This week in brand publishing:
- Netflix has quietly been building a publishing powerhouse.
- Local news is in trouble, but the answer may lie in more accountability journalism.
- 2021 was the year brand publishing grew up: These are the themes that defined the year.
Unpacking the Netflix publishing universe
Netflix has been quietly building a brand publishing powerhouse under the leadership of former Allure editor-in-chief Michelle Lee. In December, it unveiled Tudum, a one-stop website meant to take you behind the scenes of Netflix original shows and movies, all tailored according to a viewer’s watching habits. (And a smart data play, since you have to log in in order to get those specific stories and pieces tailored to your preferences.) But Tudum, while perhaps the most ambitious, is only one of the many moves Netflix has made in the publishing arena.
Another one of note is Geeked, which began in 2018 as NX, which was built to celebrate the sci-fi, fantasy, superhero and other titles of that ilk. Last April, it rebranded to Geeked, and launched the first-ever Geeked Week virtual fan event. Something it does particularly well is create “after-show” style content for top shows. For example, The Witcher: Unlocked is a video series that explores the process behind creating the fantasy show.
Another editorial program is Strong Black Lead, launched in 2018 in an effort to spotlight – and build on – Black-centric content at Netflix. It runs two podcasts and a bunch of different video series going behind the scenes of Black content on Netflix. Another editorial sub-brand is Netflix is a Joke, focused on standup and sketch comedy that breaks news, creates content and runs its own comedy festival in association with Live Nation. Netflix also runs a stable of podcasts, some of which focus on shows (The Crown, for example) and others that dive into the craft and filmmaking behind Netflix series (The Call Sheet.)
While the endeavours are impressive for their sheer breadth, what caught my eye specifically was the language the group uses to explain their ambitions. From a job posting: ”Though part of the larger marketing organization, the Editorial & Publishing team’s work is unique in that we express a firm perspective on content and culture in the way a traditional media outlet would.”
Successful brand publishers may live inside different groups inside companies, but remain as far as possible fiercely independent, and borrow the habits and processes of journalism and media so they aren’t simply yet another marketing campaign or effort.
The new impetus for journalism
Local newspapers are fading. What’s taking their place? In some cases, the growth of new, independent media companies and nonprofits. As Axios reported last week, this is also pushing a shift in the mission for journalism – many of these local news startups have focused on community news and services, not investigative, accountability journalism. But it’s harder to find a commercial alignment for these models, and dollars remain hard to come by. The question now – as Axios’ Sara Fischer asks – is what happens to accountability journalism?
Local news has an evolving relationship with brand publishing, too. Plenty of people have fretted that the rise of brand publishing can mean the death knell for original reporting. But we’ve argued in the past that in fact, the opposite can be true. As brands focus on creating more content designed to fuel their business interests, it is also an opportunity for journalism to go back to its roots and refocus on what it does best. Journalists – local and otherwise – may be best served by doubling down on differentiating their offerings versus trying to compete with brands with “service” journalism, leading, ideally, to an unblurring of the lines between the two that would be a boon for readers everywhere.