Netflix As Trusted News Source?

This is clearly Netflix’s moment. On a macro level, the company’s streaming programming service has upended the business model for the TV industry as we know it, in spite of what the broadcast network chiefs contend.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (Getty for Netflix)
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (Getty for Netflix)

Yesterday, company CEO Reed Hastings gave the gadget-hungry media gaggle at CES a taste of something different by announcing an audacious global expansion of Netflix’s digital footprint to 130 additonal countries, including plans to take a run at China.

“It’s a very large country, you know a billion Chinese that we want to give access to the Netflix content,” Hastings said.

Convited Murderer Steve Avery
Convicted Murderer Steve Avery (Photo: Netflix)

But it’s not just the bandwidth-driven distribution model that has turned the tables on the TV biz. On the programming side, the company’s “Making of a Murderer” 10-part documentary series has set our already conspiracy-obsessed nation abuzz. A cursory audit of the mainstream media coverage thus far includes:

And the list goes on to include in-studio appearances by the prosecutor Ken Kratz on ABC “Good Morning America,” and the filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi on NBC “Today.”

Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos (Photo: NBC Today)
Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos (Photo: NBC Today)

Demos and Ricciardi staunchly defended the veracity of their ten-years-in-the-making production to the Daily Beast, NPR and elsewhere by revealing that a juror in the murder case independently reached out to them to say he believed Mr. Avery was framed (in spite of his vote to convict). From TIME:

““If they could frame Steven Avery, they could do it to me.” That’s how a juror in the Steven Avery case featured in Netflix’s Making a Murderer recently explained to filmmakers why he voted Avery guilty of murder in 2005, despite believing Avery was innocent, according to the creators of the show.”

People magazine also learned that two other jurors were related to employees in the County where Mr. Avery’s trial was held. One actually volunteered to work for the Sheriff’s department, while he sat on the jury in the murder case.

Prosecutor Ken Kratz (Photo: Morry Gash/AP)
Prosecutor Ken Kratz (Photo: Morry Gash/AP)

Admittedly, I’m just four episodes into the ten-part series, but I’m finding what I’ve seen thus far very discomforting. Mr. Kratz contends that the documentary is a propaganda film produced by the defense as a means to exonerate him (again).

“”It’s a compelling story, it’s edited superbly, and the viewers draw exactly what the filmmakers had hoped,”” Kratz told TheWrap. “I would come up with the same conclusion when it’s the only evidence that is spoon fed to us.””

If true, the so-called PR ploy is working.’s online petition to free Steve Avery has elicited a record 300,000+ signatures to date. And the film is a veritable break-out hit for soon-to-be omnipresent streaming TV service. In fact, Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth has taken on as pro bono client Mr. Avery’s nephew whose (coerced) confession led to his and Mr. Avery’s murder convictions.

On the issue of advocacy programming, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings did weigh in from CES when asked by Re/code’s astute media reporter Peter Kafka:

“Every filmmaker has a viewpoint, particularly in documentary film-making. That’s not the Netflix viewpoint. We try to just provide a platform for lots of people. But we’re very comfortable with documentary filmmakers having a viewpoint.”

It’s no secret that advocacy groups have turned to longer form content — from candidates’ books to full-length films to streaming TV documentaries — to bolster their positions. With the ability for anyone to distribute and amplify their POVs via like-minded media and social channels, the strategy will only continue to grow for issues-based advocates — from Michael Moore on the left to David Daleiden, the producer of that now widely debunked Planned Parenthood “exposé,” on the right.

The question for media consumers also will grow commensurately. Whom can they now trust for accurate and verifiable information? Can Netflix, HBO and others of their ilk be added to a list previously dominated exclusively by outlets like The AP, NPR, PBS NewsHour, CBS News, The New York Times, Bloomberg…?  With today’s myriad choices for one’s news and information, consideration of the source takes on paramount importance.