Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Your newsroom might produce the next scripted TV show: Here is why

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The popularity of streaming services means more demand for original production on one hand and a higher bar for online video on the other

Netflix, the biggest paid video streaming platform in the world, ended 2021 with 222 million subscribers all over the world. That’s not enough for investors who are seeing intensified competition (Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video and others) and weak forecast for the months ahead.

For the past couple of years, the company has been reporting where are the subscribers coming from by region. The UCAN region (US and Canada) has for years accounted for the biggest in terms of individual subscribers but at the end of 2021 it looks like the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa) is poised to become the biggest in 2022.

According to data from Comparitech, around 90 percent of Netflix’s EMEA subscribers live in Europe. Sure, looking at revenue per user and revenue by region, UCAN will remain the most important market in terms of business. But the other markets have already proved to be most important for growth.

So what’s it got to do with news media in Europe?

Media companies like ViceVox, and BuzzFeed have been making movies and TV shows for streaming platforms for a few years now and quite successfullyVox Media’s entertainment division was profitable already in 2019.

It’s easy to shrug off the whole idea as those are global media brands backed by investors with deep pockets (well, Buzzfeed not anymore after its IPO) and have invested in digital video for the last few years.

Well, the increasing importance of the European market for Netflix means the region is also going to be key for its competitors. More competition means more original shows and that will translate into higher demand for content.

Netflix subscriber growth by region. Source: Bloomberg Terminal

The era of documentary-series and importance of local content

In the spring of 2020, Netflix’s Tiger King became the first viral TV show during the lockdown period. The seven-part documentary series about private zoo owners and murder investigations was watched in 64 million households within a month of its release. In 2021, a follow-up series was released.

As with podcasts, streaming platforms also fell in love with the true crime and documentaries as a whole category. In 2020 and 2021, documentaries became the fastest-growing genre on streaming platforms, based on data released by Parrot Analytics.

Parrot Analytics shared a closer look at the data with The Ringer which showed that within that true crime was not only the biggest documentary subgenre but that it was also growing faster than nearly any of the others.

Another reason why streaming platforms love documentaries is the simple cost-benefit analysis – unlike for a scripted TV show or a movie, there are fewer sets, costumes, special effects, mostly no actors, and a much smaller production crew.

That’s not to say you cannot produce an expensive documentary, of course.

Last but not least, documentaries will be relevant in many years to come unlike some TV production centered around a couple of movie stars that are in demand at the moment.

And now to my initial point, with all of this in mind, think who is well suited to find some of the best stories out there – newsrooms are doing it every day. The problem is most lack the muscle of telling the story in a compelling way on screen.

Some aren’t even thinking about this revenue stream and that’s a shame. Sure, a local newsroom with a limited staff has a better chance of revenue diversification by starting a podcast or a video series first on YouTube, publishing books, or members-only events.

Still, it got much easier to imagine a somewhat bigger newsroom with a TV studio and video staff to pitch a show that could be picked up by one of the streaming players. Especially when you are operating in Europe and most true crime stories produced so far are US-based.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting another round of pivot-to-video. The message here ought to be dream bigger and once you decided to invest in your own video production there are perhaps higher goals to achieve with the shifting importance of the European region for VOD platforms.

The quality of your video production

One last point I want to make here. Even though I presented facts, the streaming platforms might have different thinking and strategy. Or might have come to a different conclusion – more Korean shows.

There are some other takeaways here. Aiming for a Netflix show is probably a very high bar for 90 percent of newsrooms in Europe. But there is YouTube.

The Google-owned user-generated video streaming network is the biggest destination for watchers all over the world. If you are active on Facebook, then a YouTube presence should be your second step.

Most small newsrooms I have seen publish a variety of videos on their YouTube profile – interviews, live event recording, podcasts as audiograms, etc. Others are aiming for frequent output.

As is the case with Facebook, YouTube is also algorithm-driven and the best practices change in time. Just ask any Youtuber who is serious about it, they will tell you.

Though the other thing they will tell you is consistency and quality (both in terms of content and production).

With creators getting more and more professional and competing video streaming platforms are saturating the markets with more and more shows, the emphasis on quality is also increasing.

So even if you are not aiming to produce the next viral docu-series for Netflix, the bar for digital video is increasing. 

I have seen some newsrooms cutting deal with junior YouTubers but it is getting harder to lure talent into the newsroom when the current market and tools for creators is encouraging independence.

David Tvrdon

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.