Netflix is premiering “Follow This” — a weekly 20-episode documentary series featuring behind-the-scenes footage of BuzzFeed journalists on the job — on July 9, according to The Verge. Each episode will be about 15 minutes long.
A Netflix clip of the first episode shows BuzzFeed Canada culture writer Scaachi Koul reporting about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos on YouTube.
“We’re thrilled that Netflix saw the drama in the work of our journalism and the stories we tell,” said BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith in a Hollywood Reporter article. “And we’re so pleased to have brought what we’ve learned to Netflix’s unmatched audience.”
Who are some of the reporters set to star on screen? BuzzFeed journalists lined up to appear include senior culture writer Bim Adewunmi, senior national correspondent John Stanton, reporter and podcast host Ahmed Ali Akbar, science reporter Azeen Ghorayshi, BuzzFeed India Editor-in-Chief Rega Jha and senior tech writer Charlie Warzel, according to the Hollywood Reporter article.
The show comes at a time when Netflix has begun experimenting with different formats and distribution strategies, The Hollywood Reporter’s Natalie Jarvey reported. The series will be more mobile-friendly than Netflix’s other content, VideoInk reported.
“The addition of short-form content could help Netflix attract and obtain users who mainly use the service via a smartphone,” VideoInk’s Matt Lopez wrote, adding that mobile viewers usually prefer shorter, “snackable content.”
Social media users shared their reactions to the news on Twitter. Some posed the question: Who will watch this?
What is the target audience for this kind of thing? Not trying to be a pain, just because I don't get it does not mean this isn't good, I'm just confused.
— MJL716 (@mjlp716) April 25, 2018
Hope it's as good as "VICE News Tonight" on @HBO.
That's a "must see" to supplement the top stories + soft news that dominant the big 3 network evening newscasts.
— Jon Schwenzer (@UncJonny) April 25, 2018
Mathew Ingram, the chief digital writer for the Columbia Journalism Review, expressed skepticism about who would watch the show besides journalists. Ingram questioned how entertaining a show about reporting could be for folks outside of a newsroom.
I get why BuzzFeed wants to do this (increase profile), and also why Netflix wants to (cheap content), but will people actually watch? I'm skeptical. I just don't think journalism is as interesting to watch as journalists would like to think https://t.co/b7KOpS3P99
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) April 25, 2018
In an article for CJR, Ingram noted that the popularity of recent journalism movies like “Spotlight” and “The Post” make journalists cheer for themselves on the screen.
“It’s easy to see why BuzzFeed would jump at a Netflix series — it could potentially give the site a higher profile with a different audience, act as a teaser for upcoming stories, and maybe even teach the public some ‘news literacy,’” Ingram wrote. “And it’s easy to see why the streaming service would be interested in doing it: Netflix has a desperate need for more and more content, and ‘Follow This’ is a good way to experiment with the 15-minute format.”
Ingram speculated that the series could appeal to one of two audiences: a niche audience of journalists and their friends, or a broader audience interested in journalists since the recent attacks on the media by the Trump administration.
“Journalist friends have argued the time may be ripe for a behind-the-scenes series, now that the media and journalism are under fire from the president, and people are theoretically more interested in protecting them,” he wrote.
Americans may have only watched The Newsroom” enough to get it to season three, but “Follow This” will be an interesting test case to prove what the appetite for journalism entertainment really is in 2018.