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Jan. 29, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production

The New York Times wants to tell you which TV shows are worth binging on with a new product

It sees service journalism as a way to build digital revenue and reach an audience interested in advice and recommendations as much as the Times’ criticism and culture coverage.

The New York Times already has the likes of Manohla Dargis, A.O. Scott, James Poniewozik, and Wesley Morris on staff, directing our tastes and opinions of movies, television shows, and a range of cultural and pop cultural phenomena.

But as familiar boundaries erode (are we supposed to call a Netflix or Amazon series a “TV show”?) and original programming from various video streaming services explodes, the Times is looking to offer a little extra guidance on what movies and shows readers should be (binge)watching now. It’s part of the paper’s efforts to build digital revenue through more and better service journalism, in this case tackling the question: What to do when there’s too much good stuff to watch?

What will the new product look like? At the moment, most of what we have to go on are job postings for the product’s staff:

The New York Times is launching a film and TV recommendation tool which will help users make sense of the ever more complex streaming video landscape. The product’s focus will be service-based and distinct from the criticism and coverage in our daily report; its goals will be to help users decide what movies and TV shows are worth their limited time, and make it easy for them to find and watch them. The product will roll out in two stages — there will first be a several-times-weekly newsletter, followed by a full website with daily content. It will be a product for movie and TV obsessives and we’d love to have movie and TV obsessives working on the product.

(The job descriptions also include a bonus Bonnie Tyler/Footloose reference.)

The newsletter is “soon-to-be launched,” with the full website to follow this summer, one job posting says. It appears the content of both would be responsive to broader events:

What are the best David Bowie movies currently streaming? What are the seasons of the West Wing to check out if I’ve never seen the show before? What should be my next binge-watching obsession?

These are the types of questions the new TV and movie product hopes to answer.

With its new film and TV site, The Times is looking to replicate the audience success of its functional and free cooking site (and accompanying app), NYT Cooking, which debuted in 2014. When I asked a Times spokesperson for more information about the vertical, I was referred to the extensive digital strategy memo released last October:

Our readers turn to The Times for more than just news and entertainment. They turn to us to help them make decisions in their daily lives. The newspaper has always provided a significant service role — helping readers decide what show to see, what book to read and what apartment to buy — and we believe we can add even more value on mobile. The effort to modernize our service journalism began with Cooking a year ago. Our goal was to use our content and expertise to address a specific need for our readers: what to cook for dinner. With almost five million monthly users, Cooking has been so popular with readers that we are expanding this service approach to other areas starting with real estate, health, and film and television. Together these efforts aim to reimagine our features sections for the mobile era with the same vigor and creativity that we put into launching them in the 1970s.

The Times has launched a few other well-loved digital products in the past couple of years, but monetizing them hasn’t been as easy. Last May, the Times made its smartphone app NYT Now free to all users, having captured only around 20,000 signups. The dedicated NYT Opinion app shuttered within four months of launching in June 2014, after it wasn’t able to get enough people to pay $6 every four weeks for the product. As Andy Rosenthal, editorial page editor for the Times, told the Lab:

“It wasn’t getting a new group of readers in the same way that Now does,” he said. “The sheer volume of people looking at it wasn’t enough to sustain it.” The app pushed Times writing and columns into new territory and made the opinion staff more innovative, he said. “This is not us saying it didn’t work as a journalistic venture; it did,” Rosenthal said. “It’s just not working as a business.”

For its film and TV recommendation site, the Times is looking for one movie and one TV writer, a photo editor, and staff editors, according to the job listings. The writers “should be able to write concise, casually authoritative prose focused primarily on recommending things that Times readers should or should not watch.”

Photo of Million Dollar Theater Coming Soon by Abhijit Patil used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Jan. 29, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
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