Chelsea Handler signs deal with Netflix

Chelsea Handler

Chelsea HandlerShortly after announcing she would be ending her talk show Chelsea Lately on E!, Chelsea Handler announced a deal with Netflix to produce a new talk show.

Deadline reported last Thursday that Handler’s new show would begin in 2016 and would include a traditional format of Handler’s topical commentary and guest interviews, but no details have yet been revealed about the show’s format.

The lack of specific details suggests that Netflix and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos aren’t showing all their cards in their hand.

If you’re Netflix and your goal is to be a major player in TV, your programming has to run the gamut of all TV has to offer. So far Netflix has done a remarkable job of attracting talent and buzz, be it in the sheer cultural significance of shows like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black and the enormous hype, if questionable quality, surrounding the return of Arrested Development.

Their first move in the last few weeks was to announce the revival of The Magic School Bus. That show will also debut in 2016, but it along with Puss in Boots, Dreamworks Dragons and Veggie Tales in the House will add to a currently small roster of original children’s programming.

Plausibly a talk show, or if not that, a reality show, live streaming event or news program, would be the next logical step.

The first problem is that it’s hard to call a diminishing late night talk show format an innovative move. Vulture argued that the immediacy and the topical nature that late night TV provides is exactly what Handler and Netflix won’t be able to capture given their format. And if the whole show was scripted and pre-taped anyway, then why bother? “Some things are just too antiquated to try and modernize,” they wrote.

But Netflix’s problem has never been one of consumption or format. Their issue is binge watching and the distribution of their shows. If everyone inhales an entire season of Arrested Development in one sitting, then there’s only so much cultural discourse that can follow. Netflix’s goal is to get people coming back to watch on a regular, if not daily basis, and the sheer nature of how a talk show must be created and distributed would inherently lend itself toward that goal.

Like any company, Netflix wants to attract new viewers but also retain the ones they have for extended periods of time. Handler may attract people who never owned a Netflix account and wanted to follow her past E!, but those who already have accounts may now be more inclined to stay even long after a season of Orange is the New Black has been shared.

The second problem is more pressing, and if Netflix has solved it with this talk show, it suggests sweeping changes in the TV industry that should make broadcasters sweat.

Mashable pointed out that Netflix, nor any other streaming competitor, has the physical bandwidth to deliver broadcast quality Internet streaming. If come 2016 they could deliver content as fast as the speed of news, it could signal a wave of high quality streaming of sports, breaking news or other live events, in which case, why in the world would you need a TV?

More likely, Netflix could easily rattle up the late night talk show format even without disrupting the broadcast television industry, creating a taped talk show in the vein of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and doing just fine.

What’s more, Netflix isn’t dumb. Every programming decision they’ve made so far has gone against the grain of regular TV by using algorithms and data to determine what people really want. Reviving The Magic School Bus or Arrested Development, shows that already exist in their library and likely get a steady amount of streaming traffic, weren’t revived by accident. Their data indicated people were watching and they might like to see something new. Handler’s hiring is hardly a coincidence, but just like the details behind this show, they won’t be revealing those reasons any time soon.

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