Among the content the Obamas will produce as part of the multi-year agreement are films and series, with scripted series, docu-series, documentaries and feature films all possibilities, Netflix said. Unscripted series — Hollywood’s euphemism for reality TV — are also on the table. It is unclear whether the couple will appear in any of the movies or shows themselves.
“One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” said former president Obama in a statement released by Netflix. “That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix — we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”
Ahead of the deal, the Obamas created a production company, Higher Ground Prods. The deal was not described as exclusive, opening up the possibility they could make shows or movies for other distributors.
The Obamas have yet to hire a producing partner who would handle the day-to-day of pitch meetings and development. But Hollywood insiders expect a top producer or former network or studio executive to land the gig.
“It’s the best job in the world,” said an executive who works for a large Hollywood representation company, asking for anonymity because the person was not authorized to talk to the media. “So much of producing is getting your calls returned. And is there a job where your calls will be returned faster?”
Netflix released few details on the specific series and films the couple would work on. Like the former president’s statement, though, Netflix suggested they would be in the social-good realm.
“Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world’s most respected and highly-recognized public figures and are uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better,” Ted Sarandos, the company’s chief content officer, said in a statement. “We are incredibly proud they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities.”
The deal follows other icons who have taken up Hollywood production since stepping back from the public eye, hoping to use content platforms to expand their reach. Kobe Bryant has launched a production company to focus on a range of live-action and animated programs; in March, he took home an Oscar for a short he produced. “I could easily coach 12 people. Or I could put the knowledge I learned into a show to reach 12 million,” he told reporters and advertisers last week at an ESPN upfront event about his reasons for moving into producing.
Other former presidents have taken the book-writing and other similar routes, but few have engaged in partnerships in this medium, or of this scale.
For Netflix, the move provides an immediate calling card as the go-to outlet for prestige programming. That tag is essential as Netflix continues to grow its base, particularly in Europe and elsewhere around the world, where the Obamas remain popular.
Investors liked the move, boosting Netflix’s stock more than 2% Monday to its highest price in more than a month.
Meanwhile, the deal gives a large platform to the Obama Foundation, which could leverage the approximately 125 million Netflix subscribers around the world to further its social causes. Many of the foundation’s initiatives are aimed at young people, and Netflix–with shows such as “Stranger Things” and “13 Reasons Why” and no requirement of a cable subscription—skews younger than most legacy platforms.
Michelle Obama offered insight into the couple’s motivations.
“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others,” she said in a statement. “Netflix’s unparalleled service is a natural fit for the kinds of stories we want to share, and we look forward to starting this exciting new partnership.”