix spokesperson Jonathan Friedland later clarified that the company is not getting into the news business. Instead, Hastings and Sarandos were bantering, Freidland said, about the edgier documentaries Netflix has been exploring, like Winter of Fire and Virunga.
Netflix is gearing up to compete with millennial favorites like Vice
Vice represents the kind of hybrid media creator Netflix would rather mimic than try and host on its own platform, as HBO does. The Vice network doubles as a news generator and a brand that distributes programming on platforms like Facebook and HBO and a myriad number of web verticals like tech site Motherboard and music site Noisey. Netflix would like to be able to produce its own programming and have it ripple across the web much in the same way. It's not a surprising move — Netflix has for years now ramping up its original documentary filmmaking.
One area the streaming service doesn't want to touch is sports. "Sports on demand is not as exciting as sports live," Sarandos said. "There are a lot of irrational bidders for sports and we're not anxious to become another one."
Update at 10:00PM on Wednesday, October 14: A previous version of this story said Netflix was interested in original news programming. The company has clarified that it is not interested in news. Rather, Netflix executives were talking about competing with Vice with documentaries and ramping up its talk show efforts.