'The New Yorker' Writes Print's Big Streaming Play

I could not begin to count the number of times over the years that smart, talented people have attempted to transform a print magazine into a TV franchise. Mostly, it’s been a recipe for failure, with exceptions such as one-off specials based on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, or Time’s “Person of the Year” franchise. Of course, there's the exception that proves the rule: National Geographic, which has its own network, as well as a long history of specials for PBS and others.

What has worked is a reverse jujitsu move, turning a TV franchise personality into a magazine, especially if it’s about lifestyle or sports. Can you say O the magazine or ESPN the magazine? Granted, those kinds of titles still make some bucks — but, as for much of print, the business ain’t what it once was for just about any magazine.

But this challenged print environment, coupled with an explosion in TV platforms, seems to have opened the door for at least one venerable title to evolve its editorial savvy and brand equity through a startling quality transition to video.



If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, take a look at the new video version of The New Yorker, dubbed “The New Yorker Presents,” which started streaming on Amazon Prime last week.

Wisely, smart TV minds and documentarians, understanding the savvy editorial voice of The New Yorker, were put in charge, including award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney and 18-year “Daily Show” vet Kahane Cooperman. It helped too that the magazine’s parent company, Condé Nast, had given wide berth to its entertainment chief Dawn Ostroff, the former head of the CW network, to develop shows from the company stable.

The result of such a strong gene pool? A smart TV magazine show in sync with the unique New Yorker brand of sophisticated storytelling. Methinks this couldn’t have happened in a pre-digital era, sans Amazon Prime’s (and Netflix's and Hulu's) hunger for distinguished programming that comes preloaded with brand equity.

Maybe it’s the exploding Vice empire that has showed the possibilities of turning strong point-of-view journalism into mined multiplatform gold. Remember, Vice started as a print magazine more than two decades ago, and has exploded into a media empire with a valuation of between $2.5 billion and $4 billion, depending on what media exec or Wall Street tout you talk to.

Beyond its Web presence, with tens of millions per month watching its estimable output,  Vice is still feeding a weekly news magazine to HBO, and has a nightly newscast set to debut. Plus, there’s the Hearst- and Disney-backed A&E network H2, soon to become Viceland. And there you have a multibillion-dollar network sprung from a Montreal-based magazine started in the pre-digital dawn of 1994.

That said, I wish I could state the door has been opened wide by Vice and now The New Yorker for that endangered species — quality print magazines — to have a shining video future. While early episodes of “The New Yorker Presents” may be a blueprint of how to bring first-rate journalism to the small screen from the printed page, it’s hardly a lock that an upscale fashion mag like Vogue or the highbrow well-reported opinions of The Atlantic can do likewise. 

I know both those titles, as well as many other venerable magazine, have greatly increased their digital footprint in various ways, but “The New Yorker Presents” may be the rare pixeled bird that can become a video magazine worthy of its print roots.

However, it would be wise for other venerable magazines to look at “The New Yorker Presents” and start reading into all the possibilities.

1 comment about "'The New Yorker' Writes Print's Big Streaming Play".
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  1. Ruth Barrett from, February 18, 2016 at 2:17 p.m.

    Thanks for the heads up. I had not seen the New Yorker entry via Amazon. I think the documentaries the New York Times publish, including the videos of their columnists, are terrific.
    More strong point-of-view journalism, (new term to me, but very descriptive), shorter form documentary, may bring in the younger folks especially the high quality kind one is finding on the NY Times, and, I hope, The New Yorker. 


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