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Why Vox’s Netflix show ‘Explained’ is different from Vox’s YouTube videos, explained (by Ezra Klein)

The editor-at-large says the Netflix series is tackling questions that are too big for YouTube.

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement. editor-at-large Ezra Klein at the 2016 Code Conference Asa Mathat for Recode

Our Vox Media colleagues at have just launched a Netflix series called “Explained.” The show’s title is a reference to the four-year-old site’s history of publishing “explainers” in text, in podcasts and on web video platforms like YouTube.

But “Explained” is different, Vox editor-at-large Ezra Klein says. On the latest episode of Recode Media, Klein told Recode’s Peter Kafka that the first season, which debuted this week, will feature 20 mini-documentaries about big, interesting topics, and that one of the metrics of success is that those episodes will still be useful and relevant to people a year from now.

“Every week, we’re picking a new topic — the racial wealth gap or monogamy or cryptocurrency — and trying to give people a real understanding, talking to the top people in it, trying to work our way through the thorniest questions of it, and recognizing that what we’re doing here is laying the groundwork,” Klein said.

He pushed back on the idea that the new show is a longer evolution of Vox’s successful explainer videos on YouTube, like this one about the Syrian Civil War that got more than six million views.

“The kinds of questions we’ve been able to take on and answer in the bulk of our web videos are just a very different kind of question,” Klein said. “The scale and ambition of the journalism, we couldn’t hit some of the things we wanted to hit in the way we wanted to hit them.”

“When you’re doing a video and you’re going for somewhere between three and seven minutes and you’re doing it with one producer and you’ve got like a week to work on it — at the beginning of the editorial process, you have to define a question that you can actually take on that way,” he added. “There are many questions you can! But the racial wealth gap is not one of them.”

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On the new podcast, Klein said he’s skeptical about the supposedly dramatic changes in video consumers’ habits online. Formats like autoplaying Facebook videos pop up, he explained, and everyone’s News Feed is flooded with a new type of video that can be enjoyed without sound and grabs your attention in a few seconds; after a couple years, though, viewers’ interest in that genre of video tapers off and the media companies that rushed into the fad are left holding the rope.

“I think we in the media are spending too much time trying to game platforms and devices,” Klein said. “Particularly early in the adoption of a new platform or a device, there do tend to be quirks of that space that you can take advantage of and boost viewership or readership or whatever it is, for a little while. But over the long run, people tend to gravitate towards quality content across different areas.”

“Of course, it has to be usable on different devices,” he added. “If you have something that does not display on a phone, it is not going to get watched or read or whatever on a phone. But I am a lot less sold than other people are that these devices have very different habits, or these platforms have very different habits.”

So, when it came to “Explained,” Klein said the Vox team did think about the overall Netflix audience, which is much bigger than Vox’s — but not as much about whether those people were watching on phones or tablets or other devices.

“I think if it’s good, they’re going to watch it,” he said.

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