Netflix for news

Listening to the latest Exponent podcast this morning — great podcast for those enthusiastic about the business of tech — an idea was tossed about a Netflix for news that got me thinking.

As an avid reader of news and as someone who has, as you’ve no doubt noticed, dialled back the Internet fire-hose of information, it would appear to be something quite interesting.

If, for a reasonable amount I could get a subscription that let me read decent publications such as the Times, Guardian, Financial Times, Economist, Wired and additionally some of the ‘lifestyle’ magazines, then why not ? Would this business model work ?

Apple certainly seems to think so, if the rumours are to be believed. After purchasing Texture, much talk has been had over the idea that Apple could be a platform for sustainable journalism. The decimation of profitable journalism by the Internet and more specifically Facebook and Google (although there is some debate as to whether they are the cause or the symptom) have rendered any attempts so far to be useless.

The news of BuzzFeed and Huffington Post’s difficulties show how difficult it is too monetise decent journalism. We can only hope that Apple (or indeed someone else) has figured a way out of this. The demise of decent journalism will be the detriment, not only to people like me who use it a lot, but to society as a whole. I’d rather that not happen.

As a thought experiment, I also figured that it could be interesting to imagine if Netflix could supply video news on demand, something akin to the midday and evening news bulletins. Suppliers like the BBC, Fox, BFMTV and even CNN could possibly garner viewers through this model. This would, of course, strengthen Netflix’s position as an Aggregator, which would, almost certainly drive down rates for the suppliers, being that they get commoditised.

Time sensitivity would probably render this model economically uninteresting too. If you think about it, a film from last week, last month or even a year ago is still desirable to watch, thus each view actually reduces its cost over its lifetime. Some films even achieve cult status and are adored for decades (Star Wars), costing in reality next to nothing to keep in the library (I’m ignoring licensing costs of course). But a news reel? Who’d want to watch that a few days after the first diffusion? The requirement to update the catalog several times per day or even per hour, would generate higher costs for Netflix upfront, and would not generate nearly pure profit for each additional viewing over a long period. This would be most unappealing for Netflix.

It’s not an easy problem to solve, and I don’t have an answer to offer either, sadly.

29 January 2019, F.W.I