Former President Barack Obama is in advanced negotiations with Netflix to produce a series of high-profile shows that will provide him a global platform after his departure from the White House, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Under terms of a proposed deal, which is not yet final, Netflix would pay Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, for exclusive content that would be available only on the streaming service, which has nearly 118 million subscribers around the world. The number of episodes and the formats for the shows have not been decided.
Mr. Obama does not intend to use his Netflix shows to directly respond to President Trump or conservative critics, according to people familiar with discussions about the programming. They said the Obamas had talked about producing shows that highlight inspirational stories.
But the Netflix deal, while not a direct answer to Fox News or Breitbart.com, would give Mr. Obama an unfiltered method of communication with the public similar to the audiences he already reaches through social media, with 101 million Twitter followers and 55 million people who have liked his Facebook page.
“President and Mrs. Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire,” Eric Schultz, a senior adviser to the former president, said Thursday. “Throughout their lives, they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better. As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.”
In one possible show idea, Mr. Obama could moderate conversations on topics that dominated his presidency — health care, voting rights, immigration, foreign policy, climate change — and that have continued to divide a polarized American electorate during President Trump’s time in office.
Another program could feature Mrs. Obama on topics, like nutrition, that she championed in the White House. The former president and first lady could also lend their brand — and their endorsement — to documentaries or fictional programming on Netflix that align with their beliefs and values.
It is unclear how much money the Obamas will be paid, given their lack of experience in the media business. Netflix recently signed a five-year, $300 million deal to lure Ryan Murphy away from 21st Century Fox, but Mr. Murphy is among the television industry’s most sought-after producers.
The deal is evidence that Mr. Obama, who left the White House when he was just 55 years old, intends to remain engaged in the nation’s civic business, even as he has studiously avoided direct clashes with Mr. Trump about his concerted efforts to roll back Mr. Obama’s legacy. It is also a clear indication that the former president remains interested in the intersection of politics, technology and media.
Several people familiar with the Netflix discussions said that executives from Apple and Amazon, which have their own streaming services, have also expressed interest in talking with Mr. Obama about content deals.
The former president has maintained a low profile since leaving office. He and his wife are each writing highly anticipated memoirs, for which they were reportedly paid more than $60 million. And Mr. Obama has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches in the United States and around the world. The Obamas are rarely seen in public in Washington, where they still live.
Mr. Obama has long expressed concerns about how the flow of information — and misinformation — has the power to shape public opinion. In the last several months, Mr. Obama has discussed with technology executives and wealthy investors the threats to American democracy from the manipulation of news.
He has seethed privately and publicly, about what he says is the manipulation of news by conservative outlets and the fractured delivery of information in the internet age. In several recent public appearances during the last several months, the former president hinted at his frustration with the way conservative news outlets have shaped people’s perceptions about the divisive 2016 campaign and the issues he cares about.
“If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet than you are if you are listening to NPR,” Mr. Obama told David Letterman in an interview broadcast in January for the comedian’s first Netflix program. Last December, at a forum in New Delhi, Mr. Obama conceded that “If I watch Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me. I would watch it and say, ‘Who is that guy?’”
Evidence began to emerge while Mr. Obama was president that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube were being used to spread false information about candidates and issues. Social media’s impact on society became even clearer last month, when the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, indicted 13 Russians and three companies that had used social media companies to undermine democracy in the United States and push voters to reject Hillary Clinton.
As the election came to a close, Mr. Obama told The New Yorker that the new media landscape had made it possible for large swaths of the country to ignore facts. “Everything is true and nothing is true,” he complained. He later personally scolded Facebook’s chief executive for saying it was “crazy” to think the social network influenced the election.
For Netflix, securing the Obama programming is a part of the company’s broader search for original content, as the streaming service competes for viewers with HBO, Apple, Amazon and the traditional broadcast networks. Netflix has said it could spend as much as $8 billion on content this year. It has been paying top dollar for original programs like its hit Stranger Things and the documentary Icarus, which won the Oscar this year for best documentary feature.
It would also be another coup for a company that began by distributing DVDs and is now doing deals with some of the most powerful names in entertainment.
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SOURCE: The New York Times – MICHAEL D. SHEAR, KATIE BENNER and JOHN KOBLIN