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With Help From Chelsea Handler, Netflix Goes From Old Movies to New TV Shows. What's Next?

Movies? Probably. Sports? Not yet.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Last year, Netflix started making its own TV dramas and comedies. In a year and a half, it’s going to start making its own talk show.

What else does it have up its sleeve?

Before we get there, a quick discussion of today’s news: Netflix is indeed going to work with Chelesa Handler, who is leaving her perch at Comcast’s E! network*. She’ll have a one-hour concert special on Netflix this year, some documentaries next year, and will start airing some kind of talk show on the video service in 2016.

The comedian/talk-show host/author and her manager Irving Azoff have been floating the idea of her heading to a digital outlet for some time, but lots of folks figured that talk was just talk.

So it’s interesting that she pulled the trigger, and it will be interesting to see what kind of talk show format Netflix and Handler end up using in a year and a half. Netflix won’t discuss details, but I gather that’s because they don’t know what they are — how do you produce a “topical” talk show for a digital video service that doesn’t do “linear” TV programming, and doesn’t care about ratings and advertising?

But we’ll see plenty of thumb-sucking think pieces on that one, whenever they get around to figuring it out. After all, we’re still talking about Netflix’s binge-friendly, season-at-a-time release schedule for “House of Cards” and other shows, which is at least one of the points.

Okay, back to the future. What other new formats will Netflix try?

Here are two obvious possibilities, along with their real world likelihood:

Movies: This one is a good bet. After all, Netflix is sort of already there: This year the company earned an Oscar nomination for “The Square,” an original documentary it produced.

But Netflix likely has broader ambitions — last year content boss Ted Sarandos talked about making “big” movies (the kind you’d pay to see) — and bringing them to your living room on the same day they made it to theaters.

Sports: Not a good bet, at least if you take Reed Hastings at his word. At our Code Conference last month, Hastings was asked, again, about getting into the live sports business by bidding on football rights or some other big-ticket item. And once again, he said no.

The notion of Netflix bringing me the NFL or some other high-profile league sounds appealing to me as a consumer and a reporter. But I can see Hastings’s logic: You can get into TV shows and movies with relatively modest investments — although “House of Cards” cost around $100 million for two seasons, its other shows don’t cost nearly that much. But big-time sports go for billions, which dramatically increases Netflix’s risk.

And there’s still an open question about what streaming live sports to large audiences means for broadband infrastructure and policy: If Netflix is fighting with Verizon and Comcast about slow speeds for “Orange Is the New Black,” what happens when a couple million people want to watch a playoff game at the same time?

Still, one of the fun things about covering Netflix is that it doesn’t stay static. It would have been impossible to imagine Reed Hastings streaming Chelsea Handler’s talk show a few years ago, because a few years ago Reed Hastings didn’t have a streaming business, period.

I bet we get to revisit this list sooner than later.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Re/code.

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